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The Most Important Agreement to Help Ensure Equitable Conversations
Five simple words can invite self-expression that opens doors and helps honor the diverse needs and preferences of meeting or workshop participants.
Approximate reading time: three minutes.
That’s all it takes to help ensure more equitable and inclusive conversations.
Can you guess what they are?
The answer won’t likely surprise you, but the lack of how often we experience their power in meetings or workshops may disappoint you.
Ask for what you need.
Five words. One simple agreement.
When facilitators make it easier for participants to ask for what they need, conversations—and the space and climate in which they are held—feel different. Ownership for the outcomes and the process seem to increase. Different needs can be shared and acted upon with less discomfort or concern about how they may be perceived. People begin to appreciate how modifying their own behavior can create greater equity and inclusion for others.
But some people are not used to—or have not always found it acceptable or safe—to express their needs to others in a meeting or workshop. In other groups, it may be a cultural norm or belief that members subordinate their needs to the preferences of the group leader or facilitator. Inviting participants to disclose their needs, as well as make doing so an ongoing agreement or commitment, may require some encouragement.
Inviting People to Make Their Ask
We might encourage participants to ask for what they need at any or all of the following three opportunities:
1. In advance through a participant survey: what might you need—or what would make it easier for you—to speak freely and make your best contributions to the session and its intended outcomes?
The answers collected can help inform the session design choices you make, particularly for any pre-work or advance reading and the conversation or learning formats you select for different agenda items or content segments.
2. At the onset of a session when we are committing to shared agreements: what might you need from others (or me) today to speak freely and make your best contributions to the session and its intended outcomes?
Once surfaced or shared, you’ll likely need to discuss the mix of needs, what they may require of members of the group and/or your facilitation, and if logistics or the stated outcomes for the gathering may prevent any of their fulfillment.
3. In the moment when a specific need arises. Offering participants some facilitative language can make it easier for them to ask for what they need in the moment. My suggestion is that they preface their expression of need with “I would find it helpful if …”
As I noted when previously writing about this phrasing:
I would find it helpful if … as a statement of personal need often surfaces what others may find helpful. Example: “I would find it helpful to briefly review the committee’s report before we begin our discussions.”
Note that an unspoken ”I wonder if others would also” almost automatically follows the end of this personal expression, enabling others in the group to agree or share what they would find helpful. The group and/or the designated facilitator can then determine what to do next based on the mix of responses.
Participants will have to appreciate that when their needs differ from those of other group members, it may not be possible to honor them fully. Part of being an effective group member is a willingness to accommodate and/or defer to the diverse needs and preferences present.
Creating an equitable and inclusive climate in meetings and workshops can be easier when people feel comfortable—and commit to—asking for what they need. These personal expressions invite mutual support among participants that honors the diverse experiences, interests, and preferences likely present in almost any group.
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