HBPT Facilitation of Discussions

Harmful Behaviors Prevention Tool

Facilitation Discussion Tips

The six protected categories of the Military Equal Opportunity program are what we refer to as “immutable characteristics;” things you cannot change about yourself that help make you who you are. It is not a conscious choice to be a specific race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, religion, or sexual orientation.

This section covers how to host small group discussions about sensitive topics or situations effectively. You will see how each of our perspectives is different, and we all interpret the same information differently. Understanding how these differences affect our team is crucial for maximizing our combat efficiency.

Facilitating Open-Ended Discussions


 Holding a guided or open-ended discussion about sensitive topics or scenarios helps seniors, peers, and subordinates view each other from a vantage point not found in standard Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills. The objective of these discussions is to, in a small group, host a guided or open-ended discussion surrounding MEO-related topics that are sensitive and have no one “right” answer. Each Soldier will provide a unique perspective on the situation and how they would handle it. The intent is to reinforce the Army’s principles of teamwork, trust, and unit cohesion to enhance lethality.

Preparing an Open-Ended Discussion

Identify a Soldier the day before to search the news media for DEI-related situations taking place in our world today. It should be relevant to a topic within the HBP handbook. You may also utilize one of the scenarios provided with the HBP Handbook.

Set Ground Rules

Remind the Soldiers of the emotionally charged nature of these topics and how they are often the first filter we view and perceive our world through. Reassure them that this is not a bad thing, and we want others to hear why you think the way you do.

Basic ground rules:
  • Ensure each person speaks for themselves; have them use “I” (think, feel, and do) statements rather than “You” or “Everyone” (thinks, feels, does).
  • Only one Soldier speaks at a time
  • No personal attacks
  • Be non-judgmental
  • No side conversations
    Acknowledge and respect each other’s feelings and perspectives
  • Avoid asking clarifying questions that start with “Why,” which leads to defensiveness. Example: Instead of “Why do you think that?” ask, “What makes you think ……?”
  • Do not use “Yes/No” questions as this type of question does not generate discussion, often causing a conversation to fizzle out. Instead, rephrase a “yes/no” question into an open-ended question.
Example: Instead of “Do you think that is the best way to do that?” you could ask, “What do you think is the best way to do that?”

Initiate an Open-Ended Discussion

There is no one “right answer” for these scenarios, and your Soldiers will surprise you with the varying number of types of responses you will get. If examining one specific scenario or situation, keep the group on that topic until everyone has had the chance to offer a perspective or opinion.

Remember again that individual values will be the driving force behind the answers you receive; ensure that if a value is not in line with the Army Values that you reference the Army Values and how we operate within their bounds.

Keep a list of other topics for discussion that arise during the scenario for later discussion. This habit will ensure you are keeping a record of things that are important to the Soldiers that they want to discuss and will show them that you care and value the things they do. Building this crucial trust is a combat enabler.

Thank the participants for sharing, addressing individual Soldiers by name, and restating what they said in detail. This practice will show the Soldiers that you were listening, heard what they said, and will remember and will also strengthen the bonds of teamwork.

Active Constructive Responding

How you respond to Soldiers during candid, personal, and sensitive discussions can have far-reaching effects, ranging from enhancing teamwork and trust in driving a wedge between Soldiers. There is a time, place, and method for certain types of responding, and care must be taken in our communication when sensitive topics are being discussed.

What does it look like? When a Soldier shares something personal and sensitive, there are many ways you could respond.

A person familiar with Active Constructive Responding might say, “That’s awesome SPC Smith, I can’t imagine how difficult that was to bring up in front of all of us. I appreciate how you were candid about struggles growing up with bi-racial parents in a small town and how those struggles and feelings helped shape you into the person you are today.”

When people share something difficult, they are emotionally open and vulnerable; it is incumbent upon the leader to recognize and share in their success of being open with the group. Conveying genuine interest, care, and concern for someone’s story are signs of Active Constructive Responding.

Active Constructive Responding takes practice and hard work. Other non-desirable ways include: 

  • Passive Constructive (that’s cool, thanks for sharing),
  • Passive Destructive (ok, anyone else?), or the worst possible method,
  • Active Destructive (yeah, but I’m sure it wasn’t that bad for you since you look more like one ethnicity than the other so you could have fit in with them).
This practice extends into nonverbal communication. You must maintain eye contact and uplifting or enthusiastic facial expressions, while Passive or Destructive nonverbal communication will consist of flat, neutral expressions or even frowns and glares.

Active Constructive Responding Tips

Active Constructive Responding develops and maintains strong relationships built on feelings of being valued and cared for. Offering Active Constructive Responding to your Soldiers will not only help you feel more positive in life but cause the bonds of trust between you and your team to strengthen and grow.

Resist the urge to simply acknowledge someone’s story and move on to the next one due to time constraints (“that’s great, thanks”) versus, “That’s something SPC Smith, thank you for trusting your team with that story. I felt especially humbled by the part where you talked about feelings of not belonging anywhere since each ethnicity didn’t think you were “white enough” or “black enough,” as you said, to let you hang out with them growing up. That must have been difficult as a young teenager.”


Making these affirming, positive responses, shows your team you are invested in them and value their courage to talk about something hard with people they may not be that close with yet. By engaging in Active Constructive Responding, you can build a better, more effective team faster.
  • Prepare Open-Ended Discussion
  • Set Ground Rules
  • Initiate an Open-Ended Discussion
  • Response in an Active Constructive matter

Facilitating Difficult Conversations

A Guide for Facilitating Difficult Conversations

The need to have candid, respectful dialogue with colleagues on these topics has never been more crucial. Tensions have heightened over the past few years, in part fueled by national events and media coverage. We must recognize each person will perceive and react to these and other situations differently, depending on their backgrounds, experiences, and understanding.

When individuals reach out to each other and engage around challenges, whether professional or personal, it shows each team member that they are valued as an individual in the organization. This inclusive approach supports them in accomplishing their duties and their overall mission readiness.

The objectives and intent for facilitating difficult conversations are as follows:

  • To listen and learn from both soldiers’ and civilians’ experiences to become more socially aware and empathetic to the different struggles each team members face.
  • Capture issues or concerns impacting Soldiers and Civilians at the local, TRADOC, or Army Wide level for action by Army Senior Leaders.
  • At the end of each of these training, you should have a better understanding of each other’s beliefs, values, experiences, and, importantly, perspectives. The more we understand what beliefs, values, and experiences have shaped us as people, the more we will understand each other and bond with others.
  • Leaders at all levels are charged with their peoples’ health, welfare, safety, and feeling of belonging. As such, leaders should be encouraging of their unit’s diversity and understanding.

Why These Conversations Matter

This program seeks to highlight and capitalize on the necessity of your unit’s functioning. As such, this training is to be considered a combat or force multiplier. As anyone who has worked in an environment like this, the training seeks to build can attest to, tight-knit working groups are vastly preferred due to operability, morale, resilience, and trust.

Assess Your Comfort Level

Many leaders avoid talking about race and racism. It’s uncomfortable, may lead to conflict, and calls for skills few of us practice regularly. Often, this avoidance comes down to a fear of misspeaking, sounding racially insensitive, or unintentionally impacting someone in a harmful manner.

Preparing our people to talk about race and racism requires us to first deal with our fears. Leaders must have a deep understanding of their emotional perspectives, biases, strengths, weaknesses, needs, and drives – they must be honest and authentic with themselves and others.

Plan Ahead –

Develop “Your Story” & Rehearse

Planning a “Your Voice Matters” Listening Session & Discussion

The Leader should conduct the listening session with a small group of up to 10 personnel to have a conversation about diversity, equity, and inclusion. The small group should ensure the representation of every agency/unit in the organization. Also, leaders should make every effort to separate employees from their supervisors should be made to prevent any concern over command influence. 

These sessions should last from 90 minutes to 2 hours while providing a room configured in a horseshoe or circle to better accommodate conversation. 

Set Ground Rules

Since the listening session is not the appropriate venue to raise a complaint, the Leader will instruct the group to hold all complaints or personal issues until after the listening session (if complaints begin to surface).

  • Expect your team to be nervous
  • Try not to appear to shut down anyone’s conversation
  • Limit the Leader conversation
  • Encourage everyone to share their perspectives

The leader should only provide input when the conversation stagnates or when a specific question needs to be asked.

Communication Techniques

Lead the Discussion

When leading a discussion, the leader should begin by establishing a rapport with the audience to put them at ease while introducing the purpose of the discussion with some ground rules. It is recommended for the leader to stress participation is voluntary and recording the session is prohibited due to the sensitive nature of the topics. For that reason, opinions and comments shared within the session should never be shared outside of those participating in the discussions. Leaders need to stress that any allegations of misconduct, specific personal matters or investigations should not be addressed within these sessions but through the appropriate reporting channels.

As the discussion lead, it is important to convey the following sentiments to the audience

  • By learning from each other, we develop understanding, character, and emotional well-being.
  • Encouraging honest and respectful reflection, internally and externally, fosters a culture of inclusion and understanding.
  • In an environment where people feel truly safe and valued as a member of their organization, people become inspired to innovate.
  • Open-mindedness overcomes any artificial barriers to innovation and embodies the culture we aspire to promote.
  • It’s okay to be open and acknowledge how these conversations make you feel. If done correctly, with respect and civility, these conversations can build empathy and trust, strengthening your units.
  • These conversations help us develop empathy for other viewpoints by actively listening to understand from another’s perspective, getting clarification where there is confusion or misunderstanding, and discovering points of connection with those who think or believe differently about an important issue.
  • Empathy means thoughtfully considering feelings – along with other factors – in the process of making decisions.

Harmful Behaviors Prevention Handbook

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