Meg Bolger is a social justice educator, facilitator trainer, and the founder of Facilitator Cards, a set of activity cards used to help design and facilitate group learning. Recently, I (Carla) had the opportunity to participate in a virtual workshop Meg hosted called “Holding Space: Generous approaches to problematic statements and conflict.”
The workshop focussed on productive approaches for responding to ignorance, bias, and problematic statements. And the question was, how do we meet these challenging moments in ways that reduce fracture and increase trust within the groups we’re leading?
For me, one of the big takeaways from this workshop was the idea that our ability to respond successfully depends on our mindset. In other words, how we show up and listen as a facilitator matters.
When we immediately label someone as “wrong”, we often close ourselves off from the speaker, and quickly fracture the possibility of changing the direction of the conversation or finding common ground. But when we turn our focus to the humanity of that person first – and Meg gave us some powerful tips on how to do this – our empathy creates an opening for connection rather than division, and helps transform problematic statements and conflict into deeper understanding.
Meg calls this “a generous approach.”
The key is to connect to the feeling or need of the speaker without agreeing with the content of what they said. And when we meet people in these unexpected ways, Meg says, “we allow for unexpected endings to the story.”
While we learned many strategies to use when someone says something problematic, I will leave you with one of my favourites – the transformer phrase.
“Can you say that again, but using different words?”
The idea is that when someone says something that stops you in your tracks, you allow the speaker to rephrase what they’ve said before responding. What often happens the second time around is that the speaker removes the micro-aggression and gets to the root of what they’re trying to say – which is often far better than what we initially heard. By using this generous approach, inviting curiosity, and aiming towards thoughtfulness and directness, we avoid relying on our perceptions alone, while also giving ourselves a moment to pause before responding.
I look forward to practicing this and the many other tips Meg shared – maybe not just as a facilitator, but also on social media and with friends. Thanks, Meg Bolger!