Inclusion in the ‘Next Stage’

Now that COVID vaccinations are becoming more widespread, how many conversations have you been part of recently revolving around the ‘next stage?’ Whether personal gatherings, community meetings, or ongoing work, you may have been involved in a number of ‘what does this mean for us?’ brainstorms about how to step out of the Zoom window and back into seeing each other face-to-face. But throughout this pandemic, we’ve seen that people have a multitude of approaches and a huge spectrum of risk tolerance. The easing of restrictions is not going to change this; instead it will simply shine a light on it and make the disparities more visible.

I’ve been in a few of these ‘next stage’ conversations where the collective decision has been that it’s too soon to make a decision about what that next stage looks like. And in many cases, this is perfectly appropriate and matches where the group is. But it’s also easy to meta-process to the point of paralysis; to decide it’s too soon to make a choice without thinking through what the choices would even be.

So as we collectively move into this next phase, how can you make plans around reopening with inclusion? What would build an environment that is honoring and respectful while still moving forward with the goals that make your group the group that it is?

This Week’s Tip:

Err of the side of inclusion:

  1. Ask lots of open ended questions – of yourself and anyone else involved. Questions might include “What are priorities for you that we should consider when planning ahead?”, “What would make you want / not want to be physically present for the next stage?”, “What kind of support would you like to see us provide?” etc.
  2. Use multiple modalities. Some people won’t respond to an email but feel more comfortable speaking their mind out loud. Some people are the complete opposite. Some know immediately and intuitively how they would answer questions; some need to let the question percolate so they can choose their words carefully and deliberately. Depending on the context, you may want to host a listening session or a brainstorming session, while also sending a crafted email asking for people’s input, and offering to be available for direct phone/videoconference conversation.
  3. Give yourselves plenty of time. It will serve you well to hear multiple perspectives. In many cases, it may take people time to feel comfortable answering, and to articulate what they really think.
  4. Encapsulate what you’re hearing and reflect it back. This can be done effectively in the moment in meetings, and by email after the fact. This gives people the experience of being heard, understood, and respected. End each summary with a request for anything that was missed in the encapsulation and it also gives them a chance to dig deeper into what they’re thinking and add anything that they hadn’t initially said. Be clear in communicating the options as you see them and give people an opportunity to add any options that you may not be seeing yourself.
  5. Err on the side of inclusion when choosing next steps. When the time comes to move forward, be over-the-top in building a sense of safety. Remember that trust takes time to build, and a single moment to break. You can’t build that trust for them, but you can work slowly and deliberately to build an environment where everyone can begin to rebuild that trust for themselves. 

Let us know how the conversations about the ‘next stage’ are going for you; contact us or post in our Facebook group – we’d love to hear from you.

Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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