Tiffany Quivers started her session “Creating Safe Spaces for Meaningful Conversations” by expressing how excited she is to be part of a conference that’s about unleashing potential for all. She said there’s a data point that says leaders plateau and don’t tap into their potential. Quivers explained that her work focuses on how facilitators, leaders, and teachers can establish the conditions that enable them to tap into their best—their fullest potential.
To start from a place of shared understanding, Quivers began with the definitions of safe—that is, “not likely to be harmed”—and meaningful or “having a sincere, important, or useful quality or purpose.” She explained that conversations are sometimes uncomfortable. “Human connection is as threatened by unhealthy peace as by unhealthy conflict,” Quiver stated, using a quote from facilitator and author Priya Parker.
Quivers outlined that she would talk about how to create safe spaces coming from a place of possibility as well as what impedes those safe spaces. While we don’t literally put gags or muzzles on others or ourselves, we do create constraints that prevent us from living up to our potential. That in part is because of the cycle of socialization, as Bobbie Harro laid out in Readings for Diversity and Social Justice. Soon after birth, we receive messages about norms and values—first from our families; then, as we socialize, we hear these in our schools, places of worship, and communities. We are rewarded or punished according to our behaviors. Subsequently, we learn to hide parts of ourselves, and we are less than our authentic selves.
We self-censor through what Amy Edmondson calls “implicit voice theory,” taking for granted when and why speaking up is risky or inappropriate at times, beliefs that have developed over time from our interactions with authority.
Moving beyond those ingrained ideas involves considering how we enter a space and then choosing to create our own definition of who we are, Quiver explained. She then asked attendees to take some time to reflect on what three words they use individually to define themselves.
The goal is freedom from limiting beliefs, both for ourselves and others. Quivers shared with attendees a framework for how facilitators and leaders can help learners and employees get to this space of freedom—that is, by engaging and inspiring them.
To engage is to capture someone’s interest. Facilitators and leaders do so by asking:
- What is the purpose of the meeting?
- What is of interest to the group? That involves humanizing learners.
- What is the WIIFM (What’s in It for Me)?
Quivers noted that facilitators and leaders must contemplate those questions prior to entering the meeting or training course. Then, once the session has started, they should:
- Clarify and agree on the group’s direction.
- Set the intention of how the facilitator and learners will use the time, and then let it go. Do not let time be the constraint. Have a second meeting if needed to continue the dialogue.
- Share group rules that allow for mutual respect and honesty.
Quivers pointed out that facilitators and leaders inspire “to stimulate the mind, especially toward creativity,” through:
- Being present
- Listening to understand
- Tapping into the seeking system of the brain—that is, that people want to be part of something bigger, and they want to be challenged
- Using participants’ names
- Acknowledging and leveraging the brilliance in the room
- Inviting fresh possibilities into the room
- Allowing everyone to be heard, to deepen the understanding of each other’s desires
- Creating space for silence to support people in finding their voice
Achieving freedom, then, comes through:
- Noticing the level of engagement
- Considering whether radically different viewpoints are being offered
- Asking whether the community is generating inclusive alternatives that synthesize all stakeholders’ needs?
- Weaving together ideas and requests so that the plan honors everyone’s contribution
- Showing admiration and appreciation
Quiver left attendees with questions to consider: How could I better engage my audience? How could I better inspire those around me? How could I create more spaces of freedom? Attendees discussed those questions at great length during the live Q&A that followed her presentation.
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