7 Tips for Creating Safe Spaces for Speaking Out

By Inge Woudstra

Today, I want to share 7 tips on how to create a space where people feel safe to share, as part of a meeting, training programme or workshop.  These tips will help to ensure that people feel encouraged not only to share but also to disagree and be disagreed with, and know it’s okay to get it wrong.

  1. Share an agenda upfront

Some people thrive thinking on their feet, while others prefer to have time to reflect and prepare. Sharing an agenda upfront allows people with either thinking style to feel comfortable.

  1. Agree on the purpose of the conversation or meeting

When people know the purpose, they find it easier to contribute. Examples of the purpose of a meeting could include: ‘gather ideas’, ‘explore the pros and cons of a wide range of options’ or ‘decide which action to take’. This can be included in the agenda, in the form of a question for each agenda item.  For instance, ‘What action should we take in order to achieve…? Discussion’.

  1. Set ground rules that encourage psychological safety

When we agree ground rules at the start of a meeting or conversation, we set expectations and keep lines of communication open. Effective ground rules help to build trust and a sense of safety among a group of participants.

Ground rules can be set by the meeting chair, or can be developed by the group. For example, the rules could include:

  • Listen to others, and refrain from side conversations
  • Respect others’ views; we all have the right to an opinion
  • Ask for clarification before sharing your opinion
  • Speak up when something is unclear or you would like more information
  • Be concise, to allow everyone time to speak
  • Keep an open mind and listen with curiosity
  • Feel free to share what has been said in this meeting, but don’t reveal the identity or the affiliation of the speaker(s), or that of any other participant (Chatham House Rule).


  1. Let people finish

When we give someone space to finish their thoughts, it allows them to fully develop their thinking. It also allows those listening to fully understand where someone is coming from. In contrast, when we interrupt someone we may miss a key insight or conclusion. Moreover, the speaker hasn’t been able to finish their train of thought and will then usually find it harder to listen to others, and may well feel disrespected or undervalued.

As a meeting chair, we would need to speak up when we hear someone isn’t allowed to finish. Last week we shared some tips on how to speak up in a respectful way.

  1. Appreciate contributions

Listen with curiosity and attention, as that gives people the feeling their contribution is appreciated. That in turn means they will be more likely to speak up and contribute next time. Even if we disagree with someone, or will not use their idea, we need to listen with curiosity and attention. Afterwards, we may acknowledge the fact the person has contributed, and let them know what will happen with their idea.

  1. Speak last

When we are in a position of authority, or have an informal position of influence, others will wait for our input and will be inclined to align their opinion with ours. Therefore, it’s important we are aware of our own position in a group and take care to speak last when possible.

  1. Encourage positivity

It’s easy to get stuck in negativity. When evaluating a situation or an idea, we tend to focus on what isn’t working. When listening to an idea, we often only see its downsides and why the idea may not work. If you notice this in meetings, unlock positive thinking by asking questions such as, ‘What is already working?’, ‘What could we do to solve this issue?’, ‘If we do this, what would we need to do to make it work?’ or ‘What is already going well?’

Following these tips will make it easier for people to open up and to contribute with their inner thoughts, without fear of repercussions. They will therefore facilitate an inclusive environment where everyone can speak out, and the group will benefit from a wider range of contributions.

If you are looking to learn more about creating safe spaces for your team, why not contact us for a no-obligation chat?