1. As you sit down to plan your workshop, focus first on designing rules you will establish. To begin, close your eyes and imagine the face of a colleague who is likely to be most fragile in the conversation. Think about all the things that someone might say or do during your workshop that could lead to this individual feeling unsafe. Create a T-chart and write each of these unsafe words, phrases, and actions on the left.
2. For each of these unsafe words, phrases and actions, use the right side of the T-chart to write a corresponding rule that will mitigate the risk of each thing happening. If there is a rule that addresses multiple threats, do not repeat the rule.
3. As you begin your workshop, make sure both of your feet are flat on the floor and that your shoulders are squared to project confidence and authority. Share the list of rules with all participants using a firm tone. Place an emphasis on any rules involving “assuming the best” so that some participants will be obligated to focus more on intentions and not on the impact of offensive things that will be said.
4. If there is a rule pertaining to body language and there are women of color in your workshop, slow down your speech, state the rule, and then scan the room making eye contact with a few of these women. If there is a black woman present, after sharing the rule pertaining to body language, check to see if her arms are folded. If they are, pause. Hold your gaze with her. Count to five in your head. Gently nod. Now continue.
5. Make sure that you stand somewhere that allows you to see all participants. Try to stand close to the colleague whose face you envisioned in step one as they may need emotional support. If possible, also try to stand far from the man who appears most distressed. Standing too close may make him feel further threatened and this may result in a range of emotions that will make everyone else uncomfortable.
Warning: If this man becomes emotionally dysregulated, trust that only certain participants will become unsafe and may need to exit the room. Do not worry about having to identify these participants in advance. They will know who they are.
6. As you ask participants to share their experiences in partners or small groups, walk around the room and listen to what people are saying. Be sure to have a pen and pad so you can write down the names of people you should not call on to share with the broader group.
7. As people share their thoughts and feelings, be sure to look around and notice the faces of participants who are listening. If someone’s face turns extremely red and they fold their arms, do not call on them. If someone’s hand is high in the air and they are waving their fingers or wiggling their wrist, do not call on them. If you notice someone with raised eyebrows and puckered lips, do not call on them.
8. If you are feeling like the conversation is becoming too tense, call on a non-person-of-color from a working-class background and ask them to describe how economic inequity has impacted their life. If such a colleague is not available, call on someone who may be able to describe how their grandfather built generational wealth even though he started out with only a potato in his pocket. This will remind participants that hard work is the path to equality. Either option will help steer the conversation away from issues of race and toward economic oppression as the real root of evil.
9. To end the conversation, call on the colleague whose face you envisioned in step one. As she begins to cry, lower your head and furrow your brow. If you can, cry with her. This will signal to other participants that you are either unsure of where to go from here or that the conversation has reached a point that feels too risky to continue.
10. If you notice more than one participant of color appearing angry, announce that you will establish a committee to explore the best way to continue the dialogue. Follow up via email at some point in the coming weeks. Follow up sooner if you hear that more than one black employee is considering resigning. If one of these employees is articulate and punctual, establish the committee immediately and ask them to lead it.