Published: November 28, 2016   Updated: November 20, 2017

As facilitators we know a thing or two about navigating triggers in a training, but how about at a family gathering? In this video seasoned social justice facilitator and executive coach Dr. Kathy Obear talks about how to navigate triggers at family gatherings. Think of it as a little self-care for facilitators around the holidays.

Take Ways!

  • Find your allies in the room
  • Know your intentions
  • Till the soil

Check out more of Kathy’s work on triggers, social justice, facilitation and more at


Question: How do you navigate triggers at a family gathering?

KO: “I would start way before the gathering. I would start literally listing who’s coming, who are my allies, can I talk to them beforehand and negotiate some safe words are some code words or a signal. Carol Burnett signal so that they know I’m getting triggered. I would get more clear what your warning signs when you know you’re getting triggered, where it for me is that, “grrrrr.” I start pointing I lean in, or I sit back and fold my arms because I’m checking out. Or I’m quickly thinking what I want to say before you’re done. So whatever their warning signals are, I would prepare.

I would send a note out to whoever is holding the gathering and say, “Given the context and how people are coming, can we have a politics-free zone? Like in one room politics free or can the dinner be politics free? Or if it’s not around this 2016, can there just be rooms that would be safe zones people can go and that’s where toys are, games are, music that we just know that that’s where we’re not going to have conflict? So prepare.

I would also get clearing your intentions. As I move into this 2016 holiday season I could have very what I call unproductive or positive intentions and I would write these out. I know, [ugh] I have a habit of, I could want to win, be right, argue, tell them they made the wrong decision. I don’t think I show up that way today but I still have, I don’t know about you all, I still have a lot of emotions just below the surface. I’m still full of despair, and anger, and deep fear, and terror, particularly on Facebook.

So that’s another thing to do. Right before the gathering I’d stop doing Facebook or news or at least not watch incendiary opinions facts maybe but all this kind of swirling around I would just take a break. So that you can exercise, take a nap, eat well, do whatever you do to get grounded so you show up in a pretty good mood with the intention of, and then I’ll stop, I want to have a great gathering, I want to engage and build more relationships. If folks want to have discussions that contentious, I want to be civil and respectful and I want to be able to interrupt comments that are harmful so those are my intentions.

One more intention. This may feel like forever to the next election but it’s really only two years, and it’s really only one year to we’re going to start again. So my intention could be let’s till the soil. Let’s deepen relationships I want to understand why people voted differently than me I don’t necessarily wanted I don’t want to change them, I don’t want to convert, I just want to learn more so I can be more effective in my work. And in the process, maybe they’ll feel they can talk to me more when, as I believe many will, regret they made the choices they did in the voting booth.

And so I want to show up at these gatherings with love, compassion, care, listening, understanding, supporting people wherever they are so that when they regret what they did in a year or two they’ll come to me to talk. And then they might be more open to have a conversation that I want to have today. I could be wrong but I think ninety-nine percent of the time those conversations will end up harmful, conversations words you can’t roll back, the youth and children will model to them really in effective ways to engage so that’s where I land.”

Written by FacilitatingXYZ Team

This is the account that the FacilitatingXYZ team uses. FacXYZ is co-facilitated by Meg and Sam, and brings in expertise, knowledge, and lived experience from facilitators far and wide. Read more about us here.

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