Conflict Resolution: A manual for inclusive resistance, social justice and environmental defense groups

Conflict resolution is a process using the principles of non-violent communication in which we explore the competing needs that lead to arguments, tension and conflict among people.

In Extinction Rebellion, we are working together toward the same goal. But we may have different ideas of how to do that. Some of us may be focused on our particular tasks and not realize that our actions somehow interfere with the tasks of other rebels. We may find ourselves in a situation where resources we need are scarce. Sometimes another rebel may cause another’s needs to go unmet, usually unintentionally.

Creative Commons image by charlieCe of Flickr.com

Creative Commons image by charlieCe of Flickr.com

This is how conflict arises in all activist and volunteer groups. It is inevitable. We have learned from generations of civil disobedience and non-violent protest movements around the world that internal conflict is the single greatest threat to our movements, much more destructive than any outside hostile force. Most non-violent protest movements that fail collapse or gradually decline, due to internal conflict.

And yet, we have also learned from experience that suppressing conflict, pretending it isn’t there, smoothing it over or forcibly shutting it down do not work. In the long-run, suppressed  conflict returns in one form or another and the longer it simmers, the more disruptive it becomes.

Therefore, we must find ways to resolve conflict which actually mitigate harm to all. The key to that kind of resolution is recognizing and meeting everyone’s needs to the best of our ability. Conflict resolution is the process of understanding and then meeting those needs, so that conflict dissipates rather than simmering or disrupting.

What standards guide conflict resolution?

We developed this guide for Regenerative Culture workers in Extinction Rebellion in the Czech Republic but it can be used effectively by anyone working in community, social or volunteer organizations. Here are some principles and standards that will help.

  • We recognize that conflict is inevitable. There is no need for shame or blame when conflict arises. Non-violent communication is the primary tool in conflict resolution.

  • If it is necessary to intervene with someone who is behaving in a disruptive or abusive manner, we do not confront this person in public online spaces. We use the non-violent communication process to address the problem directly and openly either in person, if at all possible, or in private messages, if a personal meeting is impossible.

  • If a conflict between two or more rebels affects the group or threatens to harm a group, the conflict resolution process is open to the group. Conflict that affects the group’s functioning is not a private matter. It affects us all.

  • Conflict resolution can be carried out within a local group or a working group autonomously using this handbook and non-violent communication skills. If a conflict resolution team is available to mediate, mediation may be called for.

  • We are committed to confronting elements of the toxic system which cause harm to vulnerable groups. If a conflict involves social exclusion, bullying, racism, misogyny, ableism, nationalism, homophobia or other manifestations of toxic social systems, we take this into account and confront these systems and their residues in ourselves.

  • Mediation will favor more socially vulnerable persons, if there is an accusation of harassment or bullying.

What practical guidelines will help ensure these standards?

  • Review and renew your group’s principles and values against discrimination/oppressive behaviors and for inclusion, equality and ethics. Hearing this announced to the group periodically has been proven in studies to decrease incidence of harassment as well as social exclusion in groups. It also makes vulnerable demographics feel welcome and safe.

  • Make clear at the start of trainings and intermittently in meetings that non-violent communication ought to be used and is part of your commitment to non-violence.

  • Review and renew your shared vision. In Extinction Rebellion, we are all fighting for our lives. When we have conflict between us, it is crucial to take a moment to bring forward the awareness that the person or people standing on the other side of the tension from me are fighting for their lives as well, possibly in a different way or with different priorities or communication/work styles.

  • Encourage short feedback loops in listening - feeding back in real time something that you had a reaction to, e.g. ‘It sounded to me as though your tone was a little tense just then. Is that correct/is everything OK?’ or ‘I don’t like it when you call me that - I feel very uncomfortable when this interaction happens,’ as long as these remain within the non-violent communication structure of observation without evaluation and statements of feelings in reaction.

  • Encourage a “step forward/step back“ attitude - taking personal responsibility and self awareness, making space for others to speak/be seen when one has been prominent for whatever reason OR challenging ourselves to speak up if we don’t usually.

  • NO GOSSIP policy: NO conflicts to be taken on social media at any point.


There are two processes for conflict resolution

  • Process ONE is for situations in which all participants in a conflict can meet.

  • Process TWO is for situations in which participants cannot meet because it would not be safe and there is a risk of harm to someone.

Process ONE

This is a Clearing Process for dealing with conflict--mutual or highlighted by one party. This requires both parties and a facilitator to be in the same space and only works if all participants agree to follow the process and bring good intention and a listening ear.

Agree a time and comfortable space to meet, agree on length of process and make sure you have everything you need, e.g. water, tissues etc 

Use I statements and allow time for reflection and pauses in process. 

Step 1: Setting up the atmosphere and intention

  • All participants to share some element of gratitude, e.g. ‘the sunshine on my walk here’

  • All participants to share their intentions - how they will conduct themselves through the process and how they’d like to feel at the end, e.g. ‘I will try and listen with an open mind and I’d like to feel at peace with you/this situation and be able to work well together’

Step 2: Seeking unity on the Facts:

  • One or the other party in a conflict may volunteer to go first. If an accusation is at the center of the conflict, the accuser should generally go first. If it is difficult to agree who should go first, flip a coin.

  • Person A shares their perception of the facts of what happened, the time, context, content etc. What would a video camera have observed? (No interruptions beyond reminders to avoid evaluation or judgmental terminology. Time limits may be set and may be amended if there is need.)

  • Person B does the same.

  • Facilitator: Observe where the facts are the same and where they are different. Acknowledging that two different perceptions may both be honest and authentic. We perceive differently from different perspectives.

Step 3: Awareness of feelings

  • Person A shares when they first felt negative emotions in the interaction, e.g. “when you said, xyz I felt angry.” Ask person A to try and go deeper into what is under the initial reaction ‘under the anger, I felt undermined/afraid.’ Get to the most basic feeling. 

  • Remind participants that the fact that someone feels something is a fact. The feeling is indisputable and does not imply blame. We are ultimately responsible for our feelings ourselves. Empathy lies in acknowledging the difficulty others experience when they feel negative feelings.

  • Peron B reflects back, e.g. “I hear that you felt angry when I said xyz and below the anger you felt that I was undermining you and you were afraid.”

  • Any clarification needed?

  • Peron B can then share how they feel in that moment in regards to what A has shared and how they felt during the triggering interaction.

  • Person A reflects back what they have heard. Any clarification?

  • Ask both participants to reflect silently or openly if they wish on previous experiences when they felt the same difficult emotions they experienced in this interaction. How is the situation different this time?

  • Ask both participants if they want to ask for forgiveness for any hurt that was caused, any action that was out of alignment with that person’s good intentions, any ripple effects that came from that person's words/actions.

Step 4: Awareness of needs

  • Both participants now reflect and share needs, e.g. “I need time and attention to take a breath before responding in the heat of the moment, I need reassurance that my work is valued, I need to clear boundaries to feel safe in interactions.”

  • Guide participants to break down their needs to universal human needs, rather than requests for specific actions at this time. “Reassurance” is a universal human need. “For you to reassure me” is a specific request.

  • Each participant reflects back what they have heard the other participant needs. The needs are statements of fact. That a person has a universal human need isn’t disputable.

  • Needs may conflict. It is not automatically the responsibility of the other party to meet the needs spoken. Solutions may begin to become apparent at this stage though. We resolve conflict by first developing empathy by understanding each other’s perceptions and feelings and by finding creative solutions in which everyone’s needs are met.

Step 5: Making requests

  • Personal A may have requests of the other person, eg “Would you be willing to…” Requests may attempt to find a way to ensure that needs will not conflict.

  • Person B may agree or say, ‘No, but I could do …’ also with meeting the needs of all in mind. Note that self-sacrificing so that one’s own needs are overly delayed will likely not be sustainable.

  • Person B may have requests, also begining with the word, “Would you be willing to…”

  • Person A may agree or offer a different solution. 

Step 6: Finding resolution

  • Review action points that A and B are taking away.

  • Agree on times for A and B to check in again soon.

  • A and B reflect on how they feel at the end of the process and what they take away from it. Give gratitude as appropriate.

  • Check in with A and B later to make sure the follow up check in between them happens. Some issues may require another cleaning process, if something new has arisen.  

Process TWO

 In case of individual feeling unsafe to go through Clearing Process with other person present this procedure for dealing with cases of harassment, bullying or unwelcome behavior is in place.

 If a complaint of harassment, bullying, ostracism or unwelcome behavior is brought to the attention of the Conflict Resolution Team, prompt action must be taken to investigate the matter and action taken to remedy the complaint.

Anyone who wishes to make a complaint of harassment, bullying or unwelcome behavior is encouraged to first discuss matters with someone who they trust, ideally a Group Coordinator or someone from the Regenerative Culture Group. This is to take some time to get clear on what happened and how to engage with the process, e.g. finding a facilitator to hold the Clearing Process and approaching the other person to see if they will engage with process

If the person feels unable/unsafe to sit in the Clearing then the advocate can approach them on the complainant’s behalf. The complainant does not need to prove they are unsafe. However, complaints should be clear and specific, when brought to Process 2. Counseling may be sought from the Regenerative Culture group in order to clarify complaints.

It may be possible in this way to resolve the issue by getting the individual(s) in question to see how their behavior could be classed as harassment or bullying and to agree to desist from that behavior. Very often people are not aware that their behavior is unwelcome or misunderstood and an informal discussion can lead to greater understanding and agreement that the behavior will cease. Complainants are therefore encouraged to try, if they feel able to do so, to resolve the problem informally by making it clear to the alleged harasser that their actions are unwanted and should not be repeated.

An individual, who is made aware that their behavior is unacceptable, is asked to:

  • Listen carefully to the complaints and the particular concerns raised;

  • Respect the other person’s point of view; everyone has a right to work in an environment free from harassment, ostracism, intimidation, discrimination and social exclusion;

  • Understand and acknowledge that the other person’s reaction/perception to another’s behavior (the impact) is more important than the intention behind the behavior;

  • Agree the aspects of behavior that will change;

  • Review their general conduct/behavior when working with others.

  • Confirm that they actively want to follow respectful and inclusive principles and values. Failure to do so could result in them being asked to discontinue association with the group, regardless of what seniority, authority or responsibility they have attained in the group.

If, between the complainant and the supporting individual the issue seems too complex or serious to handle alone, a meeting of some members of the Conflict Resolution group and those trained in non-violent communication and Peacemaking can be called to look at the details of what has happened and decide on appropriate course of action.

When dealing with a complaint of harassment in this way, 

  • Full details of the incident(s) should be taken in writing from the complainant and their supporting person (if appropriate). Complaints need to be as clear, objectively-worded and specific as possible to enable specific resolution.

  • Full details should be taken from any witnesses/other complainants who come forward and may have witnessed the alleged behavior

  • The alleged harasser should be informed of the complaints against them. They should be invited to a meeting in order that they can comment on the allegations against them. 

  • People’s involvement with the group could be frozen whilst investigations are being made.

  • All parties need to be kept informed of expected timescales for how the situation will be dealt with.

  • All parties should be fully informed of the outcome and any action that may be required.

A decision will be reached collectively by appropriate members of the Conflict Resolution Group, and any appropriate Coordinators as to the best course of action, working with the complainant to ensure they find the course of action acceptable to their sense of safety and peace of mind. This may include, but is not limited to:

  • Making clear to the harasser that they are no longer able to work with the group (in sufficiently serious cases).  

  • Giving a warning that the harasser will only be able to continue working with the group if their behavior does not revert, at which point they will be asked to leave.         

  • Finding a way for the complainant and harasser to work in different groups where they will have little overlap. The complainant should be given priority in where they want to work.

  • In more serious cases: The group may announce publicly that they are not associated with the person in question or a restraining order may be placed.

  • False accusations of harassment or other inappropriate behavior—found to be false through investigation—may also result in the group distancing from the complainant.

Instances of harassment, bullying and unwelcome behavior are rarely neatly defined, and processes dealing with them will require flexibility. As such, some flexibility from the above procedure is both likely and acceptable (i.e. doesn’t necessarily invalidate the entire process).

The 2017 List: 13 things to bring into the new year

With some truly depressing 2017 lists out there, I want to add a couple that might actually come in handy... or at least crack a smile.

Here is the Rebel With a Pen list of what to take with you when leaping into 2017:

  1. Chocolate
  2. A solar panel
  3. A manual for communicating with racists
  4. A Canadian passport or at least least a maple leaf bumper sticker
  5. Your entire library of books
  6. Wool socks
  7. A couple of 1960s protest albums
  8. Food stockpiles
  9. A bomb shelter
  10. Your family and near neighbors
  11. A first aid kit with extra bandages
  12. Your ability to laugh in the face of disaster
  13. Your generosity of spirit when it comes to people you might feel like judging

And with some of the bizarre wish lists out there, I figured that my brand of fantasy wouldn't seem far fetched at all. Here's my wish list for 2017:

  1. I wish Donald Trump would get on TV, laugh really loud and say, "Just kidding!" And then go back to his moocher lifestyle and leave us in peace.
  2. I wish everyone in the media would suddenly realize they should actually listen to scientists. Then science and climate discussions would be at the top of the news cycle all year long.
  3. I wish oil executives would realize the Indians own that land in North Dakota and that squeezing every last drop of oil out of the sand in Texas is not going to prolong their gluttonous lifestyle for very long anyway so they might as well start thinking about long-term survival.
  4. I wish my kids would wake up January 1 and realize that bickering defeats fun.
  5. I wish the next president would declare a new New Deal consisting of building solar panels to go on every roof and a light-rail system serving the entire country.
  6. I wish all the teenage ISIS fighters would get a deep hankering to go live with their mothers and watch TV until they're forty. 
  7. I wish all bombs, missiles and munitions as well as all guns not in a safe under lock and key would mysteriously disappear on January 1.
  8. I wish someone brilliant would invent a way for writers and artists to make a living at their craft.
  9. I wish Microsoft would go bankrupt and have to sell off all of its parts to independent programmers who want to make an honest living.
  10. I wish our society would begin taxing the use of natural resources instead of the labor of the working poor and the funds would be put toward educational opportunity, urban greenspaces, rural public transit and subsidies for high quality cottage industries. 
  11. I wish a benign virus would evolve and spread among humans which deactivates the part of the brain that categorizes according to skin color, speech pattern and the appearance of a person's eyes.

With those sweet and optimistic thoughts in mind, I wish you a very happy (and peaceful) new year!

Surviving the new reality

Rain drums on the roof as I write. I am on enforced rest. Doctor's orders. I could cry for joy over the rest, except that the eye surgeon has forbidden me to express intense emotions. 

But you get the idea. I don't feel sick but I'm supposed to stay inside, keep warm, not work much and be at peace. I know, I wish I could spread it around a little too.

The only downside of this is a feeling of vulnerability that comes with the isolation.  I hesitate to venture out much, even on-line. I am a bit breakable and the world has suddenly become doubly harsh.

Creative Commons image by Sepp Schimmer

Creative Commons image by Sepp Schimmer

I saw a post from an old work colleague about attacks against people of color in the US. I wrote in a quick reply of support and bittersweet humor. And instead of solidarity, my old office-mate lashed out at me, labeling me an "sheltered white expat." 

I instantly had the urge to fight back. I'm not one who takes things lying down or turns the other cheek. Sure, I'm white and I know better than many white people what privileges and protections that entails. I am highly aware when I meet police officers that I am wearing the backpack of white privilege--then and many other times. I also know that when any country is in the grip of fear that there is an understandable anger toward emigres--those who left, no matter how good their reasons. 

On the other hand, I'm also a person with a significant physical disability. I'm up against the wall in this too. My children are not white and they are newly naturalized citizens. Will we ever be able to go back to visit my home and family again? That is not an idle question in these post-election days. We are also in a country (the Czech Republic) that Donald Trump has pledged to put a military base in. We are isolated for the moment, but far from off the hook. 

Still, I bit my lip and said none of that. I know well the furious emotions raging in my colleague's post. I replied only to express more simple and direct support for her. I told her I am an ally and I understand her words. She and another friend continued to express anger and rejection toward me. There was no reconciliation. 

I am worried.

I'm saddened to lose a connection to someone I enjoy simply due to these terrible times. But I am even more worried by what this negative interaction among allies means for our people--the people of our country, citizens and non-citizens, all cultures and all backgrounds. We're stuck in this together, after all. 

My home county in Oregon reportedly voted 67 percent for Trump. There are people I call friends who did and likely even a few only moderately distant relatives. And if I cannot meet a friend who agrees with me in support and solidarity, if we are so divided that I am the enemy even when I am not across the political divide, how... oh gods, how will we live with those who really do hate and choose a hateful leader? 

Let's take a moment to forget that Trump even exists. 

Sigh. Now doesn't that feel better? 

But wait a minute. There's a problem. We've made Trump disappear but we haven't made the many people who vehemently support him disappear. Sure, we can say they are a minority, as few as 20 percent of the nation and not even most of the voters. But they are enough and we have to live with them, Trump or no Trump.

I have always felt this because of where I grew up, far from the cosmopolitan and high-thinking coasts. I love visiting Portland, Seattle, New York or Francisco for precisely this reason. Our bubble of acceptance and freedom feels so good. 

But we forget that this is not all of the nation at our peril. We ignore rage at our peril. We belittle politically incorrect antagonism at our peril. We've seen that now.

I know it is hard to think about surviving the next four years. But we will... most of us at least. And here is how I propose to do it:

Creative Commons image by Peter Roome

Creative Commons image by Peter Roome

  • If there is a registry for Muslims, get on it. I'll be a Muslim on paper.  If we're all on the list, the list will have no teeth.
  • Talk to Trump supporters. Really talk and listen. Listen to what motivates them, what they are upset about. Share your thoughts with respect and without contempt.  They are people and most people are susceptible to change, even if slow change.
  • Promote facts, everywhere, over and over again. The media will not help, so we have to do it. Talk about facts, post them, remember them, make lists. Don't let up about climate change.
  • Explain white privilege, primarily if you're white. Explain it again and again and again until you're sick of it and then explain it to more people. There is no way we're as sick of explaining it as Black, Hispanic and Native American people are.
  • Talk to the person no one is talking to at a gathering. Invite the disabled colleague or classmate to whatever. Connect. 
  • Make your circle bigger. Whatever it is you can give easily, put it in. Got a neighbor with younger kids who could use some of your nicer used clothes? Got extra veggies from the garden? Got wood or materials or whatever? Buy less, trade more, reuse more. Gain your security from community.
  • Take care of your own basic needs with as little resources as possible. Reduce plastics and fossil fuels in whatever ways you can. And remember you'll do more and better if you're rested, healthy and fed. Don't wait to be taken care of. Stand strong, think ahead, link arms.

My hope is with you. 

Forging one's on solace

Almost nothing can be seen from my windows this morning. A few bits of trees poke out of the dense fog but everything else is shrouded in thick white. The air smells like wet compost and leaf mold. 

The contrast with the warm light of my fire and the dry, snugness of my little house is delicious. I tell my husband and children how fog was something so magical and exciting to me as a child, growing up in parched Eastern Oregon. Whenever we went on trips near the coast and drove into fog, I would shout, "We're in a cloud! We're in a cloud!"

My children are confused. I try to explain that fog is pretty much a cloud on the ground, but they insist that clouds are things with borders, skin and substance that you see up in the sky--not just white air.

My husband simply laughs at the idea of fog being exceptional in any way. He grew up in a marsh. 

I'll admit that fog has lost some of its magic for me. I am getting tired of the damp after eighteen years in this climate. I often long for the clean dryness of the high desert. Even after all these years, it hasn't left me.

Creative Commons image by Joshua Ezzell

Creative Commons image by Joshua Ezzell

But this particular morning I rejoice in the mist.

This week I had to draw the line in an unhealthy and manipulative relationship. Doing it required not just setting boundaries with one person, but choosing seclusion from a community--in fact a community that ties me to that high desert I love so deeply. 

I've spent so much of my life seeking community and struggling for inclusion that the act of choosing seclusion is boggling and yet on some level it is cathartic. The knowledge that you have a choice in every situation, even if that choice means exiting and taking the losses, is a bit of empowerment. 

I spent much longer at my morning meditation this morning than I usually do. Yesterday I missed it for the first time in many months, due to the pressures of rocky health and children.

And today I could not get settled. I felt a knot of anxiety and grief still in my gut and there was one distraction after another - the new-kindled fire threatening to go out (fog does actually make it harder to start a fire), the cat acting like it was going to vomit on my couch and so forth and so on. Even if you turn off your phone, sometimes the world just won't leave you alone. 

My meditation is a moderately active one. I don't sit and say "Om," though I know people who that works beautifully for. My mind chatter needs to be quieted, so I use recitation of poetry as well as simple ritual, candles and turning off all electric devices. Still I could not get settled, so I just did it anyway.

Of course, merely going through the motions is not really good spiritual practice, but "fake it til you make it," has its merits.

Finally I did make it, but not until I'd been at it for an hour (and I brought out the heavy artillery in the form of Tarot cards). Some days I don't have that much time. And today it was a near thing. 

But finally peace of mind came.

The fog closed around me and held me by my warm fire. The danger is at bay, somewhere beyond. I have forged my own solace--a chance for healing. And I do not need to struggle for now.

I know that when I step out again, I may have to face it all over. And soon I'll have to clean the school room and prepare for classes this afternoon.

But for now I have made solace by effort and design. This is woman-made peace without the use of mind altering substances or denial of harsh realities.

It's there somewhere. It can be forged.