Halvor William Sanden

Getting people to participate equally

Getting people to participate in meetings, workshops and their field of expertise goes beyond removing gates and lowering thresholds. We must also work with the participants’ inner threshold, whether too high or too low, because there is no correlation between one person’s words per meeting and the quality of their ideas.

Preventing people from participating #

Gatekeeping #

Gatekeeping is about the denial of participation. The intention is to construct and uphold groups of superior insiders and inferior outsiders.

Gatekeeping feeds insiders’ egos and shields their insecurities. It’s a form of conservative strength built on extreme fragility; it collapses if something from the outside enters. And since the value the insiders perceive comes from preventing participation, gatekeeping as an activity in itself depends entirely on outsiders.

An outsider can only become an insider by demonstrating they are no threat by adopting the same rigid opinions as the insiders. Some find gatekeeping tempting; others recognise it for what it is and choose to go about their business or fight it more actively.

Thresholds #

Thresholds are about making things difficult. One has to fulfil something on a given level to participate. We have reasonable levels for things like job positions and higher education, where insiders don’t depend on having outside adversaries but rather the opposite. We also have unreasonable thresholds, such as expectations of who can say what within a workplace or a field of expertise. Both kinds program us to be careful about contributing if others seem superior in some way.

Thresholds, like gatekeeping, deter people, although less deliberately. We find them in every culture, ceremony and person. To get people to contribute, we have to counter all three.

Invitation and facilitation #

Avoiding gatekeeping and stating that the bar is low is not enough. A culture of low thresholds comes from actively inviting people to participate and facilitating in ways that build confidence.

Even if we invite and set the scene, some form of speaking order or hierarchy is still present. In a workshop, we can get people more on the same level by spreading the ones who usually speak up or have lead roles across smaller groups.

It also helps to ensure everyone knows that talkers should also be good listeners. Both people with low and high thresholds need to become aware of themselves and others. It’s one of the pillars of good communication, recognising that other people are present and as important as yourself.

It can be productive to construct exercises that expect people to participate but within limits. By preventing some from running the show and others from becoming passive, more will likely experience value through communicating with and relying on each other.

The goal for all participants is to adjust self-awareness levels and repeatedly build positive experiences from joint, balanced work.

Everyone isn’t interesting #

No one is the same, has the same ideas or even the same amount of ideas; those goals only get us back to gatekeeping. By recognising that people are different, we are opening up to the uniqueness that builds strong teams.

People with ideas and knowledge are more interesting than those who talk – but talking and participation are necessary to communicate what’s interesting.