SIMAGES 2013.2 – A Safe Place to Meet: Ready to Use Activity

A Safe Place to Meet: Ready to Use Activity

A Safe Place to Meet is a ready-to-use activity that you can modify to meet your training needs.  It helps to address the issue of people being reluctant to share information in training because both employees and their supervisors are present.(link to activity)  It makes use of visuals.  You might be interested in SIMAGES volume 11 issue 1, which focused on using visuals in training.


Sometimes participants have a difficult time sharing what’s on their mind when supervisors are in the room.  And those supervisors may be reluctant to speak freely in front of the people they manage.  Yet, to discuss organizational issues of real importance, people at all levels of the institution need to feel safe.  They need to know that the expression of their concerns, doubts, or fears will not be used against them.

This activity is an opportunity to set norms for the group, when even talking about the need for such norms might be risky for some.  It uses anonymity and a common creativity technique to generate ideas for positive actions.  Then relying upon their visual intelligence, participants assemble pictures from a deck of photographs to make posters of the group norms.


Any number


30 minutes



Brief the participants.  Explain in your own words the importance of being able to conduct the meeting with candor and sincerity.  Here is a sample of what you might say:

We want to put our best thinking forward during this meeting and gather as many perspectives about the issues as possible.  However, I realize that it may be difficult to share your genuine concerns about some topics because your supervisor might be in the room or the presence of your direct reports may change what you say or how you say it.

I’d like you to think for a few moments about the subtle and overt ways someone could increase the level of distrust in the room.  What are all the ways someone could make sure that other people feel unsafe and unwilling to bring up sensitive or controversial issues?

Share a couple of examples:

  • “Rolling your eyes toward the ceiling when someone speaks.”
  • “Talking about what another participant said to someone who didn’t attend the meeting.”
  • “Saying, ‘Yes, but…’ before the other person finishes their thought.”

Give participants a few moments to think independently.

Write examples.  Ask participants to write their examples for making the meeting feel unsafe, one idea per 3 x 5 card.  Encourage each person to write four examples.

Collect cards.  Collect the cards from everyone, shuffle them, and return three to each person.  Explain that, “though it’s possible someone might have one of their own cards, everyone now has cards they have not seen before.”  Ask them to prioritize their cards from the most extreme to the least extreme example for making the meeting unsafe.

Discuss examples.  Organize participants into teams of 4 to 6.  Ask the teams to look at all their cards and choose the three that best represent all the examples of unsafe or unhelpful behaviors.

Create positive actions.  Explain that, “while it’s rather fun to think of all the ways to sabotage the safety of a meeting, that’s not really what we want to do.”  So, for the next few minutes, invite teams to take each of their top three examples and, on the back, write a positive action step someone could take to counteract the negative action.

Provide some examples related to your previous instructions:

  • “Rolling your eyes toward the ceiling when someone speaks,” could become:  “Give eye contact and positive non-verbal reinforcement to whoever is speaking.”
  • “Talking about what another participant said to someone who didn’t attend the meeting,” could become:  “Maintain confidentiality by referring others to the meeting minutes if they want information.”
  • “Saying, ‘Yes, but…’ before the other person finishes their thought,” could become:  “Ask a clarifying question before stating your views or your interpretation.”

Make a poster.  When teams have identified and written positive actions, ask them to find a photo card or a magazine picture that is a metaphor or somehow represents each positive action.  Have them tape the positive action cards and each accompanying picture onto a flipchart paper.

Present and follow up.  Give each team an opportunity to share their poster of pictures and positive actions.  Hang all the posters at the front of the room as a reminder of the actions everyone has identified that can make this meeting positive, productive, and safe for all.


About the contributor

Brian Remer is a designer of interactive strategies for training, facilitation, and performance improvement with the Firefly Group.  He is a past president and chair of the NASAGA board of directors, and currently an editor ofSIMAGES.  Brian can be reached at