Since yesterday marked National Reconciliation Day, I (Dr. Hinson) thought it would be an opportune time to talk about ways that the concept of restorative justice can help resolve office conflicts. Restorative justice is principle used around the world as an alternative form to criminal justice, but I first encountered it during my work in Northern Ireland. I had a the great fortune of volunteering for a restorative justice program in Belfast and since then have become a quasi-evangelist for it's benefits.
Disclaimer: I am not suggesting restorative justice be used for large scale violations of office or work policy such as assault, fraud, drug and alcohol violations (essentially anything that breaks the law).
What is restorative justice?
Restorative justice goes beyond the criminal justice systems' focus on the act of breaking the law. The principle considers three interconnected and effected parts -- the victim, the offender, and the community. The graphic on the right illustrates how they function in a venn diagram. Within restorative justice the focus is on the harm caused to the victim and the community over the rule (or law) broken. Shifting this focus, restorative justice attempts to restore peace and justice to the victim and the community by resolving the issue that caused the action.
How can restorative justice help solve workplace conflicts?
1. Restorative justice starts by bringing the victim and offender (rule-breaker) together into a situation where the offender can hear from the victim about how their actions personally impacted them. A key part of restorative justice requires the offender to be accountable for their actions but to also take steps to repair the harm.
2. The point of restorative justice is that the people most effected by the harm take part in its resolution, thus creating a higher level of investment in reaching a successful outcome where the situation is resolved. Meetings can take place and the tactic of mediation can also be used to ensure that each party is represented and given time to speak about the harm caused.
3. The end goal of restorative justice is to build peace within the broader community (in this case office) as opposed to just ensuring the rules are followed and basic safety is maintained. By focusing on the harm caused and creating a dialogue between the victim and offender, restorative justice emphasizes the importance communication and empathy in resolving conflicts.
The concept of restorative justice can be effective for resolving office conflicts, particularly conflicts that arise from communication problems, interpersonal relationships, leadership and reporting structure, bullying and unintentional harassment and sexism. The principle is used in universities, corporations, and communities around the world. If you feel like restorative justice could help your office - contact us and we'd be happy to help you think through the issues further!