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Shared Agreements Foster Inclusion


Shared agreements are the crux of creating an inclusive space. Often called “ways of being” or “group norms,” shared agreements are standards and behaviors that a group creates together, and agrees to stick to. This process is effective because it establishes ways of being together at the beginning of a gathering, such as a meeting, conference, or workshop, and holds all participants accountable to collective expectations. If someone violates a shared agreement, the facilitator(s) or the group collectively can gently remind them of the agreements made. Ideally, shared agreements are posted on the wall and visible at all times.

               by Rineshkumar Ghirao on Unsplash

Shared agreements differ from the commonly used “ground rules.” While ground rules establish acceptable behaviors, codes of conduct, and generally what the group does not want to do, shared agreements aim higher, by creating group accountability and mutual respect. Shared agreements are rooted in values, principles, and equity. They are centered on what the group does want to do and who they want to be in shared space. These statements have the power to create and cultivate a vision of equity, inclusion, and belonging in action. 

Shared agreements are most effective when they are explained at the beginning of an event. The purpose of co-creating these statements should be clearly stated, and that the facilitator asks if anyone needs clarification or has any questions. It’s very important that everyone in the room agrees with the proposed list of agreements. Obtaining group consensus can be done by asking, "Is there anyone who cannot live with this list?" or by asking everyone to give a thumbs up if they are OK with the list.

Below are some of my go-to shared agreements:

  • Be the expert of your own experience - Use “I” statements.
  • Learning leaves, stories and names stay here
    • Larger concepts and ideas can be shared outside of this space to extend the learning and conversations while maintaining confidentiality. 
  • Take space, make space / Share the air
    • Challenge yourself to take space if you tend to be quieter, make space if you find yourself talking a lot or otherwise taking up space. Be aware of your airtime to ensure all voices are heard. (More inclusive than "Step up, step back.")
  • Care-front vs. Confront
    • Use compassion and empathy when challenging someone about something they said. This is sometimes called “Calling in” vs. “Calling out.” Calling in with love (when appropriate) helps to build a relationship, whereas calling out can be educational, but generally doesn’t nurture a relationship.
  • Embrace discomfort
    • Discomfort is part of the growing and learning process.
  • “Oops,” and “Ouch”
    • Say “Oops” if you said something you didn’t mean to, and “Ouch” if you hear something that was offensive or hurtful.
  • Intent and Impact both matter
    • Even with the best of intentions, if something said caused harm, it's important to recognize the impact and address it in the moment or shortly after.
  • Make decisions by consensus
  • Non-judgmental space

Shared agreements are an opportunity to envision and practice the world we want to live in. When we design, act, and live with intention in smaller group spaces, we are creating and modeling equity, inclusion, and accessibility in a larger sense.

Does this post resonate with you? What are some other shared agreements you find effective? Please share in the comments section!