Practice active and empathetic listening
Our attention is valuable. Who we give our attention to often reflects existing power structures and hierarchies. Actively listening to all participants, and being open to hearing perspectives different from our own, are a key foundation to creating a space in which everyone can contribute in a meaningful way.
Challenge the idea, not the person
Critical dialogue requires examining ideas and challenging one another to consider alternative perspectives. While we can’t entirely separate thoughts and perspectives from the people who share them, it is important to question and critique the ideas being presented, rather than the person presenting them, to allow all participants to continue to engage without feeling shut down.
Be both teachers and learners
We must acknowledge that we all come with different experiences and perspectives. By sharing these, we can teach and learn from one another and build a fuller and more complex understanding of the topic at hand.
Take space and make space
In creating equitable and inclusive spaces, everyone needs to be heard, and everyone needs to speak. The responsibility of vulnerability and offering experiences and perspectives to the group, must be shared by all participants, and not just rest on a handful of people. Balancing taking space and making space also helps flatten existing hierarchies of who should be heard the most, or who should be expected to share on certain topics. Reflecting on ourselves and whether we tend to take space or make space in a given conversation can be a helpful tool in managing this balance.
Stories stay, lessons leave
Creating spaces where people feel comfortable being candid and vulnerable can be incredibly powerful. It’s important to recognize that this comfort often comes from the trust built with the group through time, reciprocal vulnerability, and mutually agreed upon ground rules. Therefore, someone may choose to share something in one space, but they may not be comfortable with it being shared by someone else in another space. While we encourage people to take what they learned and share it with others, names, identifying details, and private information should remain confidential.
Use “I” statements
Our lived experiences provide us with a wealth of knowledge and insight, and are crucial sources for learning and understanding our own and others’ roles in organizations, communities, and the world at large. It is important that we own these experiences as our individual perspectives in order to recognize that one person’s experience cannot speak for an entire group of people. Focusing on ‘I’ statements also encourages us to be specific and purposeful in our sharing, rather than relying on general or vague statements.
Simply put, one person speaks at a time. This means not interrupting, interjecting, or having side conversations when someone else is speaking to ensure everyone can actively listen to whoever is sharing.
Be here now
In addition to being physically present, it’s important for all participants to give their full attention to the group. Being fully present will look differently in terms of body language and eye contact from one person to another, but asking participants to refrain from using phones/other devices or multitasking can help ensure everyone remains engaged.