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How to Open Up and Discuss Sensitive Topics in Groups

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Johnny Warström2017-03-14

In this article, we are going on a more serious tone. Let’s face it: At some point in time, we need to handle a sensitive situation and we are not sure how to go about doing it. If you have experienced that before in your workplace, classroom, or life in general, then you are at the right place!


Easier Said Than Done

A case study discussing gender issues in Tanzania.

Here, we will present a story from Malin, a representative from Help to Help, who successfully engaged in addressing gender equality issues with 100 women. Sometimes, creating discussions revolving around sensitive topics can be really hard. It requires the understanding and respect from the person initiating the topic and the cooperation of the audience. When we want to let people know that we are here to help them address their issues, and offer to make changes in their lives, we need to adopt a tactful communication approach. This involves considering the way the session is conducted; the way we talk to people, the mood set in the room, and the assurance that follow-up will be taken. So, how do we go about it? Read on to find out more!

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Make Them Feel Safe

For Malin, her workshop was conducted with an audience too large for one-to-one interaction, coupled by the fact that they had only known each other for 6 days, so it did not feel appropriate to jump straight into the discussion of gender issues. Nothing matters more than reflecting a genuine motive to make your audience feel at ease. You may begin by letting them open up their feelings, asking them if they would like to share anything on their mind. Ensure that they are shown respect and avoid any criticisms or judgements. To prevent the spotlight on anyone, some other means would need to be considered instead of simply asking them to stand up and share in person.

Additionally, convey the purpose of the session right at the start so that your audience knows what to expect from the course of the discussion. With a genuine motive and shared purpose, your audience will feel welcomed to share and that their views will not be discriminated against, therefore making cooperation much easier. Always try to make the session interactive to help you effectively communicate with your audience, but not appear to be too invasive.

Do not rush

Sometimes, your audience just needs some time to delve into their thoughts and emotions. What you can do is to start off by letting them write down their responses privately and anonymously, so that they do not have the fear of getting judged or exposed. According to Malin, she claimed that, “We used Mentimeter to highlight and discuss gender issues. It exceeded expectations. The opportunity for the girls to remain anonymous, but at the same time get to share opinions and experiences, fit perfectly.” Be patient as you anticipate their heartfelt responses, offering them a chance to speak their mind. Therefore, as what Malin has feedbacked about, “Mentimeter's functionality … was perfect for creating an interactive workshop around this somehow difficult topic without making the girls uncomfortable.”

Address the issues together

Once your audience is done penning down their thoughts, gather all their responses together and present it upfront for everyone else to learn about it. Be sure that you do not put focus on any individual, as this might threaten their anonymity.

After gathering responses from all the women, Malin pointed out that, “Several wrote that they had to leave their inheritance to a younger brother or distant male relative and are not allowed to marry whoever they want. When they saw that they were not alone in having these experiences, it became easier to talk about it.” With the use of Mentimeter, it has helped Malin’s audience feel that "I am not alone to feel or think like this".

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By presenting everyone’s responses, it allows everyone to understand one another and come up with solutions. This serves as a good follow-up for the time and mental effort put into getting the audience to share their genuine thoughts.

To support Malin and the cause she is engaging in, visit Help to Help now!

Use Mentimeter to discuss sensitive topics

Mentimeter can help you achieve your goal of discussing sensitive issues effectively, be it for social service events, within the classrooms, or within your organizations.

Here are some question suggestions:

  • Open-Ended In what instances have you been treated unfairly in your home/school/organization?
  • Word cloud What kind of mean words should be avoided in the classroom?
  • Scales To what extent are you feeling respected/appreciated/valued/wanted?

As always, just send us an email if you have any questions!