One of the key skills of a facilitator is ensuring all voices are heard. It’s something we keep in mind in every meeting and in the overall design of projects. Within the core competencies of the International Association of Facilitators, we pledge to promote inclusiveness by encouraging “positive regard for the experience and perception of all participants.” In the IAF Statement of Values and Code of Ethics, members “strive to engender an environment of respect and safety where all participants trust that they can speak freely.” Hearing from everyone in the room is part of most facilitators’ DNA.
Can you already hear echoes of the contradiction I’m struggling with?
There are times when the “experience and perception” of some participants can undermine the ability of other participants to “trust that they can speak freely.”
This truth began to crystallize for me in a meeting last June when a participant [rightly] called me out on one of the session objectives which referred to co-creating a “safe and inclusive space” for opinions to be expressed. She said, “If this space is truly inclusive of everyone, meaning that anyone could show up here, it’s no longer safe for me.” (Challenging in the context of a public meeting).
In another session, someone said, “If you want to hear from everyone equally, you’ll perpetuate patterns of power. ‘Equal’ participation is not equitable.”
In yet another workshop, a participant said, “I am only interested in hearing from people with lived experience of the issues we’re discussing. If that’s not you, you may listen but not speak.”
I’m currently in the midst of a public participation project where the design question is being asked, “Do we want to hear from a representative sample of the full population so that the data is seen as credible by decision-makers, or from a smaller sample of those with direct experience of the issue so that the data is seen as credible by the community?”
These are just a few examples of navigating fraught issues in difficult days. I’d love to hear from others who are trying to figure this out in real life and in real time. How are you balancing full participation with hearing from (and not harming) those whose voices have too often been missing, silenced or quiet?