Often called “ways of being” or “group norms,” shared agreements are the crux of creating an inclusive space. Shared agreements (also called “shared expectations”) are standards and behaviors that a group creates together, and agrees to stick to. They are effective because they establish ways of being together at the beginning of a meeting/conference/workshop, etc, and hold people accountable. 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.
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.
Shared agreements are most effective when they are explained in the beginning of an event. The purpose of creating shared agreements should be clearly stated, they are created together as a group, the facilitator asks if anyone needs clarification or has any questions. It’s important that everyone in the room agrees with the proposed list of agreements. This can be done by asking if anyone cannot live with this list, or by asking everyone to give a thumbs up if they are OK with the list.
Some of my go-to shared agreements:
- Be the expert of your own experience – use “I” statements
- Learning leaves, stories/names stay here.
- 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.
- Care-front vs. Confront
- Embrace discomfort
- “Oops,” “Ouch” – Say “Oops” if you said something you didn’t mean to, and “Ouch” if you hear something that was offensive or hurtful.
- Make decisions by consensus
- Intent and Impact both matter