The fierce crucible of respectful communication

Guest blog by Adrienne Campbell, reposted from the Transition Towns website:

It’s not by chance that Respectful Communication comes number three in the list of Ingredients in the Transition Companion. Groups won’t survive, let alone flourish, without it.

For me, it goes a lot deeper than not being rude, or the kind of advanced civility that Rob describes.  It’s not enough just to be kind to each other, and to try to accommodate the other’s point of view. Sure, when you’re in a ‘no problem’ area you can give and take a little, give each other the benefit of the doubt, let comments slip unchallenged.

But it’s when people have differing opinions – and hopefully they will – that the power of respectful communication is tested.  How often have we been in a group where you can tell that people are ‘withholding’ opinions, biting their tongues because they don’t want to be rude or cause conflict by disagreeing, only for issues to later erupt in one big bang? Or for people to leave, slipping away, or in a massive drama that takes other people out?

When my children were younger, I co-founded, and then managed a progressive primary school whose ethos was grounded in respectful communication. At Lewes New School we communicated and dealt with conflict openly, creating culture of empowered children and parents, whose confidence still shines out. So I was a little taken aback to find that the adults in our transition group in Lewes were often so afraid of causing conflict that they are unwilling to express their needs, concerns and useful opinions.  Death through politeness has, I feel, finished more than one transition group.

Better if from the outset groups create a resilient culture of honest, open enquiry, where everyone’s opinion is sought and listened to. Then when there are differing views, or concerns, to actively try to accommodate them, with confidence and courage, into the big solution. This form of consensus decision making is more inclusive than ignoring issues or marginalising people who don’t agree (often using voting).

This form of group culture is springing up all over the world, particularly in the fierce crucibles of the new democracies and on the streets of the Occupy movement. There’s no room here to be shy or to be domineering but an attempt to create a respectful culture that is at once honest and inclusive.

I believe that it takes skill to become good at facilitating groups, especially steering them healthily though honest discussions and potential conflict. Ideally, one or more people in the group should be trained in this approach, with everyone’s support.

Respectful communication is about a lot more than just being nice to each other. In a world of uncertainty, fear and potential conflict, I’d love to see a lot more skilled communicators and facilitators and people generally modelling and actively co-creating a lively culture of diverse opinions, compassion and authenticity.


Parent Effectiveness Training, Dr Thomas Gordon

How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk

Non-Violent Communciation  – Marshall Rosenberg

Decision Lab training

Seeds for Change training

Photos: Lewes New School, which is applying to become a Free School

Published on February 23, 2012, by Adrienne Campbell
Posted: February 23rd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | Comments Off on The fierce crucible of respectful communication

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