Boundaries + Creating Safe Spaces for Others

The other day I was called out for not actively participating in a virtual group activity, and it made me feel like crap.

I was going to add this piece to the end of this blog entry, but it bears too much importance to leave to the end: 

In this article I talk about how I felt unsafe in a Zoom room situation.

The situation, in the grand scheme of things, is minor in my life, and I was not subject to any attacks based on my race, gender, sexuality, religion, abilities, or other personal attributes that others ARE marginalized for on a constant basis. 

As you read on, imagine other folks marginalized by the system experiencing what I experienced. How might they internalize the experience? Would they speak up for themselves? Would they go along with the situation?

What other ways would this situation have marginalized folks further?

So here’s the scenario:

 

Zoom room. Group of peers. I’m new to this group, and was looking forward to checking out the activity.

The facilitator was friendly and energetic and they understood the assignment: Lead people towards having fun. 

Cool.

Except 10 minutes in I was trying to figure out a way to get out of the Zoom room without abruptly hitting the “leave” button.

The gathering started with a dance party. Despite singing in a rock band, and losing my dancing mind whenever I’m at a live Jack White show, I don’t like dancing in front of people.

No problem. I just turned off my camera and boogied away without anyone needing to see my epic moves.

I noticed, though, that the facilitator was spotlighting all the guests. Well, okay, I thought. I would have been uncomfortable if I was spotlighted, but it’s OK, my camera’s off. I don’t need to project my feelings and fears onto others.

Next up: Facilitator energetically asks us to introduce our names, pronouns, and where we live.

I can do all of that. I do it all the time. Totally cool. Camera is back on.

In the back of my mind, though, I’m wondering when the facilitator is going to let people know that they can share their pronouns IF they’re comfortable doing so, because making folks feel obligated to share their pronouns can put those who are questioning their identities in a really uncomfortable spot.

I mean, I LOVE that we were invited to share our pronouns (mine are she/her), AND it’s so much better to give people a way out if they don’t want to share.

If you want to read more on why it’s not such a great idea to ask people for their pronouns in a group setting, check out Megan Brown’s article on aninjusticemag.com here.

 

Okay, we’re now getting into the intros.

By the way, everyone HAS to introduce themselves. The facilitator is calling on each of us. They haven’t invited us to put up our virtual hands to offer our introductions. No probs for me: I’m extroverted and don’t mind.

But what about the person in the room who had no idea we were going to be speaking and introducing us and now feels forced to speak?

A few intros in, and the facilitator is asking us to cheer everyone on. That’s great.  Except when they call me out for not being energetic.

Ugh.

Look, I like having fun. I laugh out loud REALLY loudly, and I love high energy. But in this moment I was tired having just come out of a more serious Zoom. And oh yeah, it was the 19th anniversary of my dad’s death that day, so, you know, I wasn’t REALLY feeling it.

Now I don’t want to look like a spoil-sport, so I’m finding myself faking some high energy.

Funny thing is: I WAS engaged. I was truly interested in meeting everyone in the room as I would be working a number of them in the coming years. But now I was distracted because I had to lend my energy to my faking exhilaration when folks introduced themselves.

As I write that, the phrase “I just can’t” comes up.

And I also ask myself, why the heck did I try faking it? What didn’t I say “I’m here and enjoying this, but this is my level of energy today, and it’s a reflection of me and nobody else in the room.”

Because I felt dysregulated when I was called out. I went into a brief flight or fight moment, got defensive, and then went into my automated nice-girl mode that get triggered when I worry that I might have offended someone, or I’m doing something wrong.

Wow. That’s some deeply programmed stuff, and I get so irritated with myself when I can’t override that dysregulation.

AND that’s being human. 

However, I’ve come away with an important reminder for myself, and for you:

We can take responsibility for creating our own safe spaces.

It takes guts. It takes understanding where our boundaries are. It takes a lot of energy sometimes.

And it’s scary because we have to speak up for ourselves.

Now, if I HAD spoken up for myself, I know that I would have been respectful and would have done my best to not hurt the facilitators feelings because…people pleasing, and a healthy dose of always wanting to be respectful in my interactions because that’s the right thing to do.

Luckily this was a Zoom room and aside from feeling the expectation that I should be exuberant, I was otherwise safe. I was able to leave the room prior to the event ending. And aside from a little bit of frustrated complaining to anyone who would listen to me in the house at that time, I could get on with my day.

And perhaps even more importantly this highlighted how important it is to remember that our words can make people very unsafe, VERY quickly. Folks can feel forced to act in certain ways in certain situations because of implied and explicit expectations, just as it was expected to be visibly excited about the introduction exercise I mentioned above.

As a coach who adheres to the International Coaching Federation’s Code of Ethics and Coaching Competencies, and who just plain wants to create safe spaces for my clients and colleagues, my attention often turns to situations in which others might feel unsafe. I can feel my chest and throat heat up when I believe there’s injustice or unfairness towards someone else.

AND I will never get it perfect. I will strive throughout my life to foster safe spaces, but I’m not always going to get it right, especially in situations outside of coaching sessions when I let my guard down. Sometimes I’ll make mistakes out of ignorance, sometimes I’ll be reactive. But I’ll strive to get it right.

When I shared my frustration about this facilitator with my 16 year-old daughter, she immediately said, “Well, write to them.”

And maybe I will. I would need to craft an email that ensures that the facilitator feels safe and seen. I believe that they did the very best they did, and would want to help folks feel safe in their space.

I’ll report back.

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