Resolving Conflicts Peacefully—Virtually
TUESDAY, MAY 12, 2020
The process begins on the phone, then continues with follow-up e-mails and, if necessary, more phone calls—gathering information, starting a dialogue, building trust. The ultimate objective is getting the people in conflict with one another to meet face-to-face—to resolve their differences peacefully, to at least shake hands if not hug.
That is what the Center for Conflict Resolution (CCR), true to its name, does and has been doing in the Kansas City area since 2000. When COVID-19 turned 2020 into the year of social distancing and great uncertainty, CCR Executive Director Annette Lantz-Simmons and her staff “initially thought we can’t do what it is we do.”
Meeting Face-To-Face & Miles Apart
“If we have neighbors having a dispute over a property line or a dog barking, we usually want to get them in the same room,” says Lantz-Simmons. “That’s the goal. You want them to be able to look one another in the eyes and see that this other person is a human being. You want them to make a real human connection.”
The pandemic, of course, made connecting in-person too risky. But, like many other COMBAT-funded agencies, CCR found a way for people to still meet face-to-face, even while being miles apart.
“First, we panicked and got that out of our system,” Lantz-Simmons says, laughing. “Then we started thinking outside the box, looking at alternatives, being creative.”
She laughs again and adds, “Fortunately, we’ve got a young person on staff and she loves the technology. What we did was sign up for a whole bunch of Zoom accounts.”
STRIVIN' Training Continues
Conducting online meetings, classes and conflict resolution mediations has worked much better than Lantz-Simmons expected. “It has allowed us to keep doing our work.”
That work includes two initiatives COMBAT is funding: providing training and resolving conflicts in the four “hotspots” COMBAT has designated as STRIVIN’ neighborhoods, and coaching individuals recently released from incarceration or on parole. CCR is also hosting online Community Conversations twice a week to discuss a wide-range of topics, including, most recently, “Privilege and Quarantine.”
CCR recently conducted a Zoom training session with Sisters In Christ, the lead agency for the Striving Together to Reduce Violence In Neighbors effort in Raytown. CCR’s Rethink Conflict anger management class for parolees is in session every Tuesday evening online.
Furthermore, CCR is developing a virtual version of the six-session conflict resolution class taught to Kansas City Public School students and their families.
Plans To Continue Using Virtual Options
“I think we’ll continue using the technology in some form when things get back to normal,” Lantz-Simmons says. “We have people with limited mobility or transportation options, so getting them to an in-person meeting for conflict resolution can be difficult. Our Rethink Conflict has been great online.
“We probably wouldn’t have looked at these virtual options if not for the pandemic, but now we have all these systems in place and can continue using them.”
Office Not Fully Reopening Yet
The CCR office has remained staffed throughout the COVID-19 crisis, but with only one person in the office a day to answer phone calls. Lantz-Simmons doesn’t believe “it’s safe enough yet” to fully reopen the office.
“We do want to get back to having people meet together in the same room, whenever possible,” she says. “There’s no substitute for being in the same room together, being able to not only hear the other person but also read their body language. We’ve got a room big enough to allow people to maintain their distance, but hopefully still make a connection. Our plan is to reintroduce having those meetings gradually, to have people wear masks and be as safe as possible.
“But I don’t think we’re there yet. We don’t want to rush. Thanks to the virtual meetings, we’re able to still do what we do—just differently.”