Embracing emotions in Jūrmala

Arriving to winter wonderland

When I travel, one of the things I do, is to ask locals for words that exist only in their language and which full meaning can not be translated easily. For my time in Latvia, this word will be vakarēša – which means an „evening being“ when you get to sit with others around the fire, talk and create together.

When arriving to Jurmala, seaside city just outside of Riga, in the middle of December 2018, for the last leg of my Erasmus+ Training EUtopia – Diversity in Changing Europe (organized by Latvian National Agency and the SALTO South-East Resource Centre Europe), the winter in Latvia was in full bloom. Outside it was grey, foggy and no more than 4-5 hours of dim daylight. The Baltic sea, on the other side of a thin patch of pine forest, swayed calmly as first snowflakes started falling down. The stillness of the wintry seaside sharply contrasted with the hustle and bustle of the Design Lab which took place from the 9th to 13th of December. After three months apart, it was time for us not only to exchange and share what has happened, but more importantly, to come together to try to answer questions that came up during this time.

Is it possible address complex questions about diversity issues?

Since everyone’s experience with the vast topic of diversity was different during our time apart, I found it very rewarding to be able to interdisciplinary approach our questions ranging from systemic problems, e.g. how to introduce non-formal education methods and tools concerning diversity to a school and university setting, to very concrete problems, e.g. how can we facilitate conversations centered around diversity topics and deal with our, and our participants emotions, responses and reactions during the process. In a room full of experts from different disciplines: youth workers, educators, storytellers and psychologists, it felt to me like there is no question we can’t tackle.

From the very first time I have facilitated a group, I became very interested in how to deal with other people’s emotions during this process while remaining fully present and attentive. Perhaps you also know the feeling, when you stand before a group facilitating a difficult conversation and your stomach lurches with anxiety, your throat gets dry or your hands start shaking. Being very temperamental person, who experiences emotions usually in form of such physiological reactions, I’ve found it very important to explore this topic further. Not only for the sake of my own interest, but even even more so, when discussion about diversity issues (definition of a diversity issue here: https://workforcediversitynetwork.com/docs/Article_DefinitionofaDiversity%20IssueSHRM.pdf) such as gender equality, social inclusion or inclusion usually spark lots of emotional reactions, no matter the group you facilitate.

Our collaboration: The Spectrum of Emotions

I was very fortunate that I have found not only one, but two „partners in crime“ who were eager to explore this topic as much as I was. Together with Lorena, a psychologist from Verin in Galicia, Spain, and Vita, Latvian native art therapist, we have set on to explore the question How to deal with other people’s emotions during facilitation? The first lesson I have learned is that psychologists distinguish between feelings and emotions: Emotions are our physical reactions to a situation and we can observe them in our body (e.g. getting tense, red, feeling a “hollow” stomach). On the other hand, feelings are our mental associations to emotions we are experiencing and therefore, we can hide them better.

Unsure where to start first when addressing this huge topic, we have brainstormed of what sort of emotions from participants can there be during a training – what is the reaction and how can it affect a group. While this exercise seemed like a useful warm-up, 45 minutes later we were not closer to answering the question of how to address these emotions. We seemed to be stuck. So, we flipped the perspective: in order to effectively deal with other’s emotions, we as facilitators, first need to know our own emotions and reactions. This is how our workshop, the Spectrum, was born. This session takes facilitators, teams and participants on the journey of self-exploration: they learn not only bit of background theory about emotions, but learn how to observe their body, experiment with art as a way to express their emotions and end the session with a surprise that helps them to start accepting their emotions as part of who they are. In just 1,5 hours we have developed the individual activities and finalized the overall flow. For me, it was an amazing collaborative experience, where as team, we immensely profited from the combined expertise of different fields and from our work with various methods, tools and target groups. So, what happens next? The next step we will be taking is to test and adjust this workshop in our communities. Hopefully, they will find this exercise as useful as we did.

What I have taken home

Collaborating with Vita and Lorena was for me not only wonderful experience in itself, but very useful learning as well. Since I have discovered my passion for facilitation within NOW, it’s only rarely I have collaborated with others outside the NOW community to create sessions. During my time in Jūrmala I got to grow and exercise my collaborative mindset to solve real life-challenges and develop new tools to address diversity issues: An experience that helped me grow as a facilitator and as a person. Switching perspectives from facilitator to participant in an international training has opened up for me new way to learn about and experience diversity of experiences and expertises. I am so grateful to my team at NOW, who have given me this time to be able to learn-grow-and change outside of my “usual” NOW environnement, as for me it confirmed that in NOW, we are on the right path to make this world a more just place.


Written by Zlatka Niznanska, NOW team member

Many thanks to Movetia (https://www.movetia.ch/) for supporting my participation in this training.