Earlier today a friend asked for examples of relationship building questions. She remembered a few I’ve used in the past and wanted to expand upon some of them for meetings she facilitates. That prompted me to write down a few I’ve used in the past – some of my go-to questions or faves.
Think about the group you’re facilitating and why you want to use a relationship building question. In the book The Art of Gathering, the author talks about being intentional with what you do and why you do it. Be intentional about why you are choosing a question and how it relates to the broader goals of the meeting. Creating an intentional space and inviting people to share is important. Take the time to explain why you chose the question, make sure to talk about it in a racialized context – model talking about race and personal identities as it relates to the question and responses. This is a great place to introduce storytelling and using narratives to frame or reframe a meeting in a POC centered way.
When I introduce a relationship building question, I often try to remind the group why we do this activity and relate it back to a larger goal.
It is also good to model the question and an answer. This helps people understand your instructions and a way to grapple with the question, especially if time is short.
Make sure to read this blog post for additional tips and thoughts about relationship building and ice breakers.
Relationship Building Questions to Get you Started:
- Share a creator of color that influenced your thinking? Creator of color – authors, actors, cooks and bakers, bloggers, musicians, artist, writers. Depending on the audience I sometimes narrow in on one genre, but I also don’t want to default to assuming everyone reads – authors, or consumes media in the same way.
- What is one thing stirring in you right now?
- Place based question, great for place based work such as schools, organizations doing place based work, work connected to histories – What does [this place – name] mean to you? What is a memory you hold of this place? What is a hope you have for this place or community?
- What is something you savor? Why is it savory in this moment?
- Who’s taught you or journeyed with you as you learned about justice?
- Think of a time you felt welcomed – how did that feel? What actions by others allowed you to feel this way?
- What is a spice or food that you identify with? How does it harmonize or complement with other foods from others in this group?
- Trust is an important part of our work; how do you see or would like to see trust building happening?
- Activity based question, this is a favorite of mine. When done right people really open up and share memories they might not have thought of otherwise, make sure to allot enough time for it. – Give everyone a penny or have them to find a coin. Tell them look at the year on the coin and share a memory or something they know about the year on the coin.
- What are you bringing and what do you hope to take from this space today?
- What is a superpower you bring to the space? How will you share it?
- Who is someone, maybe real or maybe in thought, you bring with you into this meeting today? Example: “I am bringing my great aunts because they, along with my grandma, knew how to throw a party and make people feel welcomed. Their Okinawan spirit came through.”
- What does a trusting relationship look like in the community?
- Thinking about the five senses – what sparks joy to one of your senses. Examples a joyful sight is a bowl of pretty fresh fruit, sound – tropical beach sounds from Hawaii where I grew up.
- “A name is a person’s most precious possession, a force unto itself.” – credit Kānakautomy (Instagram), What is the story behind your name?
Some additional notes:
Be aware of your group dynamics and where ableism, sexism, racism, etc. may show up in responses. Such as some of the food based questions might not be appropriate for every group, such as if there are people who can’t eat or are fasting for religious or other reasons.
If you have a larger group share out, remind people to only share their own stories unless they have permission to share from their partner(s). It is easy for people slip into sharing what others said, but as a facilitator it is important to create a space where people’s stories are honored and held in confidence.
Many thanks to people I’ve learned from, borrowed questions from, adapted questions from, or journeyed with as I’ve learned to become a better facilitator or holder of space and relationships together. Special thanks to Jondou Chen who writes amazing questions and I know some of these originated from him, and Amber Banks who wrote the original iterations and planted the seeds for trust building questions in here.
If you have a great question please share it. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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I am writing from the ancestral lands of the 29 federally recognized and non-federally recognized tribes in now Washington State, including the Coast Salish people — Duwamish, Muckleshoot, Suquamish, Snoqualmie, and Native American organizations that have treaty rights and have been here since time immemorial. I give my thanks to the elders, Native and Indigenous colleagues and relations, and the land itself. Fakequity pays “rent” to Native organizations in Washington and Hawaii; a small action to hopefully repair and work to be in more justice based relations.