During the activities, it’s your task to create a good atmosphere for discussion. That brings up one of the most difficult questions for a facilitator: how to deal with hateful, discriminatory and otherwise negative opinions?
Our recommendation is: give them space in the discussion.
Obviously, negative comments should be clearly rejected during the discussion. On the other hand, nobody should be punished for participation. Remember, it’s possible that this is the first time the speaker will encounter opposition to their opinions.
Discussing negative comments doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. Narratives and bad experiences should be taken seriously, but discriminatory positions should be addressed and clearly rejected.
Rather than outright dismissing an opinion, it’s often better to start asking questions: How did you come to this position? Can you imagine how your opinion sounds to someone affected by it? Could you explain your statement?
Frequently, questions can initiate a process of rethinking for the speaker, and/or lead to a productive debate.
Your emotional reactions can help you to find words and redirect the discussion: “Seriously, this topic concerns me and I’d like to add something/ask a question.” This reframing can offer an opportunity to explain statements, qualify or retract them.
It’s also important to offer counterarguments and additional information. (You should research these facts, as related to the planned topics of discussion, as part of your preparation.)
Everyone should get an opportunity to change their opinions. However, it’s possible that you will encounter participants who clearly display hateful or discriminatory attitudes, who will not be persuaded in any way. At this point, it will be necessary to distance yourself clearly from their position and start no further discussion with them. Otherwise, the whole discussion will be directed by those people. However, you should carefully consider such a decision.
If there is no chance of less radical solution, it might be in the group’s best interest to request the disrupting person to leave entirely. Excluding people from a voluntary learning context is a profound decision that also carries a risk of solving a social problem in a personal way. Based on the specific situation, you should carefully weigh the positive and negative impacts of such a step, as well as alternative options for action. Ask yourself: “What do I want to achieve with my workshop or seminar?”