March 13, 2014

Use Reconciliation & Mediation Techniques To Improve Workplace Communication


Sometimes you run across something that feels like it’s bringing together dozens of little pieces of information or stories that resonated with you in the  most serendipitous way. “Listen!” all these things shout, one by one, and eventually together when you stumble across whatever it was that made it all click. This week it was the article “Can A New Twist on a Native American Tradition Help Solve America’s Prison Crisis?” by Kenneth Miller for TakePart.

Ho’oponopono– forgiveness and positivity

Recently my mother has been telling me all about her new favorite philosophy, Ho’oponopono. It’s an indigenous Hawaiian mantra and spiritual teaching that roughly comes across as “I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you.” It’s used as a means to establish positivity, take personal responsibility for your role in the lives and feelings of others, and generate compassion and empathy.

Matthew B. James, MA, Ph.D., and President of Kona University wrote for Psychology Today about his studies on Ho’oponopono, and explains the concept of Pono, or being right with yourself. Ho’oponopono literally translates to being doubly right with yourself. He wrote, “Can’t I forgive others even if I am unsure of my ultimate purpose? Yes, but it is so much easier to let go of negative emotions such as fear, anger, unforgiveness, when we are Pono.”

This is an enormously helpful philosophy in a number of applications, from making a big change for yourself (Dr. James cites quitting smoking or losing weight) to communicating better with coworkers to handling complex reconciliations. That’s where another serendipitous piece to these thoughts coalescing comes in.

Forgivness and dignity in Rwandan reconciliation

Last month the Glad Lab team went to the Wisdom 2.0 Conference in San Francisco. I was lucky enough to see Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda, speak about his country’s efforts at reconciliation after the civil war between the Hutu and Tutsi.  Someone there asked Kagame about forgiveness between perpetrators, victims, and survivors of atrocities that are very difficult to forgive and can never be forgotten.

He explained that it is difficult to strike the balance between wanting to hold perpetrators responsible and needing to move beyond the past. Without forgiveness, reconciliation is impossible. As he put it, “There are things we can do to give ourselves dignity.”

So when I discovered Miller’s article on the Native American Council tradition being applied to reduce violence in prisons, I was thrilled to read that “Council is based on the kind of talking circle used by Native American and other aboriginal cultures—in Hawaii, it’s called “ho‘oponopono”; in Zimbabwe, it’s “daré”—as an egalitarian way of resolving disputes and making communal decisions.”

The power of holding Council

The concept has been used in public schools after the Rodney King riots, in peace talks between Israel and Palestine, at the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, and recently in Rwanda where “NGOs are using it to nurture reconciliation between Hutu and Tutsi.”

If these similar techniques can make such a huge difference in situations as violent and tense as Salinas Valley State Prison, post-genocide Rwanda, and the Middle East, imagine what it can do at your organization or in your personal life. Whether using the ho‘oponopono format or the Council format where “participants sit in a circle, pass a “talking piece” (a ritual object denoting the bearer’s right to undivided attention), and take turns speaking and listening “from the heart” (Miller), giving individuals an opportunity to speak from the heart and really be heard is the backbone of strong communication.

Putting listening to work at your organization

Even those who feel nervous speaking candidly with coworkers or who are uncomfortable with being vulnerable can find expressing themselves easier when their turn comes for complete attention and engaged listening.

Try an experiment at your organization and see if Council or ho’oponopono work for you. It could be a private meeting between two partners who are struggling to see eye to eye. It could be at a larger meeting between two departments with conflicting goals. It could be a great way to start off negotiations about a business merger on a solid foundation of respect and trust. It could even be a great way to strengthen an important relationship in your personal life.

However you choose to apply it, give these techniques a chance. After all, listening is free and doesn’t take much time, and the rewards can be enormous.


Photo Credit: butupa via Compfight cc

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