Effective, Respectful, Communication—Lessons from Occupy Santa Rosa

November 13, 2011
Respectful discourse and conflict resolution

photo by Chris Bowers

Consensus building, like other valuable parts of negotiation and conflict resolution, is often messy and time consuming, but the result can be a vibrant, inclusive process of reaching decisions to which people feel deeply committed.

I recently witnessed this in action when Occupy Santa Rosa, my local Occupy group here in N. California, put out a request for people who could teach facilitation and consensus building skills. Since I’ve been facilitating meetings of all sizes by consensus for most of my adult life, I thought this would be a good way for me to contribute.

I started by attending one of their general assemblies, and I was pleased and impressed to see how skillfully they were incorporating many principles of conflict resolution and respectful communication. Here are some of the ideas and tools they are using:


If people feel shut out of the dialogue or as if their voice won’t matter, it can lead to resentment and conflict.  Anyone can sign up to speak at these meetings, and I saw people of all ages and in attire from scruffy jeans to business suits present and participating.

At the particular meeting I attended, someone objected to the presence of homeless people. One of the facilitators reminded them of a decision reached at a previous meeting, that as long as they abided by the rules forbidding drugs, alcohol, smoking, and violence, homeless people, as part of the 99%, had just as much right to be there and take part as anyone else.

Consensus building hand gestures

Facilitators can quickly address issues when people can participate non verbally with agreed upon hand gestures. Occupy Santa Rosa has a number of gestures including ones people can use to:

1) Express agreement or enthusiasm.

2) Express disagreement

3) Ask to comment on the current issue or add information

4) Address a point of process

5) ask speaker to get to the point quickly

6) indicate they can’t hear, or

7) block, meaning they can’t be part of  the action if issue is adopted.

Positive speech

There is a conscious emphasis on positive speech and points of agreement rather than tearing down or criticizing another’s ideas, and on working to avoid negativity that closes off dialogue.

Mediators and facilitators know that for conflicts to be resolved, not merely settled and for relationships to be healed, everyone’s needs and views must be heard and respected. Similarly, true democracy is far more than just a majority vote. Consensus building processes honor and value the wisdom and contribution of all voices, minority as well as majority. The Occupy movement is young and imperfect, but as their chant says, “This is what democracy looks like.”

Lorraine Segal and Conflict Remedy, are based in Santa Rosa, California. Lorraine provides one on one communication coaching, training, and mediation by telephone and face to face. She also teaches in the conflict resolution program at Sonoma State University. She has been facilitating meetings for over 30  years.

To schedule a free initial telephone session or get more information, you can reach Lorraine at (707) 236-8079, email lorraine@conflictremedy.com  or contact her through this blog.

© Lorraine Segal http://www.ConflictRemedy.com



The Heart of Communication, moving from strife to harmony

July 17, 2011

How can we open our hearts and minds to clear, transformative communication? How can we move from anger and resentment to compassion? From blocks and misunderstandings to connection and empathy? What are the skills and  awareness we need to walk this path while honoring and expressing our inner truth?

These questions have been central to my own spiritual quest and are always the focus of my work as a communication coach, mediator, and teacher.

There are four steps that represents the essence of this process to me.

  1. Listen deeply–to your own spirit and to the words and meaning of others.

 Listen to your own spirit

We cannot communicate our feelings, wants, desires, frustrations to others unless we know what they are. We have to look within. Why is a comment so upsetting or irritating? Is it triggering a past hurt or our unmet expectations? What are we yearning for?

Listen to the words and feelings of another

Everyone has their own longings, their own history, their own story. Can you detach from your own story and listen to theirs? Understand what they need and want? What their wounds are?

We don’t have to agree with another or see the world as they do to listen compassionately. Having someone truly listen to us is powerful and healing even if (or especially if) they don’t say much, but just show their empathy and attention.

 2. Speak your truth gently 

With more understanding of ourselves and others, we can sort out what is our part and what it is we really need to tell the other person. Then we can express our feelings, positive or negative without attacking or needing to prove we’re right.

3. Embrace imperfection No one and nothing is perfect in this world. We are all perfectly human, which means we make lots of mistakes that we need to forgive ourselves and others for.

4. Let go

It is wonderful to clearly express our feelings and be heard. But, we can’t control the other person, their response, or the world. We have to let go of our expectations and our desire for a certain outcome from our conversation with them. And for our own sanity and well being, we need to let go of bitterness and resentment, which hurts our hearts and energy.

These four action steps are simple, but not easy. Each takes willingness, courage, persistence, patience and practice. It is a cyclical rather than a linear process that can deepen and enrich our lives and the lives of those around us.

Lorraine Segal, heart of communication coach

Lorraine Segal, communication coach, teacher, mediator

Lorraine Segal and Conflict Remedy, are based in Santa Rosa, California. Lorraine provides communication coaching, training, and mediation by telephone and face to face. She also teaches in the conflict resolution program at Sonoma State University.

Upcoming Free introductory workshop: The Heart of Communication, a healing journey from strife to harmony.Workshop includes a guided visualization. Two opportunities to take:

  • In Santa Rosa, California on Tuesday August 23rd 2011 at 6-7 PM.
  • Teleseminar  on Thursday August 25th 6-7 PM Pacific, 7-8 C, 8-9 E

Contact Lorraine to register for a free workshop (space limited) and get location information or to schedule a free initial telephone session. You can reach her at (707) 236-8079,  lorraine@conflictremedy.com  or this blog.

© Lorraine Segal http://www.ConflictRemedy.com