Safe Spaces for Communication

Louise Diamond

President and Founder of Peace-Tech

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Q: You did mention safety a few times and I thought maybe we could talk about how to create a safe space in a dialogue group, or when you conduct some sort of intervention between parties that are very antagonistic.

A: There are the normal things that you know that are generally spoken of in the field to have credibility when you come in, to have a local sponsor who has credibility on both sides, to make sure that you are funded that doesn't slant you toward one side or the other, that is not a safe space. The obvious things like that, like meeting in a neutral place that is not considered the territory of one group or another, if you have to do that do one day on this side and one on the other. Create an environment in the room where people take responsibility for their own sharing and learning and there is no pressure that you have to speak. Make a safe space that people feel like they can say what they need to say there. I would take it further and again it goes further to the training that I have had for which I am very greatful on how to really hold the energy in a room, how to hold an open space energetically, how to trust that what needs to happen will happen and not be afraid when there is silence or when people get angry, or when things get hot, but to be able to be present to that and know that is part of what is happening, sit through it, let it move to the next place because it will. Also be available to be with people if they are having trouble, one on one.

Q: Holding that energy, how do you do that? I know there is not a magic bullet but how do you prepare yourself in your own mind to hold that energy?

A: Well that goes back to the old saying that says, "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me." When I am able to tap into that deep place of inner peace inside me, it generates a field of energy; it is like sounding a tone, a note. You put that note out into the energy field of the whole group and other people start to entrain with that note or resonate with it. For instance, I can think of several occasions where things got very very hot and potentially dangerous for some body or some group, or me, not to often for me, but danger was present. There is not so much anything I could do or say to avert it, or to manage it reliably, I would just go into that deep place of inner peace, hold my heart open, hold my love and respect for everyone in the room, contact the highest part of their being to invite that forward and the danger would dissolve, it would pass easily, it happened many times.

Q: That sounds, the way you describe it, as a silent action.

A: Correct.

Q: Is there a component of that which is more expository?

A: I think it comes from centering yourself but there are tricks of the trade, tools that you can use. One of them that I can say for the purpose of this interview is the "of-course-phenomenon." Of course you are feeling this way. Of course you would like to rip this person to shreds right now, but it doesn't mean you have to do it physically. It is not so much that I use the words of course, but right now you and I sitting together and even as I said that I leaned toward you, I meet you where you are.

Q: I leaned back when you did that.

A: Why?

Q: I don't know.

A: But you're forward now, you came forward again. But you did. The "of-course-phenomenon" is a way of communicating physically and verbally that "where you are is fine." "Let me meet you there and go with you to the next place."