City of Bellingham Mayor Kelly Linville and Whatcom County Executive Jack Louws have officially proclaimed October 2018 as Community Conflict Resolution Month!
Collaborate: The WDRC Blog
The WDRC is pleased to welcome Janice Brendible to the position of Supervised Visitation Program Coordinator.
Janice has always worked in positions where she is giving back. She is thrilled to join the WDRC because it offers so many opportunities for individuals in Whatcom County to be healthy if they choose.
Janice has been a resident of Bellingham for over 20 years. She comes from Southeast Alaska and is a Tsimshian, Raven Clan. She raised her family in Bellingham, where they thrived in the Birchwood neighborhood.
When she’s not at work, Janice serves as a board member with the Birchwood Neighborhood Association, and she can often be found at the Bellingham Public Library, where she has many items on hold.
By Luke Wiesner, Mediation Program Manager
Here’s a shocker. Conflict happens and it happens at work…a lot. We are constantly sending messages to our co-workers, whether we mean to or not. The unusual email punctuation, the short hello in the morning, missed eye contact in passing, or the delay in email response are all communicating a message. But is the message received always the message sent?
Regardless of the intent of the message, the message received informs how people respond. Over time, misaligned messages can develop into a pattern of responses that lead to misunderstanding, hurt feelings, and conflict. Because messages are constantly being sent and received in workplace relationships, each person tells a different story about what happens in conflict. Consider the situation with Liam and Shelia.
Liam’s story starts with his being upset that Shelia didn’t invite him to her housewarming party that some other co-workers attended. This led him to unfriend her on social media. Shelia’s story begins with feeling hurt that Liam stopped asking if she wanted a coffee on his morning coffee runs, which he used to ask regularly. She understood this to mean that Liam wanted to have a more professional relationship, so she didn’t invite him to her gathering. Shelia would later find out in mediation that Liam overheard her saying a few weeks prior that she was trying to quit coffee and he didn’t want to tempt her.
In this story, both Liam and Shelia chose a different beginning of the conflict, which portrayed themselves as the protagonist of the story and the other as the antagonist. This is a commonly known psychological trap called confirmation bias. Confirmation bias explains that we tend to look for evidence to support our pre-existing beliefs. Most of us believe we are good, reasonable people, and so we look for evidence to support that belief.
The Cost of Conflict
Conflict is normal, yet it can be very costly to organizations. Multiple studies estimate that managers spend anywhere from 15% to up to 40% of their time managing conflict. That’s estimated to be over $700 billion per year in hourly wages nationally…at the low end.
Workplace conflicts create dissatisfaction and stress for employees. In turn, dissatisfied, stressed employees may gossip in order to feel validated, which escalates conflict and leads to low morale, decreased productivity, proxy conflicts, increased sick days, and higher rates of turnover. Let’s take that $700 billion low end estimate for wages spent dealing with conflict, and add in hours lost to gossiping and onboarding new employees, and we see that conflict can take its toll on organizations.
But it’s not all bad. Conflict can be healthy if people are prepared for it.
Tips for Managers
1. Be Proactive and Intervene
We know conflict is going to happen, but it doesn’t need to be something that we shy away from. Conflict can be a positive experience that increases morale and productivity. Managers should be proactive with conflict and intervene appropriately. Consider these three intervention methods:
A) Prompt employees to address the issues directly and privately:
Letting the conflict resolve at the lowest level possible can be a great option for mild conflicts and misunderstandings. When employees resolve issues themselves it promotes responsibility, respect, productivity, and job satisfaction. Invite them to sit down and work it out before formally intervening.
B) Facilitate a discussion with your employees:
Not all conflicts can be worked out directly. Set up a time to meet with both employees and have a clearly defined agenda so they can prepare. Allow each employee to have uninterrupted time to share their concerns and experiences in the conflict. Identify the key issues that need to be addressed and assist them in working through those issues. When you intervene as a manager you may be wearing multiple hats. If possible, keep the employees’ issues and any disciplinary actions separate. There is training for facilitating these conversations right here in Whatcom county.
C) Call a third party mediator or HR:
Some disputes may require a trained third party. You may have an HR department who can assist you, or you might need to call a consultant or professional mediator. The cost to bring in a mediator is likely a drop in the bucket compared to what you are spending on an unresolved conflict. Some organizations operate on a sliding scale if you are a small business or community organization.
How do you know when is the right time to intervene? You may be unaware that a conflict exists within your organization. If you notice any sudden changes in behavior, verbal or non-verbal communication, or work attendance, you might want to start exploring what is going on within your team.
2. Resolve Issues AND Interests
It is important to remember that employees are people first and then workers. We all have needs, desires, and fears. Most conflicts exist as the issue-level – having a differing position on an issue – and at the interest-level – having unmet needs or needs violated. We can usually see the issues more easily because they are tangible, however interests are what fuels the conflict. In the situation with Liam and Shelia, both of them felt disrespected by the other, which intensified their issue around professional and personal boundaries.
Issues are often symptoms of unmet or violated needs. It is essential for managers to address both the tangible issues and the underlying interests when they intervene in a conflict. If you notice conflicts reoccurring between the same employees, it might be a sign indicating that something at the interest-level is not being addressed.
3. Train your team
Despite the cost of conflict in the workplace, and despite the fact that 7 out of 10 employees identify managing conflict as an important leadership skill, most managers have not been trained in conflict management. A 2008 study indicated that conflict training was the most effective predictor for how workplaces interacted with conflict. Ninety-five percent of people who received conflict training said that the training helped them interact positively with conflict.
Many workplaces shy away from providing conflict training to their employees because of the upfront cost. While, it is true that most conflict training has an upfront cost, the cost to an organization for not providing conflict training is much higher.
The WDRC is pleased to welcome Peter Ramey to our Board of Directors!
Peter spent the first 25 years of his professional career in sales, and training sales professionals, predominantly in the construction industry. He covered Whatcom County as part of his sales territory from 1995-2000 and fell in love with the area.
Peter returned to Whatcom County in 2017 to take a job with the Whatcom County Public Defender as a trial attorney. After living in Arizona and New Mexico, he is happy to be back in a place with greenery and open water!
Peter is attracted to the WDRC by the opportunity to be of service to community members with limited resources, and hopes to expand options outside the criminal legal system for our most marginalized citizens. When he’s not working, Peter enjoys cinema and gastronomy with his wife. He has two cats.
Daniel Soloff has served as the WDRC's AmeriCorps Youth Program Specialist since 2016. In an interview with Tim Campbell, the WDRC's AmeriCorps Outreach VISTA, Daniel reflects on his work at the WDRC.
Tim Campbell: How long have you been with the WDRC?
Daniel Soloff: 1 year and 10 months.
TC: What brought you to the WDRC?
DS: I realized how much the curriculum focuses on my interests, such as the physiology of stress and conflict, decision making, and connection. I also had a big interest in facilitating groups. I was a volunteer while working with another nonprofit and I kept applying for this position because I thought it would be a great opportunity for personal and professional growth.
TC: Tell me about your background.
DS: I went to Western Washington University and made my own degree through Fairhaven College. The degree was titled Social Stewardship and was designed for helping groups of people relate more and collaborate better. It combines psychology and leadership studies, and turned out to be a really great fit for my current position.
TC: What programs do you tend to work with the most?
TC: What is your favorite thing about working with youth? What is the most difficult?
DS: My favorite thing about working with youth is the sense of accomplishment when the youth begin to accept you and they begin to share out. They become more engaged and it makes all the difference for achieving learning outcomes and enhancing the general experience of the class.
I'm very comfortable in my role, though when I first began the most difficult part was kids not engaging. The ones who sit in the back and just roll their eyes, but now I just see that as a personal challenge. I make it my goal that by the end of the presentation or workshop all of the youth will be interested and engaged. I'm relentless and it works most of the time.
The biggest difficulty that comes up is the temporary support these students receive. Many of these students need and even request ongoing support and conflict coaching.
TC: What are some of your favorite trainings to give?
DS: I really like them all, but for different reasons. I like the Juvenile Justice Diversion workshop because it is a smaller group, allowing us to build a stronger rapport with them as well as the youth building stronger rapport with each other. Through this, these groups tend to have more insights and gain deeper understanding of themselves and each other. I also really love the classroom presentations. I enjoy showing the youth that there can be a sense of fun in learning. They are expecting to be taught about conflict resolution and they prepare themselves for a boring lecture. And then we go in with different activities and a positive attitude and it surprises them, and they begin having more fun.
TC: Describe what healthy and constructive approaches to conflict means to you.
DS: Something I ask in my Juvenile Justice discussions is "When do you think that conflict has gotten too far?" A couple of the common answers are "when people start yelling," or "when things get physical." What I think is that conflict goes too far when people stop listening to each other. From that point, conflict tends only to escalate. So I believe that a healthy approach to conflict is really learning to listen. Being able to hear someone else before speaking.
TC: What WDRC trainings from have you taken?
DS: Almost all of them.
TC: Any favorites?
The Professional Mediation Training. It just really resonated with me. It matched my intuition on what communication is supposed to look like.
TC: What is something that you have learned at the WDRC that you apply to your everyday life?
DS: Recently this idea of the cycle of violence. When we have needs that aren’t being filled, we often react by blaming others and sometimes even taking from one another to fulfill our own needs. Then the person you just took from will be in need and this cycle just goes on. So what needs to happen is that instead of this trend of blame and guilt, we need to flip it around and begin sharing/giving to make sure everyone’s needs are met. When a situation comes up, people should stop targeting each other and instead realize the situation is the problem and the situation can be changed. Then they will be able to work together and focus on the solutions rather than focus on problems.
TC: What is your favorite event that we put on?
DS: I definitely love Peace Builders. It is just so inspiring to see all of the good that these people have done and fills me with a sense of pride and hope.
However, I would also say that I love our Cribbage Tournament. I grew up playing cribbage. It was a pretty big game for my family and I just love seeing others enjoy it too. It’s a game that not very many people talk about, but when you find out someone plays it there is immediately a sense of kinship there.
TC: What’s been one of your favorite things about the WDRC?
DC: Definitely the staff. There is a sense of cohesion and centeredness that I haven’t experienced anywhere else. It’s the kind of staff you think you could only dream of. We’re always looking out for one another, and helping each other out. It’s like when you're in your twenties and have roommates that will never do the dishes and eventually give up hoping they will do the dishes. The staff here would be the kind of roommates that would always be happy to help do the dishes, whether they are theirs or not. They remind me that the ideal is actually possible because this is an ideal team. In school I learned about a term called social capital, where the relationships between people determine the efficacy of that particular group or community. I would say this organization has a lot of social capital.
TC: What is something you find unique about the WDRC?
DS: We definitely have a very unique role in the community. Our services are very widespread and we work with a lot of different communities. For instance, the youth program works in all of the school districts in Whatcom County, the Juvenile Justice System, and other youth serving organizations. It’s a really special opportunity and we’re so glad we have the opportunity to reach out to so many.
TC: Are you able to see an impact with your service? What is it like?
DS: I do feel like we make a big impact. The impact may not be visible yet. Years from now the youth may not remember this guy that came to their classroom to teach about conflict resolution, but when they come across a conflict or other high stress situation there will be something in the back of their mind saying “Wait, let’s look at this situation. Why am I reacting this way? What is the other person saying?”
This kind of impact won’t necessarily show an immediate change, but will reinforce positive skills that they are already working on developing. It’s not that different from marketing, where enough exposure eventually leads to a behavior to buy. The more exposure that they have to these kinds of lessons and ideas, then the more they will be able to see the application of those lessons in the real world.
TC: What do you think is the long-term impact of your service?
DS: Down the line, I hope that these youth will teach their own kids these lessons and the message will just continue to spread. However, if we want to make a bigger impact we need to be teaching more of these workshops to parents. Instead of teaching a class to about 30 students we could teach a class to 30 parents. If those parents have multiple kids, then ultimately we would be able to reach a larger audience. That way the parents can help the youth practice these lessons in the home and the children can keep the parents accountable.
Also I feel like we need to work on changing schools from just a place to learn into making it an active community of learners. Make schools such that the students are invested and families are engaged. Have there be more of a shared responsibility as well as a shared celebration.
TC: Any general advice for readers?
DS: Youth really need to be heard. They need to know that there are safe and supportive adults out there that will be willing to listen. Ask them questions. If you ask them how they are doing, don’t stop after they just say “I’m fine.” Keep asking even if they are just answering with one word responses. You have to annoy them into a conversation. They are looking for someone who cares enough to keep asking and not walk away as soon as they begin to talk.
by Ali Raetz, Youth Program Intern
My time volunteering in the Youth Program this year has been one of the best, yet unexpected, surprises I’ve ever encountered. I first was introduced to the WDRC at an internship/volunteer fair at Western in the fall of 2017. Daniel (the WDRC's AmericCorps Youth Conflict Resolution Education Specialist) shared with me about how they work with youth to help them understand conflict and equip them with the tools to express themselves in healthy, constructive ways. I feel passionately about the importance of giving youth a voice and listening to their stories, and I discovered that the WDRC’s mission lined up with these passions. By the end of our conversation, I was practically throwing my resume at Daniel in hopes of getting involved in any way.
Luckily my enthusiasm didn’t scare him off, and a couple weeks later I was scheduled for my first class as an assistant. I’ve had the opportunity to assist in the juvenile court Healthy Choices for Girls classes, multiple conflict resolution classes at elementary and middle schools, and large group classroom presentations about understanding conflict. While I’ve enjoyed all of the different avenues I’ve volunteered with the youth programs, my experience with a small group of girls at Shuksan middle school stands out as the most impactful, challenging, yet enriching class I’ve helped out with.
There’s no denying that middle school is an extremely difficult time for everyone. Emily (the WDRC's Youth Program Manager) and I spent about a month spending time getting to know a friend group of middle school girls at Shuksan that experience the ups and downs of 6th grade together, including difficulties with friendships and following classroom rules. While they learned about conflict, communication and trust from our time together, I learned more about the importance of giving youth a space to be vulnerable and honest with each other. The same girls who in the beginning of our time together were strongly opposed to opening up or participating were asking tough questions and sharing experiences in our last few sessions.
The WDRC has also shaped and contributed to my studies as a human services student at Western. Restorative justice wasn’t in my vocabulary before my fall internship at the WDRC. However, this last quarter I worked on a quarter long research project focusing on shift in school discipline and benefit of restorative justice as a result of my time learning and teaching with the WDRC. I have discovered new passions and learned from Emily and Daniel, as well as from every student that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with. The WDRC’s Youth Programs is doing necessary work teaching the next generation empathy, compassion, communication and healthy conflict strategies. I’m honored and excited to be a part of such a life-changing program.
We are honored to announce that, thanks to Whatcom Educational Credit Union (WECU), the WDRC’s Youth Program has been able to provide training to the youth and staff at the Ferndale Boys and Girls Club.
One of the services that the WDRC provides includes trainings and workshops for youth in schools. We serve grades K-12 in all seven school districts in Whatcom County, with workshops on how to handle conflict when it arises, empathy, active listening, and collaborative problem solving. In 2017, our youth program reached 1,577 youth in elementary, middle, high school, and juvenile justice settings. The trainings we provide enable youth to build healthier relationships to help them thrive at home and at school.
Thanks to a generous donation from WECU, the WDRC has been able to provide the same opportunities to the youth and the staff at the Ferndale Boys and Girls Club. The youth received a presentation on mindfulness and a class on peer leadership and problem solving. The staff at the Boys and Girls Club benefited from a training to help them manage and discuss conflict among youth.
One Boys and Girls Club staff member reflected, “I felt that my kids were really engaged and the content was easy to relate to. There was a good balance of independent reflection and group based activity.”
Many thanks to WECU for their generosity and for helping to build a community where people approach conflict in creative and healthy ways.
Tim is joining us this year as the new Americorps Outreach Vista. He has graduated from Western Washington University with a major in Psychology and a minor in Anthropology. During his time here, Tim will be helping spread the awareness of our organizations and the events and trainings that we provide. He is very excited for the opportunity to be working with the WDRC and can’t wait to spend this next year learning everything he can from the people around him, while connecting to the various community resources that we work with to better his understanding of what is available and how he can provide the best support. When he is not working, Tim likes to spend his time going on hikes, reading, and cooking.
We're pleased to announce that nominations are now open for the WDRC’s 16th Annual Peace Builder Awards.
What: The WDRC seeks nominations for individuals or groups in Whatcom County that creatively resolved conflict, contributed to peaceful dispute resolution, promoted reconciliation between divergent individuals or groups, or otherwise promoted peace in the past year.
When: Nomination deadline is Friday, August 10th, 2018
How: Online and printable Peace Builder Awards Nomination forms are at whatcomdrc.org/peace-builder-awards and at the WDRC, located at 13 Prospect Street, Suite 201 in Bellingham. For questions or more information, contact email@example.com or (360) 676-0122.
Over the last 15 years, more than 150 individuals and groups have received Peace Builder Awards for contributions to peace building in Whatcom County. In 2017, 8 Peace Builder Award recipients were honored, including:
· The Homeless Outreach Team, Opportunity Council – For showing compassion and providing a great service helping a part of our community meet some of their basic needs.
· Lindsey Karas, Sterling Meadows – For building understanding between communities and creating a source of empowerment.
· Portage Bay Partnership, Lummi Nation and Whatcom County Dairy Farmers – For ongoing commitment to building trust and creative problem solving.
· Bridge Builders – For creating a safe space for people of different backgrounds and beliefs to come together to connect and learn.
Recipients will be celebrated at the 16th Annual Peace Builder Awards on November 16th, 2018, presented by Peoples Bank. The event’s theme is people putting the pieces together for creative conflict resolution in our neighborhoods, our schools and our community. In addition to the awards, the event features music, dinner, a silent auction, and grand prize raffle. Proceeds of the Gala benefit the WDRC’s mission to provide and promote constructive and collaborative approaches to conflict through mediation, training, facilitation and community education.
“I invite everyone in Whatcom County to help us recognize those community members who inspire collaboration, embody peace, and give hope to our community.” -WDRC Executive Director, Moonwater.
By Luke Wiesner, Mediation Program Manager
Have you ever wondered what it takes to become a mediator with the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center? All of our mediators successfully complete our 40-hour Professional Mediation Training and then apply, are accepted, and successfully complete our practicum program. Overall, the path to becoming and maintaining mediator certification with the WDRC takes years of continuing education and practice.
Navigating conflict is typically not easy and can be emotionally taxing. It is important to us that the mediators we train are prepared to serve our community during stressful times. We host a variety of continuing education and practice opportunities for our mediators and practicum students to practice defusing conflicts and convening difficult conversations. In April, we offered two Mediator Boot Camps to help our mediators stay in peak condition so they can hold collaborative dialogues with members of our community who are experiencing conflict.
These Boot Camps are structured similarly to the Boot Camp at your gym. Mediators and students run through a series of drills that focus on different skills and tools mediators use to successfully help mediation clients have productive conversations. They move from station to station practicing and learning from one another.
While training to help families, workplaces, businesses, neighbors, and parents-teens resolve conflict can be difficult work, we try to make it fun as well. This year will mark our 3rd Annual Mediator Olympics, where our mediators compete using their mediation skills in an event style competition.
We take the responsibility for being the center for dispute resolution in Whatcom County to heart and provide a rigorous training program for our mediators. That way, when you use the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center as a third party to help manage your conflict, you know that you are receiving services from an experienced and trained mediator.
Contact us to inquire about how we can assist you in resolving your conflicts.