How do you keep group discussions safe?

Not long after we moved into the neighborhood, I discovered that some neighbors had already come up with the idea of starting a spiritual discussion group—before I had even had a chance to introduce them to Q Place!  I wanted to support their plans, and knowing the common pitfalls of discussion groups, my question for them was, “How are you going to keep it safe?”

How can you keep any discussion group safe for everyone to express opinions and not be judged, safe for people to believe differently and still be friends, safe for quieter people to express themselves and not have the loudest voice carry the day?

These neighbors saw my point pretty quickly, and they were very interested in seeing how Q Place’s Guidelines would start their group on the right track, with a safe environment where group members would be able to express what they believe without getting into arguments.

Check out these Guidelines from Q Place:

(I hope my additional thoughts will give you greater understanding for the value of each one.)

  1. The purpose of a Q Place is to discuss questions about God.
    Every group needs to know why it is meeting and keep that focus.
  2. Initiators start a Q Place and facilitate a healthy small group process.
    The ones starting the group are not “answer people” but simply make it easier for all to learn and grow together.
  3. Q Place is not for experts. It’s for new discoveries. If you think you are an expert, resist the urge to teach. Instead, try to listen and ask questions so that everyone can discover answers for themselves.
    All can learn; even the most seasoned. Self-discovery is crucial to helping people grow and learn truth for themselves.
  4. The format is informal discussion, not lecture. Q Place provides resources for the discussion.
    I recently heard of a close-knit group that had met for years, until a new person joined who thought she needed to lecture. It killed the group!
  5. If at all possible, read and think through the content and questions ahead of time. Share your ideas honestly and openly.
    Preparation prevents the discussion from being fluffy and surface level.
  6. In each session a different person can ask the questions in order to encourage group ownership and dynamic discussions.
    If someone can read, they can ask the questions. No one is forced to be the Question-Asker, but most find that it’s not difficult. Sitting in that moderator seat will give group members a new perspective—to see how important preparation is for rich discussions, how disruptive it is when people don’t follow the Guidelines, and how they can grow in their interactions within the group.
  7. Maintain confidentiality, courtesy, and respect toward others, even if they don’t agree with your position. Do not judge others and avoid side conversations.
    These are crucial elements to safe discussion.
  8. Do not attempt to resolve all differences or conflicts of opinion. Keep moving when there seems to be an impasse.
    People often feel like they have to have every question wrapped up neatly by the time the discussion is over. But that short-circuits a powerful process. When you or I leave a group with an open question, we tend to wrestle with it on a deep level. And when we find the answer—even if it takes months or years—that discovery is sweet and meaningful!
  9. Begin and end on time.
    This honors those who made the effort to be there on time. Latecomers will get the idea that they miss out by being late, and punctual people will not be frustrated waiting for them. Ending on time but giving people the option to stick around is a courtesy.
  10. Review the discussion guidelines whenever there’s a new person in the group.
    Like explaining the rules of a game before trying to play it, reviewing the Guidelines ensures that everyone is on the same page for your discussions.

Be sure to read our next blog and find out how to keep your group discussions on track!

Fran Goodrich
Q Place Blog Editor