Tools to Have Discussions
Use this guide to foster meaningful dialogue with your team members, either 1:1 or in groups. View a downloadable version.
Discussion guide for team and 1:1 meetings toward creating a more unified and inclusive community
You already know that engaging in team and follow-up 1:1 discussions are useful during business-as-usual operations, and are especially needed and beneficial in the midst of turbulence and change such as we have been experiencing during this period of grief, anger and unrest as we have witnessed the recent acts of anti-Black racism, hatred, and violence. The purpose of this brief guide is to help you as you engage in conversation with your team, so that your team members, both individually and collectively, will know that you care and prioritize their well-being and that by extension, the University cares for them as well. As a team leader, your goal is to signal this care by engaging in team and individual conversation, recognizing that staying silent is not a constructive response during the real challenges of this time.
It is likely that you do not feel adequately equipped to engage in a conversation about these difficult and complex topics. That is okay. The important thing is to signal your interest and willingness to ask questions and listen; it is not about having the perfect answers. Approaching this with genuine curiosity and readiness to learn and utilizing a growth mindset - confident that we each have the capacity to learn and grow, accepting the mistakes and missteps that come in this process - are the keys to success.
Schedule a meeting
Consider using your regularly scheduled team meeting time to add an agenda item to touch base about how things are going for the team or add a special team meeting to address. The key is to hold the meeting in a timely manner rather than waiting for a meeting cadence that signals a less urgent response.
In the meeting
Introduce the discussion topic and let the team know that at Stanford, we are committed to maintaining a healthy and safe environment in which all community members can thrive and are able to live without fear of racism, discrimination, harassment, and violence. Your objective is to open a dialogue to share about how team members are feeling about racial injustice impacting our Black community as well as other underrepresented groups.
Opening up this type of conversation can bring up difficult and uncomfortable emotions and responses. A useful model for engaging in this conversation is the LARA Method for Managing Tense Talks: https://sparqtools.org/lara/. The following explanation of LARA is taken from Stanford SPARQtools:
L = Listen with your heart
A = Affirm with sensitivity
R = Respond with respect
A = Ask Questions with intent to learn
The LARA method builds respect and common ground between people in conversation, allowing you to explore your differences more openly and honestly. LARA is especially useful when people feel that their hot buttons have been triggered.
Here’s how to use LARA:
Listen very carefully.
- Set aside your own agenda. Make your goal to learn what the speaker thinks and feels, not to change what the speaker thinks and feels.
- Pay special attention to the speaker’s feelings.
- Aim to understand what the speaker means, not just exactly what they say.
Affirm a feeling or value you share with the speaker. This not only makes the person feel heard and understood, but also builds common ground between you. To affirm the speaker’s feelings, use phrases like:
- “What I hear you saying is…”
- “I sense that you feel…”
- “It seems like you feel…”
Examples of shared values affirmations include:
- “I sense we share the desire to do what is right”
- “I appreciate your honesty”
- “It seems we both care deeply about our children’s futures”
- “We both seem to agree that killing people is wrong”
- “I agree with what you said about…”
Respond directly to the concerns or questions the speaker has raised. You may often hear debaters and politicians “talk past” a speaker in order to control the conversation and deliver their talking points. But if you want to sincerely explore your differences, you should show respect by taking the speaker’s concerns seriously and addressing them directly.
In responding to the speaker, avoid labeling or attacking them. Also, avoid portraying your perspectives as universal truths or facts. Instead, use “I-statements” to frame your responses. I-statements include I feel, I believe, I think, I read, I learned in school, and so on.
Consider the good vs. bad responses below:
- “I’ve read many scientific studies suggesting that race is a social construction, not a biological fact” vs. “Science shows that race is a myth, and anyone who doesn’t believe this is simply ignorant.”
- “When you say that women are inferior, I feel angry” vs. “You are sexist.”
- “I have read in the Bible that people suffer because God is punishing them” vs. “People suffer because God is punishing them.”
Ask questions or add information.
Open-ended questions help you gain a better understanding of the other person’s perspective. They also demonstrate that you are genuinely interested in an exchange of information, not just working to win your point.
- “How did that make you feel?”
- “Why do you think you reacted that way?”
- “How did you reach that conclusion?”
Only after you have listened to and understood the speaker’s concern can you add additional information, such as a personal story or opinion.
The flow of meeting could look something like this:
- Start the meeting with the usual pre-meeting casual social conversations and greetings. This helps to create a feeling of ease in the team. Explain the purpose of the discussion and set a comfortable tone. Share with the team that these topics can bring up difficult emotions such as anger, anxiety and grief and that is to be expected.
- The following discussion prompts are offered as suggestions to getting the conversation started. You don’t have to feel compelled to get through all of them or to make sure that each team member speaks or that you have all the answers. Your job is to bring the questions and facilitate discussion.
- How are you doing? Given the national protests and the pandemic — how are you personally impacted?
- As we confront the reality of anti-black institutional racism and the many ways it manifests itself, what are things we should be thinking about or doing here at Stanford to create a more inclusive and equitable culture?
- If you feel inclined, share what you are personally going to do and why you care?
- Let the team know that you are open to holding individual meetings and that this would be a good time to bring topics that they do not feel comfortable discussing in a group meeting.
- Thank the team for their candid sharing and useful discussion. Reiterate any next steps.
Schedule a meeting
Use your regular 1:1 time to check-in following the team discussion. If you do not have a regularly scheduled 1:1 meeting, consider adding a touch base time.
In the meeting
Introduce the discussion topic and let the team member know that your objective is to learn more about their point of view around the team discussion topics and to also offer a private time to discuss any particular questions or concerns. Let the team member know that it is okay to not share and that you want them to know that you are available should they want to address at a later date.
Consider utilizing a similar structure and question set to what you already covered in the team discussion. Remember, you don’t have to be concerned about having all the answers. After the discussion, thank the team member for their candid sharing and useful discussion and reiterate any next steps.