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Leading DEI Conversations: Lessons on Integrating Facilitating Tools Into Work

Leading DEI Conversations: Lessons on Integrating Facilitating Tools Into Work

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:

  • Listen deeply. We often think of this as active listening, but deep listening is more than that. It’s hearing the words that are said, noticing and naming the nonverbal emotions and body language, and asking questions to probe deeper.
  • Ask good questions. The right questions get someone to reflect more profoundly or consider alternatives.
  • Suspend judgment. This is one of the hardest things in facilitation because folks have their own opinions, and I want to honor that. I also can't let those stated opinions impact other people negatively.

There are a few lessons I’d share with anyone beginning their journey into facilitation work.

Lesson 1: Be introspective and reflective 

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.

Lesson 2: Practice patience and embrace silence 

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.

Lesson 3: Be intentional about the questions you ask 

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.

Lesson 4: Defensiveness is our best teacher

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. 

Additional Resources:

For more of my favorite resources, you can check out the following: 

Develop and practice facilitation skills and frameworks you can apply in the workplace

The Leading DEI Conversations program will help you learn how to discuss topics related to diversity, equity and inclusion, how to reflect on and leverage power and privilege, how to hold space for yourself and others during difficult moments, and most importantly, how you can exercise accountability through a holistic lens of self and communal care.