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Worker Transparency: Positive Conflict Resolution for Dharma Merchant Services

Dharma Merchant Services staff

Transparency is a hot topic when it comes to doing business the right way. This week, B Lab is sharing how three different Best for Workers honorees are incorporating transparency into their workplaces — in radically different ways. Then, on Friday, we’ll share the lessons each company had to offer when it comes to starting new transparency initiatives in your own company. Yesterday, we learned how QoC Health's quarterly meetings power bottoms-up change.

In order to engage your employees, you have to understand them. Clearing sessions are a unique approach that Best for Workers B Corp Dharma Merchant Services uses to help their employees engage their emotions, share their experiences, and build trust in the workplace. We recently spoke with Nick Bencivenga from Dharma, who gave us a better insight on how their weekly clearing sessions have helped them build a Best for Workers workplace. By sharing their experiences weekly, Dharma’s staff creates an atmosphere of safety, honesty, and effective conflict resolution that resonates throughout the rest of the week.

The way that clearing sessions work is relatively easy. Everyone sits in a circle or at a table. The first person will turn to their right and ask the first question. At Dharma, the team usually starts off with something like, “What’s going on in your head that’s making it hard to be present today?” The question is simple enough that all team members are able to connect to it and talk about what they’re experiencing, whether the conflict be work-related or personal. When they get done speaking, the person who asked the question then repeats what they have heard their partner saying by responding with, “I am hearing you say X, Y, and Z. So, how does that make you feel?” After they have responded everyone sits in silence for 30 seconds before a second question is being asked. The second questions are normally ones that make the person think about what makes them happy, such as what they’re grateful for that day, or who their favorite person is. Then the process repeats around the circle.

When first joining the team, employees are often hesitant to open up and share their feelings. “The first time I did it, I had some fears about being so open with other people. I was worried they would judge me,” Nick said. With time, though, he overcame his self-doubt, as have his co-workers. “Once they are all in, and they each have a chance to share, the session becomes incredibly transformative,” Nick continued. “Clearing sessions make you want to question yourself and why you do the things you do.”

He admitted that he was skeptical at first. “The first time, you think it’s really crunchy granola,” he laughed. “But it’s a truly calming experience. It allows you to be open, free, and unstressed, because you’ve been listened to by your team. No calls or emails anything can take you off balance. It essentially helps us to become a family that can lean on and depend on one another.”

A natural question that came up was whether clearing sessions become forums for airing workplace grievances. For Dharma, clearing sessions have become a way to not only share thoughts and feelings, but a strategy for positive conflict resolution. Because Dharma employees all are accustomed to listening to one another’s experiences during clearing sessions, they’ve become much more comfortable expressing themselves within the company.

“It makes it easier to pull someone to the side to say ‘Hey, you promised this, and didn’t do this, and it makes me feel X, Y, and Z,’” Nick explained. “When they have these discussions, it’s not you-versus-them. People don’t receive it as an attack to hear how their actions made another colleague feel. It’s more, I work with this person, so how can we work this out?” Creating a vocabulary around sharing personal experiences has carried into the rest of the week as well. “You’ll often hear one employee go up to another and say, ‘Hey, can I clear with you real quick?’” Bencivenga said. That shared vocabulary makes it easier for employees to communicate effectively and without judgment.

Bencivenga admits that clearing sessions might not work for every company, though fostering effective conflict resolution is a goal that all workplaces could benefit from achieving. If you don’t think clearing sessions are the right fit for your company, check back tomorrow to hear what lessons worker cooperative PV Squared has learned that still could apply to your business.


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