A couple of weekends ago, sorting through some old boxes I came across some of my school reports. Which raised some chuckles – ‘as Michelle says, she is not an athlete.’ But in particular, I was struck by the amount of times throughout my educational career, that I was described as ‘quiet’ with a critical undertone (except for in Home Economics apparently in which I was described as being ‘very lively.’ It must have been the sugar rushes from all those cakes.)


It irked me really, this judgement.  And it also made me think. It made me think about the importance of how we engage people, and how we can empower people who may find less ease in adding their voices in conversations, groups, sessions, workshops, and any forum where we come together. Because of course it’s not just young people who may not find it comfortable to put their hand up.


What often stops people sharing their thoughts, adding their voice, is fear of how their words – their thoughts, their ideas – will be received. ‘What if people think I’m stupid?’ ‘What if I say something wrong?’ These are thoughts that have entered my head many, many times – as a girl, and as an adult. I suspect I’m not alone. It can also be difficult for some people just to find a gap in a conversation or discussion to squeeze in. Or it could be that people don’t speak up because they simply think their opinions don’t matter. Which is just so wrong.


So we’ve got to make it safe for people to engage, we’ve got to make it easy for them to have their say. And there are a few things we can do to do just that.

We can empower people to have their say by taking practical action. One of the approaches that I love and swear by is Time to Think by Nancy Kline. Adopting this methodology when I’m chairing or facilitating sessions means that everyone gets a turn to speak, everyone is equal. Which means that people who may not find it easy to step forward can relax – because everyone will have the floor at some point.


And silence is important in engaging people too. Letting the silence just sit – which can feel tough at first –  so that people don’t feel hurried to finish their sentence, pressurised to cut short their thought. Silence is a way of letting people know that there is space at the table for them.

Silence is also crucial because it tells people that they are being listened to. I have always felt that one of the kindest things that we can do for another human being is attentively listen. It tells people that their views matter enough to warrant our full attention.

We can also show people that they matter, that their opinion is valued by giving positive reinforcement for what is being said. And crucially, we can underline how we value people’s views by letting people know what has been done – or what is going to be done – as a result of their feedback.


And the cumulative effect of doing these things is that people who may naturally feel more reticent to engage end up becoming empowered and confident to add their views more often. I know this myself – you cannot shut me up these days.


Make it safe. Make it easy. And in doing so, we can reach, connect, and engage with more people.









P.S. I thought this poem rather apt. Taken from the amazing Poetry Pharmacy Forever by William Sieghart



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