Repairing harm through restorative justice

Evan Zislis
Life. Simplified.

In the New York Times bestseller “Crucial Conversations,” it is said that respect is like air. When it’s there, you don’t even notice. Remove it, and it’s all you can think about. You know this to be true. When we trust those around us to be kind, respectful, sincere and forthcoming in a way that strengthens relationships, virtually anything can be discussed openly in relative safety. Respect is not based on the presumption of agreement — quite the contrary. Respect exists when ideas are thoughtfully communicated with the intent of preserving the integrity of the relationship. The outcome of the exchange is largely immaterial, so long as everyone at the table works to maintain authenticity and reverence for one another.

As a restorative justice facilitator (certified through the Longmont Community Justice Partnership in Longmont), I work extensively with families and businesses to strengthen relationships around operational systems. Traditionally implemented among indigenous cultures in the aftermath of unlawful activity, restorative justice is an age-old process of repairing harm. Restorative justice is seeing an international resurgence among college campuses and municipalities to resolve conflict and reconcile relationships with astonishing success. Relative parties are brought together to share their experience, voice concerns and express their hopes for moving forward. Led by an experienced facilitator, restorative justice is a powerful process where people re-see one another — not on the basis of past behavior or previously held misconceptions, but as unique individuals worthy of compassion and understanding.

People often feel disrespected when there is a lack of clarity and communication, two prerequisites for effective team management. Improve clarity among the team and establish consensus on how ideas are ideally communicated, and interpersonal issues tend to dissipate in place of working relationships that flourish under shared values. People are inspired to excellence with two essentials: ownership and accountability. Given the opportunity to have a say in processes, expectations and the means to accomplish desirable outcomes, people usually step up to the plate, eager to exceed expectations.

Consider the last time you were pressured by others to perform. When we feel ownership, we feel intimately connected to the outcome and we are much more likely to take proactive steps to achieve desirable results. When we feel external pressure, we tend to dissociate ourselves from the outcome — often neglecting or even sabotaging the effort. Chronic dissociation from the collective effort leads to animosity, passive-aggressive behavior and overt actions that can damage relationships and thwart productivity. Restorative justice is merely a tool to name the elephant in the room, give everyone an opportunity to feel heard and re-establish lines of communication designed to repair harm and re-inspire ownership.

Trust is established when we introduce three fundamental components: opportunity, time and patience. Trust, based on reliable performance, paves the way to re-establish respect and strengthen relationships over time. There is no magic dust that transforms the unique personalities of individuals. There are no enchanted words that instantaneously bring the wounded back together. When there is a breakdown in clarity and communication, respect dissolves and the dynamic deteriorates. Simply, restorative justice helps achieve clarity, restores effective communication and realigns individuals to a common purpose with ownership and accountability.

I’ve seen families reunited after years of tension and disharmony. I’ve witnessed colleagues utterly deconstruct preconceived notions of each other to pave the way for powerful alliances and lasting friendships. I’ve seen bitter adversaries under brutal circumstances bury the hatchet and reconnect with compassion and generosity. I’ve experienced the unlikely reconciliation between horribly wronged individuals — who choose love over fear and anger — and move forward advocating for each other and the collective good.

If your people are struggling to see eye to eye, and it’s starting to impact the performance of the team, consider where there is a lack of trust, a lack of clarity and a lack of communication that supports individuals with ownership and accountability.

Evan Zislis is founder and principal consultant of Intentional Solutions, delivering hands-on organizational solutions and strategies consulting for households, businesses, students and life transitions. For more information about simplifying your stuff and organizing your life, call 970-366-2532, email or become a friend at Read Evan’s new book, “ClutterFree Revolution,” available on Amazon. Learn more at