Safe Space Skills

Active Listening

Reflect On What You Hear

How can you create a safe space in your workshops?

One of the more common phrases you'll hear when learning about facilitation or coaching is active listening. There's a difference between just hearing the words of a participant, and actually listening to them. When you reflect on those words, your trainees know that you're there to support them.

One of my favorite ways to do this is write down participant responses whenever possible. I'm a flipchart/whiteboard advocate for sure! As you write their response, you can reply to your participant by confirming your understanding of their input. A great phrase to use is, "My understanding of what you said is..." Feel free to correct your written notes, or take some time to clear up any misunderstanding.

I find that having a visual representation of participant responses also makes it easier to refer back to later on in the session. Reinforcing and supporting positive interactions helps create a safe space for your trainees to get out of their comfort zone and really learn.

Build Trust

Create a Judgement-Free Space

Honesty and vulnerability are necessary for participants to embrace growth and change, and building trust makes it possible.

Getting a group of strangers or acquaintances to open up within a 60-120 minute timeframe is a major challenge! Facilitators need to create a safe judgement-free space to allow for an open exchange of ideas and feedback. One of my favorite ways to do this is to facilitate the creation of a set of group guidelines, with the “rules” presented and agreed upon by the participants. I usually have to provide a cheeky/simple suggestion to get the ball rolling (“What was that great Aretha Franklin song that talks about how she wants to be treated...?!”).

Even the simplest guidelines can convey that (1) as the facilitator you are going to help uphold those guidelines and (2) there is social accountability to the “rules” that anyone can enforce.

Building trust doesn’t happen immediately, hence the word build, so I look forward to sharing more tips on the processes I’ve used that have been successful.


Use Inclusive Language

Y’all means all!!

As someone that grew up in the southern US, I have the tendency to use the word/phrase y’all- it’s a combination of you and all and is typically used to refer to a group of people that are in the speaker’s vicinity.

I love to use y’all during trainings because it is gender neutral and more inclusive! How often do we use the gendered word “guys” or “ladies and gentlemen” when it could be replaced with something neutral like y’all? Or when you read a case study or book or job posting that says “he or she” instead of “they”?

Why is this important? At least in the US, our culture is slowly but surely coming to acknowledge and respect folks/folx (another great gender neutral word!) all over the gender spectrum... but frequently in personal/professional development something as simple as this is overlooked. This potentially leaves out some of the participants in your group, making it more difficult to learn from the wisdom that is being imparted.

There are many ways to approach this (try a quick internet search for “inclusive language”). My example is based on gender, but it is applicable to race, religion, geographic location, immigration status, criminal history, etc.

Different sectors (areas of work) have different key inclusivity language points. For example, if someone was convicted of a felon and served time, it’s better to refer to those individuals as ‘previously incarcerated’ as opposed to felons.

Remember: each audience you work with will have different needs regarding inclusion, so do your homework and practice using the appropriate words, phrases, and references for your trainees. Taking the time to do this shows that you are truly invested in their growth!