Being embarrassed to ask a question can have disastrous consequences.
Think sex ed, health issues, politics or any other hot topic.
Not feeling free to ask questions can lead to a flood of misinformation and dangerous behaviour that spreads.
Years ago, at a drug and alcohol workshop for parents, the school district counselor started off her workshop telling us so-called facts youth had told her such as:
- You just need to eat a lot of bread before you drink because the bread soaks up the alcohol
- You can’t get pregnant while you’re drinking alcohol if you also drink Mountain Dew
Oy! Makes my head hurt to think of the misinformation that was out there AND the dangerous behaviour it created (not to mention the false sense of safety).
You may not be focused specifically on what young people are thinking about drugs, alcohol and sex ed but take your pick of a sensitive topic you’re dealing with.
In today’s volatile environment, facts are increasingly scarce so it benefits everyone to create environments that make asking questions about sensitive topics easier.
Here’s how one library does it. SO easy, SO effective.
Here’s how you can do it when you’re leading a workshop:
- Take time initially to help people relax into the learning in your opening. A relaxed brain and its owner are more likely to engage and feel safe.
- The tone you set will, more than anything, either encourage or discourage tough questions.
- State unequivocally that questions are welcome – during the workshop, at break, etc. Don’t make people wait to ask questions.
- Give anonymous options for questions and feedback such as this free online polling tool polleverywhere. Or provide a container for people to anonymously submit handwritten questions.
- Give the group options for working in pairs and small groups, which can be an easier option for some to talk about tough issues than in a large group.
- Make sure you provide time and space to transition from a tough topic to the next one. Encourage folks to breathe, move about, etc. If it’s been a really tough conversation try to move the group to another space in the room to help transition.
Sensitive topics raise their heads frequently. How you deal with them provides a powerful incentive (or inhibitor) for others do so. So walk your talk and praise and encourage people who do ask tough questions.
And make sure to demonstrate vulnerability yourself. Vulnerability leads to connection and connection leads to bridging and bridging leads to inclusion and belonging. We’re all in this together after all.
Now go on and learn, laugh and lead.
- Creating a learning space that welcomes vulnerability leads to powerful learning.
- Take a few minutes to reflect on what powerful learning means to you and go forth and make it happen.
Shame and embarrassment cast a huge shadow on learning. It’s often the littlest of things that cast the biggest shadow.