'Tools for Tough Conversations' Gains National Recognition

Author: Mary Dumas, Dumas & Associates, Inc.

Tools for Tough Conversations is a conflict de-escalation and civil discourse program that prepares individuals, organizations, and communities for difficult conversations of all sizes.

A national Tools for Tough Conversations program launched this May 25, 2017 though the partnership of the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy, a 25-year leader in international peacebuilding, and Mary Dumas & Associates, Inc, a mediation, facilitation, and public engagement firm working with private and public clients in Washington and across the U.S.

The Tools - Professional Development Program empowers participants and their organizations with an inclusive community engagement framework and the conflict de-escalation and communication skills to apply it in U.S. communities.

Conflict resolution professionals, community leaders, and academics will be better prepared for difficult discussions, inter-disciplinary deliberations, and decision-making regarding complex or contentious issues. The program includes face-to-face workshops, webinars, and coaching support to apply the tools in projects or community initiatives.

The Tools for Tough Conversations - Community Program is offered locally at the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center in partnership with Mary Dumas, Tools Founder.  This bi-annual series of six, two-hour workshops provides graduates of WDRC's Understanding Conflict courses and Leadership Whatcom alumni (2005-2016) a place to refresh conflict strategies and practice key communication skills.


Tools programs grew from humble roots planted in here in Whatcom County, Washington in 2010.

Mary Dumas, professional mediator, and Moonwater, Executive Director, WDRC were invited by the League of Women Voters Bellingham/Whatcom to train members on "How to Have Civil Discussions in Uncivil Times" as part of a statewide League of Women Voters civility project. Over 85 attendees engaged in the initial workshop held on a sunny Saturday morning in June.

2010 workshop participants in a civil dialogue activity

2010 workshop participants in a civil dialogue activity

One participant reflected, "We learned how confrontations affected us physically, how to deal with that stress while listening to other points of view, how to frame open questions, and apply better listening and reasoning skills to the debate.

The program was both beneficial and relevant. League of Women Voters Bellingham/Whatcom was honored with the national League of Women Voters' 2010 Connection with the Community Award for this program.


The Tools programs are the result of five years of piloting and refinement.

Given the resounding positive responses, Mary Dumas and colleague Susan Mancuso expanded the 4-hour general training into day-long workshops specifically designed for moderators of campaign debates, public educational forums, and group discussions, with support from a League of Women Voters of Washington Education Fund 2012 training grant.

By 2015, League members from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, California, and Arizona have been engaged in the Tools moderator and community programs.

WDRC has been an active participant throughout these years, as co-designer of the 2010 initial workshop, as first site host to test the Tools community program (2014-2017), and invaluable partner in refining the core concepts and delivery approach.

Other professionals and community reviewers include: League of Women Voters: Washington (2011) and California (2015); Frontiers of Democracy Civic Educators (2013); National Dialogue Network (2013); and the Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR) Conference (2014); and the ACR Environment & Public Policy Section Conference (2011, 2016).

Tools programs are practical and accessible thanks to this broad and diverse input.

Each of us can improve the quality of our conversations, so let's put these tools to work.

Civility Definition: Tools for Tough Conversations

Civility Definition: Tools for Tough Conversations