Challenging, sensitive, personal or confidential conversations are usually unavoidable whenever we gather project requirements, understand needs, and resolve problems/conflicts.

Where we conduct these conversations can have a significant impact on the outcome. A safe space best enables that which is not easily/normally said to come out.

When we think 'space' we often think physical space. We can make a physical space more conducive to productive conversations by minimising distractions, sequestering the participants in a comfortable (but not soporific) room, and positioning furniture to enable openness and bridge hierarchical divides.

Psychological safety is equally important too. A psychological unsafe space – where participants feel on-guard or otherwise restricted from being themselves – is unlikely to produce good results, no matter how perfect the physical environment is.

A psychologically safe space is largely dependent upon the meeting facilitator.

In the set-up phase, the facilitator can work with the group to set up ground rules to cover safety issues such as confidentiality (what is said in this room stays in this room) and the permission to speak freely (everyone has the right to speak and be heard without judgement or criticism.)

The facilitator is also very clear about their role in the process: asking revealing questions, listening, and encouraging each (and every) participant to share their perspective.

How do you create a safe space for challenging conversations?