Restoring Community

These articles were formerly posted on our Restorative Works website.


IIRP President John W. Bailie, Ph.D., continues to explore the issue of conflict in the workplace on his personal blog Leading Conflict. With this piece, he launches a new series of articles to "explore some of the most common behavior profiles that persistently generate toxic conflict and provide tips on how to respond to each."

In the article Creative vs. Toxic Conflict at Work, I discussed one of the key features that distinguishes toxic conflict from creative conflict.

Creative conflict is rooted in the dynamics between people. In creative conflict, the motives and goals of group members are typically healthy and focused on a sincere desire to solve concrete external problems and challenges.

Toxic conflict is typically rooted in the personalities of individual people. While creative conflict is rooted in an external problem, toxic conflict is rooted in the problematic behavior of one or more individuals.

Toxic conflict is hard on a team. Thankfully, most of the behavior that generates toxic conflict is common and predictable.

This means that you can plan ahead for behaviors that are certain to recur. Think of these “Toxic Workplace Behavior Profile” articles as your top-secret files on how to prepare and respond strategically to the most disruptive and toxic behaviors in your workplace.

RJI logoOur friends at New York City's Restorative Justice Initiative, founded by attorney and restorative practitioner Mika Dashman, have produced a series of inspiring  videos to explore various aspects of restorative practices. This 10-minute film gives voice to 16 New York City-based restorative justice practitioners and advocates who were asked a series of questions about what restorative justice is and why it's important. It also depicts restorative justice practices being implemented in New York City and includes voices of youth involved these practices.

The IIRP Canada Conference, Leading and Sustaining Change, in Toronto April 30 - May 2, will include a featured panel that brings together a range of Aboriginal voices from across the country. "Indigenous Communities Engaging in Restorative Action to Promote Reconciliation" is being organized and facilitated by IIRP Canada Regional Representative Gayle Desmeules, who is of Métis descent, a native group that traces their heritage to both Indigenous North Americans and early European settlers.

Desmeules, who formally joined IIRP Canada last year but has been an IIRP licensed trainer since 2008, has a long and varied career that reflects many of the changes happening in Indigenous communities in Canada. As a child of someone who survived the residential schools — a system that separated Aboriginal children forcibly from their parents and assimilated them into the white community — she has firsthand knowledge of the impact that system had on her community and the legacy of trauma it created. She has dedicated her life to seeking solutions to better the conditions of Indigenous people in Canada.

toxic conflicts

In my previous article, Conflict: Love It and Lead It, I said:

The highest performing groups learn that they need group members who are willing to lead conflict – not just manage it or resolve it. Within the roots of conflict lie the life blood of creativity, possibility, self-knowledge and group evolution.

Many years of experience as a leadership coach and organizational change consultant have proven this fact to me again and again. The presence of conflict within a work team, along with leaders who are skilled at managing it, is a sign of group health and an indication of that team’s potential to perform beyond normal expectations. The mediocre team seeks calm, avoids conflict and keeps the peace. The high performing team pushes boundaries, exposes contradictions and raises difficult interpersonal questions that often cause temporary friction among team members.

Instead of settling for the immediate gratification of conflict avoidance, high-performing teams sacrifice short-term peace for long-term health and performance.


Working with troubled youth and coaching leaders is pretty similar.

I’ve done both, and I find it much easier to work with a drug-addicted or gang-involved teenager than with a CEO. Teenagers tend to be pretty blunt and upfront with their opinions, emotions and motivations. Even with the “toughest” kids, once you learn how to get through the thick outer shell, you usually find a whole lot of raw emotion and realness. On the other hand, adults (especially professionals and leaders) typically have much more complicated methods to hide, mask or otherwise obscure what’s really going on inside. It’s checkers vs. chess. Sometimes it’s checkers vs. 3-D underwater chess.

circle usag humphreysPhoto from U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys via Flickr Creative CommonsThree school districts in the southeastern United States have been featured in the press recently for their successful efforts to reduce exclusionary discipline practices and positively influence school climate through restorative practices. The districts, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Atlanta, Georgia, and Pinellas County, Florida, are not only seeing significant reductions in discipline issues and absenteeism but also improvements in relationships and academics. In addition, they are employing the practices to address the problem of racial discipline disparities. The IIRP has provided professional development and other support in each of these regions.

For the last year, the IIRP has been very invested in bringing restorative practices to school districts in the South,” says IIRP Director of Continuing Education Keith Hickman. “It is very encouraging and inspiring to see district leadership allocating resources and time, and making a commitment to help their educators develop alternatives to punitive discipline and building healthier relationships with students. There is an enormous opportunity for other schools in the southern region to learn from these districts.”

Donald NathansonThe IIRP would like to pay tribute to Donald L. Nathanson, M.D., who passed away December 27, 2017. Dr. Nathanson's work on Affect Theory, and shame, in particular, was an important influence on the development of restorative practices.

The former Director of the Silvan S. Tomkins Institute and author of the book, Shame and Pride: Affect, Sex, and the Birth of the Self, Dr. Nathanson developed the Compass of Shame to illustrate the various ways that human beings react when they feel shame. He maintained that it is through the mutual exchange of expressed affect that we build community, creating the emotional bonds that tie us all together. He also stated that restorative practices such as conferences and circles provide a safe environment for people to express and exchange emotion. Dr. Nathanson presented some of these ideas in From Empathy to Community, at the IIRP World Conference: "Conferencing: A New Response to Wrongdoing," August 6-8, 1998, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.

colorado schoolsAfter racial tensions erupted during a high school football game, the conflict hardened and spread throughout the two competing schools. Both communities feared that the situation would escalate and grow violent. But the two groups participated together in restorative circles and dispelled the issue, breaking barriers in ways no one expected.

Lisa Rea, president of Restorative Justice International, recently interviewed IIRP President John W. Bailie, Ph.D., and Michigan Regional Representative Rev. Henry L. McClendon, Jr. The half hour discussion revolves around the IIRP's "Toward a Restorative City" project in Detroit, which serves as a window into understanding the IIRP's history and mission, its work in the areas of justice and schools and the relationship between restorative justice and restorative practices.

new professors 2017 2In the past year, the IIRP Graduate School has welcomed four new faculty members, enhancing our geographic diversity and expertise in the areas of research and education. Meet (clockwise) Fernanda Fonseca-Rosenblatt, Ph.D., A. Migue Tello, Gina Baral Abrams, Dr.P.H., and Michael DeAntonio, Ph.D.

John blog workplace

In Joseph Campbell’s seminal work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, he discusses how life’s tragedies remind us of that which is fragile and life’s comedies remind us of that which is invincible within us and around us. It is only by grasping the reality of both aspects of our personal story that we come to know ourselves and to fully understand others. Even in restorative conferences held in the wake of serious offenses such as murder, victims who choose to participate commonly report that they came to see the offender as an imperfect and broken human being, instead of an all-powerful monster. More than any other method, humans use storytelling and voice to make sense of emotionally powerful experiences. A dignified life is one in which we feel that our story is heard, understood and matters to those around us.