Skip to content

Move Up, Move Up, Balance Voices

By Susan Grove

The AORTA cooperative (Anti-Oppression Training and Resource Alliance) introduced us to the phrase “move up, move up” describing it in this way:

“If you’re someone who tends to not speak a lot, please move up into a role of speaking more. If you tend to speak a lot, please move up into a role of listening more. The ‘up/up’ confirms that in both experiences, growth is happening.” 

When GWI holds a learning space and invites participants to “move up, move up,” we emphasize starting from awareness of your tendencies. If you can notice that you tend to hold back, you can consider moving up into sharing your perspective as openly as you feel comfortable. If you can notice that you find it easy to share, you can choose when to speak and when to move up into a practice of active listening, also noticing how time, space and voice are shared. This invitation into noticing and awareness rests on the truth that, in any shared space, we don’t all come from the same background, have access to similar levels of resources, share the same perspectives, or have similar pasts. It is an invitation to be mindful that we carry our differences and unique stories into each space that we enter.

The word “mindful” reminds us that much of the work to share power by balancing voices is quiet and internal. Being aware of your tendencies allows you to make choices to stretch and grow in ways you are called to and that support the group. 

Actively listening may not be easy to see, but your attentiveness can often be felt. If active listening is not your tendency, you may need to practice in order to develop a reliable capacity for presence, tapping into inner, calm stillness or open receptiveness. From time to time in our meetings, we explicitly remind each other that our intention to balance voices can come in the form of a  willingness to let someone else speak your truth, and when it’s someone’s turn to share, it’s not uncommon to hear them say, “my truth has already been spoken.” 

Alongside the inner work of balancing voices, there are vocal, external ways to practice balancing voices that a facilitator or a participant can nudge towards. You might choose to pause, slow down, and make the choice to reflect, rather than react or respond, to another’s comments by asking a clarifying question or saying, “I heard you say xyz. Is that what you meant?” Or you can say that we’ve been hearing from some voices more than others on a particular topic or at a meeting overall. One possible action step is to invite those who have not spoken to share something if they would like to. Another is to initiate a go-around, when each person is provided space to offer comments, particularly if their voice has been quieter, or to pass, particularly if they have spoken more often. 

For those who tend to hold back even when they have something to share, practice is the surest path toward making it easier to share openly. Facilitators or participants may find it helpful to vocalize this encouragement to support a “move up” into sharing from those who tend toward listening by saying something like:

It is possible that the perspective the group needs to consider can only enter the room through your voice.

Recommended Resources:

Headwaters Facilitation Training Program (offered by AORTA – Anti-Oppression Resource and Training Alliance): Headwaters trains, mentors, and coordinates emerging facilitators in AORTA’s core facilitation principles.

Visit our Good Work in Groups series to get more tips on facilitation and working groups.

We launched this series of articles and reflections in September 2019 to share our journey of moving from a traditional hierarchical nonprofit to a worker self-directed nonprofit. We hope by opening up this transition it might help others take the first steps towards sharing power in their workplaces.

Support GWI

These times call for collective action. Your gift is the solid ground that allows us to support and cultivate Good Work: that is, people and initiatives that are rejecting systems of oppression and extraction, and building regenerative economies and thriving communities.