Textured background image

Stigma Conversations: Safe Spaces and Difficult Conversations

Creating Safe Spaces and Managing Difficult Conversations

Creating a safe space means ensuring that the environment of the Stigma Conversation provides participants with the sense of confidentiality and openness to learn and grow together. This is an essential and indispensable part of any exercise related to stigma or addressing people’s biases. Confidentiality means that things shared at the stigma conversation will be kept safe with others in the room. People will not go out and share information discussed at the Stigma Conversation that may harm another person. Openness to learn means that the space will work to challenge people’s perceived notions, allow them to still express their opinions, but be open to criticism or beliefs that may be opposite that should be addressed and identified.

Before starting the Stigma Conversation, facilitators should go through a safe zone exercise in which participants realize what this means and how they should engage other stakeholders at the stigma conversation.

Safe Zone Exercise

Facilitator will discuss what they mean by safe zone:

  • Participants will respect the confidentiality of those who are sharing their stories or experiences today and will not repeat outside the stigma conversation. Participants should take back what they learned from the experience to their colleagues but find ways to uphold the confidentiality of participants.
  • Participants will respect intent and impact of what people say. Respecting intent means that participants will assume those participating are trying to learn together to ensure the response to HIV is the strongest possible. Respecting impact means that what we say does have meaning for others, and while we tried to not be harmful in what we said, others may feel differently. People will be allowed to challenge things said but should do so in a respectful way.

The facilitator can then ask participants if there is anything else they would like to share in making sure the space remains a safe zone for all. The facilitator should write on a flip board any rules or decisions made by the group and put the paper in a visual space. The facilitator can go back to this agreement throughout the stigma conversation in case any issues or difficult conversations arise.

More information can be found here.

Discussions around stigma and discrimination can bring up emotional responses in people who have been directly impacted and/or have lived experiences and those who may not have perceived its existence before learning about it. With any group meeting, there may be a “spoiler” individual who makes things difficult for the group to learn and grow together. It is important that facilitators can manage such conversations in which people stay engaged and feel like they are being listened to. Facilitators can help the overall audience learn and grow from the experience and make this process transformative.

Tips and Tools for Managing Difficult Conversations: