Dealing with Conflict During COVID (or any other time)
Featuring guest blogger: Gabriel Begin (our son)
Last week, our son led part of our family in a structured discussion so that we could have some quality sharing together. We haven’t seen each other in almost a year. The older adults present had all been vaccinated.
I did not realize until today, that he was the creator of this design. It felt like it was created by a facilitator who knew a lot about constructivst listening, appreciative inquiry, nonviolent communication, and other dialogue methods that I have used as a facilitator when dealing with group conflict.
I admit that having to show up as a participant at a structured dialogue to air feelings was more than intimidating. I was not in charge for once! And I was also dismayed because I didn’t know that we had any grievances to air with each other, especially since it was not only with him, but his partner and partner’s parents! (Gabriel had asked us permission to do this ahead of time.) He sent us the proposed structure he had designed. I berated myself internally for being a “flawed” parent unaware of our child’s needs!
I am sharing the feelings I had at the time because you may also have some of the same feelings. And, I highly recommend this process. It has been very affirming for us as a family. And I heard a testament from another person, separate from our family that it had positively modified the way this person‘s family interacted on a daily basis. This seems so important as we continue to go through many different stages of the COVID quarantine/isolation with one another. Although I have experienced it in a family setting, it is very useful for any group that spends a lot of time together.
I am going through many changes to “downsize”/simplify my life and have cleaner relationships. Thus, I was struck that this might be a gift our son could offer to you.
Here are his steps in brief. The full process is available as a free PDF download.
I created this discussion format to address certain themes I found reoccurring in my relationships. I often experienced difficulty sustaining and growing healthy connection with important people in my life. People like family and close friends that I knew well, loved, and trusted. Despite our bonds, certain unhealthy patterns of relating would repeatedly surface that were frustrating and disheartening. This format provides a way to consciously address these types of patterns, to hold space for them so that they might be healed, and to nurture love and support in relationship. I have only been working with the format for a short time, and the results have been very encouraging. I encourage anyone interested to try the format out with their partner, family, friends, or any group they feel might benefit. If you have any questions or comments, or you would like guidance please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Two hours is a good target time to try to for one’s first time. This is defined as the time from the formal opening to the formal closing which will be explained in detail later below. Everyone participating should be aware of the time needed. If we include arrivals, greetings, wrapping up, and departures a total time of three hours is a good initial estimate for participants.
Number of People
This format can be used with as little as two people and as many as a large group of 20+ people. It is important the moderator and the assistant keep the group on track to finish on time; especially with larger groups.
Introduction & Sharing Format
Once everyone is seated in a circle and quiet the moderator opens the discussion by welcoming everyone. Depending on the group it may be appropriate to offer an appropriate prayer to establish a sacred space for relating. Whatever the case, the moderator should set the tone for a group that this is a special time and place to see, hear, and speak with one another. Before getting into the main part the moderator explains key points (see PDF).
Each person takes turns sharing how they are feeling and what kind of space they are entering the discussion from.
1. Airing Out
Each person takes turns airing out any complaints, grievances, or things they are finding challenging. Things that have been coming up for them recently that they would like to air out. Priority is first given to things that relate directly to the humans at the table, followed by more general things in a person’s life they may wish to air out.
Guidelines to remember:
- Use I statements, e.g. “I feel xxxx lately”, “I felt yyyy when hhhh said this on Tuesday”
- Focus on one self and one’s own feelings
- Honesty and Vulnerability is encouraged
- Check in with your body and how it feels before sharing. Scan your body with you awareness as you prepare to share; look for any difficult or challenging feelings in your body. Once you have identified in your body the quality and location of these feelings, feel into that and let the right words come to you. When you are ready to share speak to those feelings as part of the sharing.
2. Witnessed Affirmations
Each person takes turns sharing a positive memory relating to someone else seated at the table. Participants are encouraged to share at least 1 thing relating to each person present, time allowing.
Guidelines to remember: Check in with your body before speaking; look for good feelings in your body related to the memory you want to share and focus on these good feelings before speaking. Once you have identified in your body the quality and location of these good feelings, feel into that and let the right words come to you. When you are ready to share speak to those feelings as part of the sharing. My heart felt really warm the time you surprised me with that birthday getaway and I had such a good time that weekend.
3. Celebrations of Victory
Each person takes turns sharing a victory moment they experienced (preference given to recently). Something like a challenge they met or a way they were able to help or honor someone.
Guidelines to remember: Focus on things that celebrate not just you personally, but you in the context of being an integrated part of the partnership, family, community, or group you are doing this discussion with. See examples for context in PDF.
4. Statements of Intent and Commitment (optional)
This last section is not necessarily recommended for your first go through of this process. This section is designed to help participants intentionally create what they want more of in their life. The idea is to come up with an intention to put some directed energy and action towards something they want in their life. For example:
- More time with loved ones
- More relaxation and / or recreation
- Tackling forgotten or unfinished projects
- Have a difficult conversation with someone
One big happy family!