preliminary ground rules

All of the “facilitating difficult conversations 101” material I’ve been reading over the past few weeks is emphatic about the need for ground rules. Typically these rules are established by consensus of the group (you!). However, the facilitator may sometimes suggest/provide preliminary ground rules. Since many of us come to this conversation with a sense of distrust that our colleagues are actually willing, respectful listeners and learners, I thought it would be helpful to provide some basic parameters.

Here are five things with I will be expecting from all Salon participants from the get-go, until we formalize our code of conduct / comment policy / participation guidelines.

1. We are peers in this group. Whether you have a PhD and thirty years’ professional experience,  a student in your first year of library school, or an archivist struggling with long-term unemployment, you bring a unique and individual perspective to the table. Use what social privilege you have wisely and lightly; recognize we all have something to learn; consider whether your message (implicit, explicit) will encourage the hesitant toward speech.

2. Don’t presume a shared perspective. We may share (broadly speaking) a profession, but we all occupy unique and complex positions within the profession and society more broadly. Don’t assume that your colleagues in this space share your views. Don’t assume you can discern a specific individuals motivations or preferences based on, for example, their gender, their geographic location, their job description, age, or any other group-based identity.

3. Likewise, avoid generalizations. When describing a phenomenon, be specific in your examples (even if you don’t name names). Don’t say, “The guys nearing retirement are just scared we’re going to take their jobs!” Instead, consider saying, “N’s recent comment on Blog X came across as super defensive and made me wonder if there’s some truth to the stereotype that some older white guys feel threatened by younger professionals entering the job market.”

4. Accept others subjective experiences. At the Salon, you will not be expected to prove you’re correct in feeling how you feel, a meme that’s been rearing it’s ugly head in recent debates. Since we are all different (see #2) we will subjectively experience situations uniquely. A joke about tea and kittens told by someone may hurt someone else. Even if that joke was meant positively, the person who experienced it negatively is not “wrong” in their reaction — they feel what they feel. And I expect those feels not to be summarily dismissed.

5. Finally, respect group confidentiality. No, we’re not a 12-step program or Fight Club … but please respect that some of these conversations may include sensitive information. Do not share identifying details of other peoples’ stories without getting explicit, specific permission from them to do so. If you violate this one, you will no longer be welcome at the Salon.

Apart from #5, these ground rules are designed to be flexible and allow myself, Anna Clutterbuck-Cook (and, eventually, I hope, other moderators) to step in and mediate if an individual participant reports discomfort with a situation. If you experience or observe what you believe is a violation of one of these five tenants (or something else that makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe), please contact me directly at amiablearchivists [at] gmail [dot] com and we will address the situation together.

I encourage all of you to be clear and direct in setting boundaries for yourselves and articulating your concerns about group culture or individual actions that you experience or view as harmful. Open and respectful communication should go a long way in helping is not replicate the insider/outsider dynamics many of you have experienced within other professional spaces.

Feedback is welcome as we enter the phase of determining what type of community framework we would like to share. Drop suggestions, preferences, links, etc. in the comment thread below.

last updated: 2014-07-03 by ajc-c

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