One of the questions that restorative practices helps us to answer is, how do we build, healthy authentic relationships with ourselves and others? I have been a part of many student groups during my time at UMBC. While I have had many good experiences with other students at UMBC, I can also recall several times where I felt conflict with other students. I was spending a lot of time with a particular group of students and, after a while, I began to feel constantly judged and made fun of for my beliefs. At the time, I avoided addressing the conflict because I feared that I might ruin my relationships with them. I think this is a fear that many people have when addressing conflict.
I now believe that restorative practices provides tools to address conflict in a way that transforms and strengthens relationships. Restorative practices is built on the foundation of affective psychology which focuses on our emotions and the practice of emotional intelligence. It can help us to both understand and manage the emotions of ourselves and others. First, with ourselves, affective psychology helps us to cultivate self-awareness to acknowledge and take ownership of our thoughts and feelings. On the other hand, affective psychology helps us to develop empathy for the feelings of others and understand how our actions impact other people and our larger communities. Based on those principles, affective statements, a restorative tool, can help people to express how a person’s actions made them feel and make a request for a specific behavior. Consequently, affective statements empower people to be assertive in communicating and getting their needs met. An affective statement is generally formatted as:
“When you action , it makes me feel emotion. I value need. Would you be willing to behavior change in the future"?
So, in the conflict that I described earlier, I could have used an affective statement to say, for example, “When you make fun of my thoughts and feelings, it makes me feel judged. I value respect. Would you be willing to listen more to my thoughts and feelings in the future?” By saying that, the person would have developed a sense, whether they were aware of it or not, that their actions had a harmful impact on me. Moreover, the behavior change request would have given them a clear and specific way that they could have attended to the conflict and my feelings to begin to rebuild trust. It also would have allowed us to address the underlying issues in our relationship that caused the conflict in the first place.
In my story, at the surface level, the conflict we experienced may appear to be that the students I was with disagreed with my beliefs. But, in reality, the conflict was our inability to communicate respectfully with one another in our relationship. Using an affective statement, like the one I stated above, would have helped us to go beyond the surface to address the relational conflict we were experiencing. Moreover, improving how we communicated could have transformed and strengthened our relationship. Next time you become in conflict with another person, I encourage you to use affective statements as a restorative tool to address the underlying interpersonal issues and transform and strengthen your relationship.
This post was originally written by UMBC alumnus Timmy Farrell