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Radically Inclusive Virtual Workshops: Real-Time Learnings From Zoom

This post about Radically Inclusive virtual workshops is by Candor Coach Melissa Andrada.

As a Candor Coach, I’ve been fortunate to facilitate remote workshops on creating cultures of Radical Candor through a lens of diversity, equity and inclusion for myriad organizations over the past few months. For those facilitating any kind of virtual workshop, I want to share real-time learnings from the field on how to create a radically inclusive virtual workshop as we adapt to this new normal over Zoom. 

Radical Inclusion workshop

Begin building an inclusive space before the workshop

Co-create with key leaders to ensure the workshop is tied to the larger organization’s strategy and leadership objectives. Conduct discovery, research and alignment calls with key stakeholders to shape the learning design around organizational and individualized needs, understand where the workshop fits in within the performance management strategy alongside other programming and activities. 

Conduct a workshop participant meeting survey to uncover and hold space for individualized needs around inclusion. Questions can include: 

  • What are your pronouns? (e.g. she/her, they/them, he/him) 
  • What are your accessibility needs? (e.g. parent working from home, hard of hearing, social anxiety)
  • What can we do to help you feel safe and supported in our Zoom meeting
  • What is your preferred mode of learning or communication? 

Share personal stories from your life with participants to create a sense of safety. 

The more people know you, the more likely they are to trust you. The more you share of yourself, the more they will share of themselves. Vulnerability begets vulnerability. I usually include this heartfelt essay on what multiples injuries and chronic pain taught me about life and leadership as a part of an introductory email and at the beginning of surveys that require vulnerability and higher degree of emotional labor. 

Coach Melissa Andrada workshop
Candor Coach Melissa Andrada

Meticulously craft an email and/or Slack journey to support the workshop experience. 

Be clear on the purpose, expectations and desired outcomes of the workshop. Provide ample notice on the key discussion topics — especially when they are related to trauma and oppression, be conscious of marginalized communities (e.g. people of color, womxn, LGBTQ2IA+, differently abled) who often have to hold profound emotional labor on behalf of the dominant group .

Provide ample notice on activities, especially if it’s a role play, vulnerable discussion question or exercise that may push folks who are introverted or socially anxious out of their comfort zone.

Creating an inclusive experience during the workshop

Encourage everyone to turn on their cameras and change their display name with any critical information such as pronouns and location.

I attended a Culture Amp workshop where a facilitator described not taking on your camera as the equivalent of wearing a paper bag over your head. However, if people are struggling with mental health or difficult home settings, normalize the option to turn off the camera. Radical inclusion can mean holding space for nuanced and individualized needs. 

Check in to see where people are in the present moment.

One of my opening favorite questions is: How are you feeling in one word? Folks can quickly share this over chat, and it gives you an immediate sense of what people need from an emotional perspective. 

Conduct a meditation to ground the room.

I know the word “meditation” can be polarizing, so I usually say grounding exercise with an invitation to close their eyes, connect to their bodies with verbal guidance on what we want to invoke in the meeting. I will call in safety by literally saying, “You are safe. You are cared for and supported.” 

Co-create community agreements 

Design the container for the culture you want to create. I often collaborate with the client to design and highlight agreements that address cultural changes in the organization. Here’s an example I’ve used during past workshop: 

  1. Beginner’s mind — go into the workshop as if you’re hearing the material the first time.
  2. What is said here, stays here. What is learned here, leaves here.
  3. If you tend to speak less, take space. If you tend to speak more, make space. (This is especially powerful for striking a harmony of balanced voices over Zoom.)
  4. Understand the difference between intent and impact. Be conscious of how humor, sarcasm or speech might cause unintended harm. (This is powerful for giving every participant permission to call out microaggressions. For example, if someone says “hey guys” you might say, “I know you don’t mean to cause harm, but in the spirit of our community agreement, the phrase “hey guys” literally only refers to the men in the room, and may make women and other gender non-conforming folks feel excluded and left out, particularly when leadership is dominated by male voices.
  5. Celebrate vulnerability, have the courage to share what you really feel and think — your dreams, fears, life experiences and insecurities
  6. Embrace failure. It’s better to show up imperfectly than not at all. 
  7. Breath into discomfort; pause if things get heated.

Share the agreements at the beginning for each workshop, share multiple times to the workshop participants over email. 

Acknowledge microaggressions (what I call micro injustice) in real-time.

I know this is difficult, awkward and scary but we need to push through the discomfort to build a culture of speaking truth to powerIf I notice someone unintentionally say something that might cause harm, I’ll often pause the room and say to the person, “May I offer gentle feedback on what you said?” 

They usually say yes, this recently happened during a workshop where someone made an ableist micro injustice. I will channel a spirit greater myself to help guide my body language and tone of voice, often looking at a painting of Maya Angelou and re-reading my purpose on a piece of paper, which is about bringing my whole heart to fight for social justice.

“I say this with love and kindness. I know this wasn’t your intention, but your last comment around wishing you could write with your feet caused me pain as someone who has experienced chronic physical pain and temporary disability.” 

Being vulnerable, sharing your pain, focusing on impact versus intent, focusing on the behavior, not the person almost always leads to an even more profound sense of connection and safety. It also gives permission for people to be vulnerable and share their pain. 

Authentically apologize and take genuine action if you’ve caused harm.

I facilitated an in-person workshop on behalf of where I got the feedback that clapping to encourage vulnerability was making some of the shy and introverted folks in the room feel even more intimidated to share. 

For some people clapping doesn’t seem like a big deal, but as someone who is introverted and was once a painfully shy kid who never said a word during meetings, I knew this had the potential to cause profound harm. 

So after our break, I asked the person if I could share the feedback publicly. This person consented, which allowed me to acknowledge the mistake, apologize for the harm, thank the person who gave me the feedback and co-create with 70+ participants in the room to co-design a new form of positive affirmation beyond clapping, which led to folks snapping or opting out all together. 

Radical Inclusion workshop

Pace your facilitation and breakout rooms — move gently and spaciously.

A learning and development manager recently described my style as “gentle and spacious.” In our achievement-obsessed world, we often feel the need to maximize time and speed through key learnings and case studies. 

Rushing through difficult material disrupts psychological safety, particularly if you’re holding space for Radically Candid conversations around racism and other forms of trauma and oppression. 

You cannot rush multi-century long struggles; you cannot expect your organization to be anti-racist through a 10-min breakout room conversation. In the therapy and coaching world, we call it “holding space,” which means taking your time, breathing, and gently encouraging people to speak their traumas and truths without the fear of a deadline.

Take your time with commitments.

The end of the workshop is often an afterthought. Workshops often end with one-sentence commitments that no one remembers, but lately, I’ve been trying to take this a step further to look at how we can reinforce learning and transformation after the workshop. 

Hold space 15-20 minutes for people to reflect on what they’ve learnt and how they are going to act on the learnings the following Monday through a robust plan with clear behavioral changes. 

I commit to…

  • Role Model: Asking for each team member for specific feedback rooted around my go-to question of…How I can be an even more radically inclusive facilitator? What’s an example of something I did well? And not so well? 
  • Role Model: Sharing a difficult feedback story at every other team meeting.
  • Reenforce: Giving unexpected praise to someone over Slack every week. 

After the workshop

Create an impact survey If you have time, do this during the workshop as you’re more likely to get higher response rate — include both quantitative and qualitative questions such as:

  • On a scale of 1-10, how equipped do you feel to act on the information presented during the workshop?
  • How has your leadership and behavior changed since our workshop? 

Every organization and every workshop is unique. Designing for radical inclusion in your workshop means going beyond commercial and organizational objectives, it means truly understanding the needs of your workshop community, particularly folks who come from historically marginalized groups, co-creating alongside them as much as possible and responding to the needs of the community in real time. 

You can see a sample workshop experience for Radical Inclusion through this public interactive talk on Radical Pride, Radical Allyship for General Assembly in June 2020. 

Melissa Andrada is a Candor Coach, facilitator and speaker who is passionate about bringing the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion to Radical Candor workshops and engagements.

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