Most people would agree it’s harder than ever these days to have a civil conversation when there’s disagreement.

The staff of KIPCOR, Bethel College’s peacebuilding institute, has definitely seen this, says Sharon Kniss, director of education and training – and they want to help.

“We’ve been recognizing [since the] 2016 election, people are more aware of the polarization,” Kniss says. “People are realizing, ‘There’s a lot of disagreement, and we don’t know how to have a civil conversation or dialogue.’

“Specifically post-election, through Facebook and [direct] conversations, I’m hearing: ‘Is this something KIPCOR can do?’ Another handful of folks have reached out to KIPCOR, asking for ‘something I can just show up for.’”

The Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution is known regionally for its mediation trainings, and in fact offers a certificate (available for college credit) in conflict resolution.

“We are trying to come up with trainings that are more accessible to ordinary people who can’t take four days off, and don’t have a lot of extra funds [for an intensive course],” Kniss says.

About a year ago, KIPCOR staff gave a presentation on workplace conflict to the Newton Chamber of Commerce, and floated the idea of having a series of short, inexpensive courses. The reaction there was positive, Kniss says.

So KIPCOR is launching a pilot program, to begin Feb. 3, with the overall title “Leading in 2018: Working with Conflict and Differences."

While KIPCOR staff had working professionals in mind as they were developing the program, they also want it to be useful to almost anyone interested in learning better ways to handle conflict, have civil conversations and build community, Kniss says.

It’s described as an “accessible and flexible workshop series [that] gives you the opportunity to add more tools to your toolbox as a community leader, change agent and citizen of a rapidly evolving world.”

Seven of the nine sessions are from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday evenings, while two are extended, held from  9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturdays Feb. 3 and March 3. The location is the KIPCOR offices at 2515 College Ave. in North Newton.

The short sessions are $35 each and the extended sessions $50. There’s a price break if you sign up for the whole series.

“The idea is to keep it affordable,” Kniss says. “There will also be limited-income rates available.”

Social workers will likely be able to earn CEUs through the courses, Kniss notes, adding that it might be possible for educators as well, but tied to an Individual Development plan and subject to outside approval.

Register online at kipcor.org or by calling 316-284-5217.

The first session, on Feb. 3, is titled “Connection, Communication and Conflict.” Kniss describes it this way: “If KIPCOR was to synthesize the most fundamental skills taught in our flagship ‘Managing Interpersonal Conflict’ class into a day, this would be that day.”

The other extended session, on March 3, is “Facilitation and Dialogue” and will teach basic skills in those areas and “how to run a good meeting,” Kniss says.

Titles of the seven evening sessions are “Getting Unstuck” (basics of negotiation, Feb. 8); “Trauma and Resiliency” (working with the impact of trauma personally and collectively, Feb. 15); “Power of Diversity” (looking at cultural competency and the need for difference in all spectrums, Feb. 22); “Building Great Teams” (“going beyond team-building games,” March 8); “Making Conflict Work for Your Organization” (how conflict can actually make an organization stronger and more productive, March 15); “Connected Communities” (ways to build connections in a neighborhood or between organizations and their surrounding area, March 22); and “Leaping Leadership Hurdles” (key principles of self-reflective leadership, March 29).

Most sessions will be co-led by a KIPCOR staff person and a regional expert in the particular topic being addressed in that session.

Confirmed co-leaders are Joyce McEwan-Crane, Wichita (Feb. 15), Donna Schenck-Hamlin, Manhattan (March 3), Art Thompson, Topeka (March 15), and Gregory Cole, Wichita (March 29).

McEwan-Crane is the strategic development coordinator for the Center for Community Support and Outreach at Wichita State University, where she coordinates the work of “trauma-informed systems of care.”

Schenck-Hamlin co-founded the Institute for Civic Discourse and Dialogue at Kansas State University, and is a program/project associate for both the ICDD and the Center for Engagement and Community Development at K-State.

Thompson, a professional mediator, was formerly the dispute resolution director for the Kansas Supreme Court.

Cole is a Wichita businessman who owns the Good Life Company and who has also taught leadership at Southwestern College in Winfield.