When facilitating or leading DEI conversations related to triggering or charged topics, it takes preparation and practice to hold space or “be the container holder." When I first started facilitating dialogues centering social justice issues, identity, and other topics during my graduate program, I had fears and doubts about my ability to lead these conversations. Luckily for me, I had supportive teachers who made this work approachable.
The facilitation skills I honed have become critical to me as an individual and contributor to my team. They've given me the confidence to be an active team member. Additionally, these skills have supported me as a colleague because I can develop meaningful relationships that increase a sense of belonging throughout our organization. Some of the skills I learned through facilitating and continue to bring into the workplace with me include:
There are a few lessons I’d share with anyone beginning their journey into facilitation work.
I know you’ve heard it before, but you have to think about yourself first. What are your hot button areas? What makes your face turn hot and your blood boil? Seriously. Think about it. Also, know yourself. Be willing to examine your privileges and marginalization. Be open about your awareness gaps because we can’t possibly know everything. Know that you have limits and that it's okay.
One of the hardest things for many people (including myself) is to be okay with silence. Sometimes when holding space in challenging conversations, we want to fill the silence with voice. Frequently, participants need silence to compose themselves or think of their responses. Silence doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It just means folks are thinking.
Prepare yourself with what I call “back pocket” questions. These are questions you can recall to keep the conversation flowing or help elicit discussion. Prepare questions to guide participants to think differently and consider what the head is thinking vs. the body or heart is feeling. Sometimes when we have conversations about current events, hot issues, or something related to our identity, it’s easy to intellectualize rather than feel. As the facilitator, it’s essential to realize that defensiveness is usually about the individual and not about us.
When that icky feeling creeps up into our belly, or when we get hot or flushed, or when our palms are sweaty because we start to feel ourselves getting defensive, that's when we need to lean into it. Defensiveness is a fantastic tool for our learning. We talk a lot about the SGO framework for embracing our learning edge, and defensiveness is a vehicle for exploring that edge! If you’re feeling defensive, look at it, examine it, question it, and learn from it.
For more of my favorite resources, you can check out the following: