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A Safe Space for Sharing: Circle Processes

Circle ProcessIn keeping with the spirit of Conflict Resolution Month (raising awareness of dispute resolution processes), I often hear of arbitration, mediation, and negotiation. Rarely have I come across an individual who speaks of Circle Processes, specifically Peacemaking Circles. The Circle Process allows for each party involved in the process to share their story and be heard in a safe space. When stories are shared, it gives each participant listening a view into the speaker’s life. Circle Processes are currently being used worldwide, and originated from the indigenous tradition of Talking Circles.

Who controls the Circle Process and what does it look like?
Each circle process has a facilitator or keeper. The facilitator is responsible for maintaining a safe space in order to maintain the constructive dialogue between each participant. During a circle process, the following takes place.
• A talking piece such as a rain stick, feather, or stress ball is used to regulate the conversation. The person who holds the talking piece may speak without interruption which allows participants to focus on listening.
• Participants set guidelines for how they will behave in order to maintain a safe space.
• The process begins and ends with an activity that establishes the circle as a safe space and centers the participants.
• Decision-making is carried out as a consensus; each participant must be willing to live with the decision made and its implementation. The key to this aspect is relationship-building. The circle enables the participants to see beyond the issues that have brought them there and connect with the participants.

What is the Circle Process used for?
• When a decision needs to be made collectively
• There is a disagreement amongst multiple parties
• To discuss an experience that resulted in some type of harm (e.g. personal injury, property damage, emotional harm)

Where is the Circle Process being used?
• Schools
• Neighborhoods
• Workplaces
• Justice System/Prisons

According to Kay Pranis, a leader in restorative justice and the co-author of Peacemaking Circles: From Crime to Community and Doing Democracy with Circles, there are a variety of uses for circle dialogues. Here are different types of Circles below:

Talking Circles – Allows participants to explore a topic or issue from the various perspectives around the room.
Circles of Understanding – Focused on understanding an aspect of conflict or situation
Healing Circles – Share the pain of a person or persons who have experienced trauma or loss
Sentencing Circles – A community directed process in partnership with the criminal justice system.
Support Circles – Brings people together to support a particular person during a life change
Community Building Circles – Foster bonds and build relationships between a group or groups of people who have a shared interest.
Conflict Circles – brings disputing parties together to resolve differences
Reintegration Circle – Brings together an individual and a group or community from which that individual has been estranged
Celebration or Honoring Circles – Bring together a group of people to recognize an individual or group.

Circle Processes provide participants with the ability to tap into what we are as humans. It builds a connection between participants on an emotional and spiritual level allowing for the sharing of experiences that provides insight into understanding one another and providing inner peace. Find out what practitioners are in your state, and find the circle that is right for you.

You may learn about other restorative justice practices such as Peacemaking in schools with Bill Sower and Susan Butterwick, or Community Conferencing with Lauren Abramson, by visiting the Texas Conflict Coach® website.

By Tracy Culbreath
Graduate Student, University of Baltimore – Negotiation and Conflict Management Program

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