Creating comfort zones

November 9, 2021

An experienced facilitator is an expert in comfort. When we lead with structure, we’re more equipped to navigate tricky conversations and wade into uncharted territory. And let’s face it – no meeting ever goes exactly as planned.

As facilitators, we aim to increase comfort to include everyone, air new perspectives and generate better ideas. Knowing how to construct comfort zones can help you navigate a challenging topic, chart new territory or get on track when your plan goes off the rails. This guide will show you how.

Set the tone

Let your group know exactly what kind of space you have built. Give warm attention, tell folks that you value safety and offer support for forgiveness. This includes self-forgiveness which you can model by acknowledging your own mistakes.

Define the meeting. Are you asking participants here to stretch, come together to identify new solutions and ideas? Acknowledge the investment of everyone’s time and let them know you’re working together to come up with new insights and solutions

Build structure to diminish power differences and create room for expression

When your group is brainstorming, 1-2-4-All is an excellent technique to model. The idea is to begin with silent reflection, always, to give participants time to organize their thoughts. Then have participants share in increasingly larger groups (pairs, then 4s) that create safer spaces for expression and finally the entire group.

Create structure + goals

In many cultures, people appreciate clear structure. You can do this as a facilitator by using precise sentences and clear explanations to define your session. Offer precise times for breaks and follow through by doing what you say you will do. Being rigorous builds trust and safety because people know you’re taking care of them.

Ask participants to set goals and periodically check in on them. What do they want from the workshop? How can they make sure they’re getting it? Show people how the session is benefiting them.

Make space for underrepresented and marginalized groups

Ask yourself if you’ve made space for marginalized and underrepresented communities. Think about what kind of information you might need to make this possible – and then determine how to get it. Build in check-in times with participants to listen to their needs, get feedback and make sure you are on track.

Additional resources

Liberating Structures
Get Comfortable with Discomfort

How to build safety in a group