130: Conflict Resolution and Performance Evaluation through Harmony Circles with Psychologist and Mediator Kira Nurieli

Ep130 Conflict Resolution Performance Evaluations Harmony Circles Kira Nurieli TalentGrow Show with Halelly Azulay

Conflict resolution can be a difficult and even overwhelming topic for many leaders. How can we address conflict in a healthy, meaningful, and effective way? Kira Nurieli, a social-organizational psychologist and mediator, joins me on this episode of The TalentGrow Show to share her unique and transformative approach to conflict resolution: Harmony Circles. Tune in to discover the biological and theoretical framework behind Harmony Circles, why they are so beneficial, and how to effectively facilitate them. According to Kira, Harmony Circles allow us to tap into the driving emotions that lie at the root of our workplace dynamics, so you’ll definitely want to learn about this powerful tool for building energized and successful teams. Plus, discover the benefits of Performance Evaluation Circles versus other more common methods of employee evaluation! Listen and don’t forget to share with others in your network.


Kira is an Organizational Psychologist who focuses on conflict and communication strategies. She has been mediating conflicts for over 15 years and has coached and consulted diverse clients on change management, project development, and team dynamics. Her proprietary workshop topics include: Cultural Humility, Unconscious Bias, Crisis Prevention, and Listening Skills for Managers and Executives. She also trains leaders and HR professionals in Restorative Practices for the workplace – building connectivity, respect, and responsibility among teams.
Kira received her BA in Comparative Performance from Barnard College, Columbia University, and her MA in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University, Teachers College. She is a certified Conflict Coach and Mediator.


  •  Kira takes a moment to express her appreciation (2:52)

  • Kira explains the biological and theoretical framework behind the idea of Harmony Circles (7:36)

  • What are the benefits of Harmony Circles in the workplace? (10:30)

  • Kira shares a specific example to help concretize the idea of Harmony Circles (11:52)

  • The basic principle of the Circles, and what you’ll learn (15:31)

  • What problem solving might look like in a Harmony Circle (16:46)

  • Kira talks about the benefits of Performance Evaluation Circles versus more typical methods of doing the same thing (18:29)

  • How we limit ourselves by looking exclusively to our leaders or managers for feedback (20:05)

  • How Harmony Circles tap into the driving emotions of individuals that are at the root of our workplace dynamics (21:45)

  • What’s new and exciting on Kira’s horizon? (23:21)

  • One specific action you can take to upgrade your conflict-management skills (24:29) 



Episode 130 Kira Nurieli

TEASER CLIP: Kira: Tap into what is motivating? Fundamentally, what are the values that are being expressed here? What is motivating individuals to act the way they do? And once you tap into that motivation and acknowledge it, within the team setting, within the framework of the organization, then you will radically drive productivity and people are going to be happier at work.

[MUSIC] Announcer: Welcome to the TalentGrow Show, where you can get actionable results-oriented insight and advice on how to take your leadership, communication and people skills to the next level and become the kind of leader people want to follow. And now, your host and leadership development strategist, Halelly Azulay.

Halelly: Hey, hey, TalentGrowers. Welcome back to the TalentGrow Show. I’m Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist and this week we’re going to talk about how to handle conflict and disruption or feedback in your organization, using a new tool that my guest has developed. Kira Nurieli is my guest and she’s going to talk about this thing called harmony circles. It’s really interesting. I hope you will find it valuable as introducing a new way to think about some of the challenges you experience, and I’ll leave it to Kira to explain more about that. I hope that you enjoy it and stick around and let me know what you thought afterward, but here we go with Kira Nurieli.

Okay TalentGrowers. This week Kira Nurieli is with me. She’s an organizational psychologist who focuses on conflict and communication strategies. She has been mediating conflicts for over 15 years and has coached and consulted diverse clients and change management project development and team dynamics. Her proprietary workshop topics include cultural humility, unconscious bias, crisis prevention and listening skills for mangers and executives. She also trains leaders and HR professionals in harmony circles, restorative practices for the workplace, building connectivity, respect and responsibility among teams. Kira received her B.A. in comparative performance from Barnard College, Columbia University, and her M.A. in organizational psychology from Columbia University Teacher’s College. She’s a certified conflict coach and mediator. Kira, welcome to the TalentGrow Show.

Kira: Thank you so much Halelly. This is such an honor to be on your show.

Halelly: I’m really glad you’re finally on, and I look forward to talking with you more about this very intriguing thing you are calling harmony circles. Before we do, I always ask my guests to describe their professional journey very briefly. Where did you start and how did you get to where you are today?

Kira: I’m happy to answer your question. I just want to take a moment first and embellish a little bit of gratitude to you for having me on your show in that my experience with you has been one where you have really been a mentor and a help. You run this TalentGrow program and to me, even though you don’t know me so well, you’ve always had an attitude where you really want to see people shine and see people grow. I’m not sure if your listeners know that you really walk that walk, and that it’s not just the content that you maybe do publicly, because I’ve never experienced your workshops, but I know who you are is such a role model for that kind of work and just living and breathing in that space. I just want to take a moment and acknowledge that and be grateful for the opportunities that you have given me, and for what you give other people professionally.

Halelly: Thank you so much, Kira. That’s very kind of you. I didn’t pay her to say this! [laughter] But that’s very nice. Kira and I actually met through her sister, and we connected a long time ago when Kira was beginning to build her business, and I’ve been able to just I guess give her advice or help her along the way with some suggestions and it’s been lovely to watch your business grow and what you do is very interesting, which is why I’ve brought you on the show, not because we know each other. So, I’m happy that you’re successful and I appreciate your appreciation! Thank you for that.

Kira: It’s always good to be grateful for what’s there. I think that’s so important, especially when you’re dealing with leaders, and that’s something that both you and I are doing, is helping leaders be their best self in growing the talent that they are working with.

Halelly: I agree with that. Thank you. Now tell us about you!

Kira: My professional journey, it’s so funny, you say to describe it very briefly and I feel like my journey has so much resonated of what Sheryl Sandberg talks about in Lean In, which is that this is not a ladder. It’s not linear. It’s been such a roundabout process, like a jungle gym. But suffice it to say, I did get my Masters and my focus in my Masters was around conflict management from a cross-cultural perspective, and within the organizational setting. So, what I wanted to do was help leaders and managers better handle conflict and communication that was going on in their workplace settings. That’s what my drive and my vision was as I was getting my Masters, and it has continued to be so beyond. What I didn’t know when I was getting my Masters was that I would be involved so much in this field of alternative dispute resolution and conflict management. When I got mediation certification and later on conflict coaching certification, I became really passionate about applying mediation skills and the knowledge and awarenesses around being a mediator and being a neutral, and how to apply that in the workplace setting.

So how to empower individuals, whether it’s HR or whether it’s the management team with the skillset necessary, it’s just basically how to make sure that this is a well-oiled machine from the perspective of conflict. Invariably, what is mostly a drain on the system is when individuals are not getting along or not working seamlessly together. That’s the space in which I work, is how to help people work in tandem and grow a healthy workplace dynamic so that there can be increased productivity, efficiency and affect the bottom line.

Halelly: Conflict definitely is a productivity killer. We’ve all been in workplace situations where you know that there is either conflict under the radar, under the carpet, kind of like we’ve been brushing it under the rug and not addressing it at all, or that there are people walking around on eggshells and tippy-toeing around each other, and then there’s gossip or harbored bad feelings about people or you avoid certain people – it just kills moral and productivity. So it’s good work that you’re doing, and I’m really intrigued about this new platform or practice that you’ve developed. By the way, I’m always enamored when people develop something that’s unique and different and kind of cool in and of itself, so kudos on doing that. I’d love for you to tell us more about what is this harmony circles thing? It sounds – I have to say – it sounds a little bit woo-woo, like we light candles and sit in a circle, but I know that’s not it, so tell us what it is.

Kira: No. Harmony circles really tap into our underlying needs as human beings. See, we at our core, are herd animals. We thrive on being part of a community. That’s how we survive. That’s how we have survived all through our evolution. What harmony circles does is validate that’s a need that we have. In fact, if you ready Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits book, he refers to Viktor Frankl, and Viktor Frankl is the psychiatrist that talked about man’s search for meaning. He felt the most important, at our core, the most important drive that we have is to find meaningfulness in our lives. Then it begs the question, how do we do that in the workplace setting?

When people feel that what they’re doing matters, when it’s meaningful, then they feel whole. Therefore, they will be more productive, they will be more efficient, they will care. They’ll go above and beyond because it becomes not about the money, because again, 7 habits, it’s not about the money. At our core, human beings need to survive, so yeah, we have a certain base money survival mechanism in place, but beyond basic survival, it is about meaningfulness. It is about tapping into our motivations, why we do what we do, what is there for us that we feel matters, and then growing with that.

It doesn’t really matter if this is in the workplace context or a community context – I do programs for teachers and for parents – to tap into what is motivating? Fundamentally, what are the values that are being expressed here? What is motivating individuals to act the way they do? And once you tap into that motivation and acknowledge it, within the team setting, within the framework of the organization, then you will radically drive productivity and people are going to be happier at work. It’s sort of like this loop that goes around and around. People are going to be happier, going to be more motivated and then they’ll be more productive, and when they’re productive they’re going to be proud of themselves and then they’ll be happier and then they’ll be more motivated. It just keeps on going from there. But it has to be set in motion, and the question is, how do you set that in motion? How do you tap into motivation and create that dialogue around what matters to people in their workplace setting?

Halelly: Right. How?

Kira: That’s where we have harmony circles.

Halelly: So tell us something – what does it even entail?

Kira: Harmony circles is a specific platform to drive healthy conversation. Because you’re not going to really know what motivates me, and I’m not going to really know what motivates you, unless we have a platform for communicating effectively with each other. That’s at its core what these circles are about. They’re creating that connectivity around healthy conversation. It’s a specific methodology for the circle that drives that conversation in a respectful manner, so that people feel empowered to share their voices in a non-threatened way. Meaning they won’t be saying something, at least not deliberately, that insights other people around the circle and they will be able to hear other people who might say something that could trigger them, but they’ll have, again, a healthy communication around that.

That’s where it can also help with diversity and inclusion. This is a platform where people can voice their sensitivities in a way that’s respectful and validated and different perspectives can be heard without threatening the other.

Halelly: I’d love for you to concretize this, because it still sounds really abstract to me. Can you take us through how does it start, what happens, how many people, where do they go, what do they do?

Kira: That’s a great question. It really depends on the particular motivation or premise behind the circle. Let’s say you are a leader, or manager, and you’ve got a team that is just not being productive and you’re not really sure why. What you would do is you would bring the stakeholders together – stakeholders is a key term with circles. You want to bring to the circle people who are impacted or have an impact on the situation. Those are the stakeholders. What you do is you start a conversation around the circle, where everyone shares what’s there for him or her. By the way, I should interject and say that I would not recommend doing this without prior training. And, circles are best facilitated by a neutral. I would not recommend that a manager or leader, him or herself, be the one facilitating the circle because there’s a power dynamic at play. People around the circle are going to be inhibited from sharing what is there for them if there’s no neutral who is managing that conversation. So that’s where mediators, ombuds-people, maybe some neutral from HR who has specific restorative practices training, all of these kinds of neutrals can lead the circle. All that means is that there’s a neutral party making sure that all voices are being heard and validated, and that there is a respectful flow of conversation around the circle.

Let’s back up and refresh this example of a leader whose team is not working efficiently and he or she just isn’t sure why. Maybe there is certain dynamics she’s aware of, but not really clear why it’s happening, and why is this productivity kind of at a lull. The group is brought together, the team is brought together, with all the stakeholders, and maybe by the way, some stakeholders might be outside the team. Maybe other people want to share voices about this productivity as well.

Halelly: Like key clients or others?

Kira: I don’t know if it would be clients. It could be another team. Let’s say you’re producing a widget and you have the team that’s supposed to be producing in the factory, making the widget, but then you have the people who are selling the widgets. What if maybe they’re impacted by the fact that the widget productivity is at a lull. How does that affect them as salespeople and the delivery people, maybe they’re also affected by the lack of productivity. In other words, stakeholders can look differently in different scenarios. But suffice it to say, let’s say you just take the team together, folks who are producing these widgets, productivity is down, leader wants to figure out why. You take a neutral who will facilitate a conversation. By the way, with that leader as part of the conversation.

Go around the circle, question what is going on for all of the individuals involved. This isn’t a process that’s fast. This is a process that will need carving out time. It’s 100 percent, probably 500 percent, worth the investment. This is where you’re investigating for what is going on? What is driving this? Once you find out, that’s where you can create the change. What’s fabulous about harmony circles is, as you’re going around, the basic principle is curiosity. It’s not judging the individuals around the circle, but just being curious what is there for them? With that curiosity, you will find fascinating different insights into what’s going on in the inner worlds of the folks in your team. When you know what’s there for them, sometimes the solutions just arise by themselves. You don’t necessarily have to dangle carrots and sticks anymore, but all it takes is better understanding what is making these people tick. Maybe there’s a particular dynamic in the circle among two individuals that need a mediation. Maybe there’s just two people who aren’t getting along, or maybe they need their own circle that is separate. That’s dragging down the rest of the team. Or maybe there’s an individual that has something else going on in his or her personal life, and because of that it’s dragging down the team. The solutions again could be completely creative. I don’t even want to guess what solutions could come out of these circles, because each one is completely unique.

What is fabulous about it is when the circles come together, an individuals share what is there for them, they will start to help each other find each other’s solutions. People will share, “Hey, this is what’s there for me, and it really is raw and it really hurts, and when this happens or that happens, I feel like what I’m doing here at work doesn’t matter, and why should I even be productive.” And when you hear that, somebody else in the circle might say, “Wow, I am so sorry you feel that way. That is not what we intended.” And when you get these moments around the circle, where there’s acknowledgement from different parties, or maybe it’s not a wow with an apology, maybe it’s, “Wow. Hey! I could help you out with X. I could help you out with Y.” All of a sudden, these solutions can be part of the conversation and the leader, the manager, doesn’t need to have all the solutions. They can sometimes bubble up from below. The idea is really empowering people to find their voices within the team, and that’s what the circles are about.

Whether you’re talking about performance evaluation circles or you’re talking about diversity and inclusion circles, or you’re talking about team productivity circles, whatever the circle is, at its core, it’s about tapping into how the individual is relating to this group. Each individual around the circle, what is there for him or her? What is that individual perspective? And how can that help us be better, do better, grow more toward the future?

Halelly: You mentioned performance evaluation circles. So let’s just take that as an example. Do you have a story that you can share where we can get maybe more of the specifics plugged in on how you did one of these or you’ve seen one done, and what was the effect?

Kira: Performance evaluation circles are a great example. They are a definitely innovative and new way of looking at performance. Because again, as I mentioned before, this is all about individual motivation. As soon as you work on the intrinsic motivation within the person, you’re going to see radical growth and change without the need for external drivers. And so performance evaluation circles are focused on figuring out what is the individual? What is the self-assessment around what’s happened, but not just in a linear fashion? Meaning it’s not just me writing a self-review and handing that off to HR, or handing that off to our manager. See, the way performance evaluations work right now is linear. It’s one direction or it’s bi-directional. So there is something, 360-degree feedback, it could be going in two directions, but what we’re lacking is a contextual design where it can be multi-directional. Because the way I perform impacts other people on my team. So if we’re only hearing from my manager what my performance has been, then we’re limiting ourselves to so much information that’s out there around what kind of impact I actually may have in a very positive way – or maybe in a negative way – but that is really crucial information to have when you’re doing a performance evaluation.

So when you bring the circle together, the stakeholders will be a whole palette of people who may have some interesting perspective around what my performance is and it will include my voice of what is my motivation and what is working or not working for me. Again, you’ll have people around the circle with the goal of digging for what has happened, what are some of the impacts and how can this person work better within the team or with his or her own productivity in the future? Again, it’s from the lens of curiosity. It’s less about judging the past as much as learning from the past. Finding out what has worked, externally by the way what’s worked, meaning what’s worked for everyone else, but also what’s worked internally? What is that person most proud of? What has been really changing for the good over the past year or however many months, depending on how frequently these performance evaluation circles happen. These are opportunities for a broader conversation around the individual within his or her context. And when you get to that, there’s a sensitivity around the community. Like I said, we are at our core herd animals. We want to know that we matter to the people around us. So when you bring in these circles, we recognize how we matter, what matters, and then we can also reflect on what matters to us and have other people validate that and work with that and promote that. This is less of a numbers game and less of a quantifying people, and more of a qualifying people.

So yes, it does affect the bottom line, but we have been treating each other like robots in the way our performance evaluations have been developing over the past 20 or 30 years. Probably more, like 40 or 50 years. We’re not robots! At our core, we are living, breathing, emotional beings, and what circles do is we tap into the emotions that are at play. Because that’s what drives productivity. When people feel threatened, it triggers basic emotions that are going to cut us off from innovation, cut us off from creativity, cut us off from feeling belongingness in the group.

Halelly: Kira, unfortunately even though this is fascinating, we are running low on time and I want to make sure that before we wrap up, you share one specific action. But I always ask my guests first what’s new and exciting on your horizon?

Kira: I’m going to be speaking about performance evaluation circles at the upcoming New York City SHRM conference, so I’m really super excited about that. I’m prepping up for that. If you have any listeners who either will be at the conference or have someone in their companies that are headed to the conference, please come and check it out. There will be obviously opportunity for live Q&A at the end, so if your listeners have other questions around this, some unsatisfied curiosity around circles, then please come to the SHRM conference and check it out.

Halelly: That’s cool. Congratulations. And by the way, for the uninitiated, SHRM stands for the Society for Human Resource Management. And it’s the biggest association of HR professionals, so that’s a great accomplishment. Good for you. Okay, I know people are going to want to learn more from you and about you. We’re going to give them ways to do that. What’s one specific action that listeners can take today, tomorrow, this week, to help them ratchet up or upgrade their own leadership skills or communication skills or conflict management skills, whatever you want to use?

Kira: The key component – either one key component or the key component – in circles is curiosity. Not judgment, but curiosity. So one key takeaway would be for a leader or manager to find an individual or think about their work themselves from the perspective of curiosity. What would it look like if someone that you maybe don’t get along well with, what would happen if you could just be a little more curios about them? Not necessarily go and directly ask them questions, but just observe them a little more from the perspective of curiosity. What are they about? What drives them? What do you notice? I think that’s really the underlying tenant of how circles work, and if you find that you’re finding some interesting things when you’re being curious about somebody, then maybe circles is for you.

Halelly: Awesome. I always say you can be in curiosity and judgment at the same time, so it’s very helpful and that’s a good practice. When you notice yourself being in judgment, shift into curiosity. I like it.

Kira: Definitely.

Halelly: Thank you Kira. And how can people stay in touch and learn more about and from you?

Kira: If any listeners have specific questions, you can shoot me an email – kira@harmonystrategies.com. Visit the Harmony Strategies website which is www.harmonystrategies.com, and we also have a You Tube channel with some conflict coaching clips, so you can just do a You Tube search for Harmony Strategies and find us there.

Halelly: Great. Do you hang out on any other social media networks?

Kira: Oh yes. I’m on LinkedIn and Facebook. Harmony Strategies has LinkedIn, Facebook, definitely can follow me on LinkedIn, but I always like direct interactions, so I much prefer email or I do have my phone number on LinkedIn, so if people even want to hit me up with a phone call, I’m happy to talk about all of this. I am very passionate about all this work in alternative dispute resolutions, so I welcome any thoughts or questions that your listeners may have.

Halelly: Your passion comes across very clearly in your voice and in your energy as you describe it, so thank you for sharing that with us today on the TalentGrow Show, Kira.

Kira: Excellent. Thank you Halelly.

Halelly: Okay TalentGrowers. I hope that was mind opening and interesting for you. I found this to be a fascinating topic, so I thought I’d bring it your way, and I love that Kira suggests being curious. You know that I talk about that quite often. Be that fascination detective and look for what’s interesting, unique and raises your curiosity in people and situations so that you don’t jump to judgment and certainly so you don’t make the wrong judgment with assumptions rather than facts. Take Kira’s advice and take action on that and let me know how it went. If you feel so moved, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts or used to be called iTunes, and that’s where sometimes people search for a new show to listen to and when they find it, as you know, you go to a restaurant or you want to order a book, you always look at the reviews to see what did other people think. You can help me out by putting down something about what you find valuable about this show and why others should give it a go and give it a try, and then more people will join and listen and get value. So thanks in advance and until the next time, I’m Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist here at TalentGrow, and I hope that you make today great.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to the TalentGrow Show, where we help you develop your talent to become the kind of leader that people want to follow. For more information, visit TalentGrow.com.

Get my free guide, "10 Mistakes Leaders Make and How to Avoid Them" and receive my weekly newsletter full of actionable tips, links and ideas for taking your leadership and communication skills to the next level!

Don't forget to LEAVE A RATING/REVIEW ON APPLE PODCASTS/iTUNES! It’s easy to do (here’s how to do it in 4 easy steps). Thank you!!

Like the Facebook page of The TalentGrow Show!
Join the Facebook group – The TalentGrowers Community!
Intro/outro music: "Why-Y" by Esta

You Might Also Like These Posts:

108: Lead with Values -- Fostering a Thriving Company Culture with Global Financial Magnate Lars Seier Christensen

104: Wired to Connect -- The Neuroscience of Team Leadership with Dr. Britt Andreatta

99: Selfish For Success -- Embracing Your Self-Interest as a Leader with Dr. Steve Orma