Conflicts, even those of long standing duration, can be resolved if we are able to maintain a flow of communication in which we are able to get in touch with our needs, to hear the needs of others, and ultimately to realize the interdependence that exists between us and the person with whom we are in conflict. We can’t win at somebody else’s expense. We can only be fully satisfied when the other person’s needs are fulfilled as well as our own.
Why promote peace in the workplace
Today’s increasingly stress-filled, highly competitive workplaces have created environments that foster a mentality of separation, where individuals often find themselves feeling ostracized, angry, or intimidated. This, added to an already generalized lack of assertive and empathic communication tools in our society, results in tremendous difficulties for members of a work team to connect, to resolve conflict, and to find real authentic fulfillment in their peer relations.
There is an increasing amount of research today demonstrating that good relationships and harmony in the workplace are fundamental in ensuring high levels of motivation and productivity amongst employees in any company. It has also become clear for HR specialists around the world that empathy is key in effective leadership and all-around constructive work relationships.
This question is what led us to envision an alternative strategy to the way conflict and misunderstandings are dealt with at Hotel Belmar. It was this desire to change the prevalent culture of separation and authoritative resolve that engendered a vision of a new paradigm that would contribute to social transformation and increased well-being for the entire Hotel Belmar community.
Why a culture of peace program at Hotel Belmar
Hotel Belmar is located in Monteverde, a small town nestled in the mountaintops of the Central-pacific region of Costa Rica that was founded by American Quakers in 1951. This very particular group of Quakers came to Costa Rica fleeing the Korean War draft and seeking a non-violent way of life in a country that had recently abolished its army. The desire to live out a culture of peace has permeated life and the community in Monteverde for many decades, and certainly influenced the vision of the founders of Hotel Belmar.
Just like the founders of Monteverde itself, the term that comes to mind when thinking of the founders of Hotel Belmar is pioneering. The Belmars have not only created a hotel of outstanding hospitality, but they have spearheaded one of the most impressive environmental programs in the region and country.
In that sense, it is very natural that the initiative to develop a peace program for the workplace was born at Hotel Belmar in Monteverde.
The Culture of Peace program at Hotel Belmar began in July of 2014 when the Hotel began collaborating with conversABLE to divulge introductory NVC courses to its 50 employees. ConversABLE is a small company that offers consultancy services in the area of empathic and assertive communication. The methodology it uses is inspired primarily in Non-Violent Communication (NVC) principles. NonViolent communication skills teach people first and foremost to connect with themselves (referred to as self-empathy) at any given moment, in orde to understand what their emotions are telling them about met or unmet needs. The result of that inner clarity and connection has an outward orientation as well, when we begin to develop empathy towards others. Empathy leads to relationships built on compassion and connection, because we develop our capacity to take on others´ perspectives and recognize the common humanity that unites us.
After the initial workshops, an implementation phase that consisted of various modalities of intervention was designed: individual coaching to key leaders, mediations or “empathic meetings” between people and departments, and follow-up refresher courses for all the employees. All of these modalities were aimed at teaching concrete tools that facilitate self-knowledge; assertive communication; practicing empathy with others; developing a feeling and needs vocabulary; being able to move away from judgments and evaluations towards clear, neutral observations; the ability to provide feedback constructively; being able to distinguish between demands and request, amongst others.
Moreover, beyond the obvious benefits that this process brought for the working environment at the Hotel, the mentality behind it was: if these skills, framed within the methodology of Non Violent Communication, could be implemented in the workplace, where we spend the majority of our lives, the spiral effect towards the outside world would be inevitable.
And according to the employees, it has been so. What they have learnt throughout this process has not only affected their work relationships, but also their relationships at home. It has taught them the importance of truly listening in order to understand and be understood, and has been a way to not only prevent conflicts but also to walk towards them, to find creative, joint solutions when they arise. As one of the men from the maintenance department expressed: “this is completely applicable to everything, to have better relationships with those around us, and a better quality of life”
Currently the Hotel and conversABLE are working on a second phase that is aimed towards creating a peace infrastructure that ensures the use and sustainability of the tools learnt thus far. This is being achieved through the creation and implementation of systems inspired by internationally renowned NVC trainer Miki Kashtan’s work on applying this methodology to organizational structures, and include a conflict transformation system, a feedback system, information flow and a clear shared purpose that is communicated to the entire Hotel community (guests and employees) to ensure clarity and purpose on the journey and the experience.
The hope is that this process and pioneer program will serve as an example to other companies and organizations that are interested in creating socially sustainable work environments by playing a proactive role in ensuring the well being of employees. That is probably one of the things that makes this Hotel so special, something both clients and employees can attest to every day.
About the author
Christine Raine is the founder of onversABLE, both a consultancy for empathic communication processes and programs, and a social movement. She studied International Relations and Psychology at New York University and Medical Anthropology at the School of Oriental and African studies in London. It was at the Academy for Peace of Costa Rica that she specialized in Non Violent Communication (NVC) and conflict resolution. She shares the principles of NVC through coachings,
mediations, facilitations, trainings and consultancies; and has worked with various private enterprises, Costa Rican and U.S. governmental institutions (such as the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Peace and Justice, and the Peace Corps), organizations, groups, individuals and vulnerable communities. Her dream is to share the practice of empathy,