Peacemaker Resources: Constructive Communication in Complicated Times

Jul 2, 2020

...In this heightened sense of anxiety, this heightened sense of the unknown...we don't have a clear vision of the future and we need to hold that close and give ourselves more space, more time, more patience ... giving ourselves grace and remembering that there's so much going on right now... we just really need to be kinder to ourselves... because of all the factors happening in our world.  It's extra important to slow down, to give ourselves space to just be and to just process everything that's going on.    And as parents, give our children that space to process... when you're seeing more behaviors from your children or even within yourself or other family members, remember that there are just so many more charged emotions in our world that affect how we are able to regulate ourselves, how we're able to handle different situations...A good first step is to slow down and give yourself and your loved ones a little bit more space. – Chelsea Ottman Rak, Peacemakers Resources

Peacemaker Resources is a Bemidji based nonprofit dedicated to making the world a more peaceful place for everyone.  Through programs in area schools and professional settings, Peacemaker Resources fosters communication, compassion and connection leading to respectful relationships and healthier individuals, families and communities.  The programs have been changing lives in this manner for more than 20 years now. 

The past weeks and months have presented unprecedented experiences for individuals, families and society in America. Chelsea Ottman Rak and Keila McCracken are Social Emotion Learning Specialists with Peacemaker Resources.  They spoke via Zoom on the morning show about their work and they shared advice regarding constructive conversations in these uncommon, sometimes complicated times.

…we can relate to having conversations where we get flustered or having conversations where we notice that we are getting kind of emotional and our heart is racing. We might feel that our breath is getting more shallow instead of breathing deeper. And we might say something that later-on we know that we mis-stepped and we feel bad for what we said, we feel like we caused more disconnect than we did connection.  So Peacemakers are really focusing on skills that help us to navigate those conversations where we can focus more on the connection. So we are encouraging and teaching healthy communication skills that really help us be honest and authentic so that...we're able to build connections and spaces where other people feel like they can authentically come and share their true selves as well.   And a lot of this work has to do with equally learning about ourselves and our own emotions and our own needs, while also equally learning about the person that we're communicating with and trying to understand their emotions and their needs. So we're doing a lot of skill based practices that do take a lot of practice that take time. But they help us have helped us have more opportunities to build more connections with the people in our lives.

…. It's something that I have to be very aware of. ..with children, hopefully if those skills are set and then encouraged, those skills will become more natural. Whereas…as an adult, it takes a lot more effort. It takes that constant kind of checking in:  Is this who I want to be? Is this how I want to be reacting?…

it's really empowering...

…working specifically with adults when they are unlearning and re-learning a practice and they have the experience of interactions that don't go the way that they want to, and there's that frustration and they're trying to learn this new skill and they're practicing and practicing and practicing.   And then, once they have that first conversation or communication interaction where they are using the skills and it goes successfully and there’s this alternative outcome and completely different feeling, they feel more connected, their body had felt less stress while in the conversation. They felt like there was less conflict and divide…It’s really fun to see adults that are willing to learn and adapt and practice with new ways of communicating that help them communicate better with the people around them. – Keila McCracken, Peacemakers Resources

In addition to facing elevated emotions with our loved ones, these days, more than ever, many people are finding that they stumble into conversations on social media that are complicated at best, and often exhausting.  

What I encourage folks to do is rather than thinking you're going to change anyone's mind with that conversation, have your goal be - I'm going to create a connection. I'm going to find some common ground with this person so that we can build a foundation of trust so that we can set ourselves up to have future conversations... From one conversation, it's very unlikely that you will build enough trust to change anything. So, if we're engaging in these conversations with the intention to create change, we need to broaden our view. This is going to be many, many, many conversations. This will need a relationship in order to create that change and to have a relationship, you need to find common ground to build on that foundation...And…rather than going to data, utilize your own personal experiences,  when I hear someone else's personal experience, it helps me to understand where they're coming from. And when I can understand where they're coming from, that allows me to find some common ground with them. - Chelsea Ottman Rak, Peacemaker Resources

In addition to sharing insight on interacting with friends and family online and in-person, Chelsea and Keila also discussed Resmaa Menakem’s Racialized Trauma course, a special opportunity Peacemaker Resources is offering  each Monday in July  at no cost to attendees. 

...trauma can be from an individual experience, it can be from a group experience, it can be intergenerational coming from our ancestors. So it's really unpacking how this trauma manifests itself in our lives. And how we can help each other to work through this trauma individually as well as collectively.…it's not necessary that you attended the previous sessions. So any engagement is welcome and we're hoping just to spread more learning opportunities. And maybe you just want to listen and then engage in a conversation with someone that you feel more comfortable with that provides you that feeling of safety, and that's just fine…So this course is really, hopefully an accessible point for anyone to come and join the conversation or just to listen. - Chelsea Ottman Rak, Peacemaker Resources

For more information on Peacemaker Resources and their programs, visit their website. 

And remember, when you find yourself feeling exasperated in a conversation:

...remember that you  want to have a lifelong healthy relationship and friendship and open communication with this human. Consider what you can say now and how you can keep that at the core of what you're saying and doing.  And also take deep breaths if you're ever feeling overwhelmed. Just take a moment. It's OK. Take it slowly. You're doing good.  - Keila McCracken, Peacemaker Resources