Calling In Approach

What is a calling in approach?

Calling in is a term first credited to Ngọc Loan Trần, a Việt/mixed-race disabled queer writer and educator based in the U.S. South. It is a practice of inviting people or organizations who are causing or have caused harm into a conversation in which learning and growth are the goals.

Calling in approaches include clear and appropriate feedback starting from a place of hope that change is possible. Calling in tends to be done in private, emphasizing face-to-face conversation based in mutual dignity and respect, with the goal of healing and repair for everyone involved.

In contrast to calling out (or cancelling) approaches which tend to perpetuate shame, blame, and humiliation (which evidence shows are not effective tools for motivating sustainable behaviour change), calling in approaches can help us create environments where people are more likely to be receptive to learning and making amends.

In particular, Black, Brown, Indigenous, and Queer social justice activists have been at the forefront of calling in approaches. Through their lived experiences, these individuals have seen and spoken about the necessity of compassion and love in the processes of holding people accountable in ways that support healing, recovery, and social change.

Why use a calling in approach to engage men?

Research shows that humans often respond to threats (shame, humiliation, being called out) by shutting down or getting defensive – and that is not a mindset that supports learning, growth, or behaviour change.

By using a calling in approach in our work with men, we can foster an environment of compassionate accountability where individuals are more likely to be able to see themselves as part of the movement for promoting gender equality and violence prevention.

When we use a calling in approach with men, they are better equipped to hear challenging or uncomfortable information with an open mind and an open heart – and then have an opportunity to learn, change their behaviour, repair relationships, and make amends.

What are the most promising ways to use a calling in approach?

First, we must recognize that where men are now is the only place from which they can move forward. To effectively engage men, we have to start from where they are on the change continuum. That’s why it’s so important to use promising, innovative approaches like nudges, gamification, and virtual reality (you can read more about these strategies throughout our -s) because these approaches are built with human instincts in mind.

Engage men with compassion. A person is much more likely to succeed in behavioural change if we approach them from a place of compassion and optimism that change is possible. The way we frame the message can be the difference between being heard or being shut out. This also means we have to do our own internal work and be able to regulate our emotions in the face of difficult conversations.

Recognize that “calling out” practices can replicate cycles of harm. Calling out practices can sometimes dehumanize people, and as Audre Lorde taught us, we can’t fight oppression with the same tools that helped create the oppression in the first place. If we want to make behaviour change sustainable, we need to embody compassionate accountability strategies like calling in to help us get there.

What is an example of putting a calling in approach into practice?

Several years ago, the Shift Team facilitated a series of workshops designed to help practitioners engage men in gender equity and violence prevention. We assumed that everyone who signed up for the workshops shared a similar perspective on equity, so we were entirely unprepared when, at the end of day two, one of the male participants suddenly exclaimed: “I don’t think women are ready for gender equality!” There was an audible gasp in the room. We were all shocked, triggered, and enraged by the comment. For the first few minutes, there was a bit of a pile-on, with people letting the man know how offensive and inappropriate the comment was. Then one of the facilitators wisely suggested that we break for the day and come back to the conversation in the morning.

The next day, we put aside the scheduled programming and facilitated a two-hour conversation that was guided by curiosity and compassion. During the discussion, we were able to help the man understand the impact of his words, but in a supportive way that promoted learning and growth. And it wasn’t just the man who learned through this discussion. By engaging in a two-way conversation and genuinely seeking to understand the thinking behind his comment, the group was able to learn more about how to engage men with similar attitudes and experiences. The incident also resulted in the development of meaningful group agreements about how we wanted to engage with one another – agreements that went well beyond the “ground rules” we had set out at the beginning of the workshops and helped to generate more productive conversations.

The story illustrates several aspects of calling in:

1) Time: These types of conversations cannot happen quickly (in this case, the facilitator put the agenda on hold and did not move on until everyone in the group felt ready);

2) Timing: It is difficult to do this work when you are emotionally activated, so you need to choose a time when you feel more regulated;

3) Two-way conversation: Calling in is a conversation, not a declaration;

4) Mutual learning: Calling in prioritizes learning and development and doesn’t assume that the only person who has anything to learn is the one who created harm, and;

5) Curiosity and compassion: Calling in involves checking our assumptions (e.g., the assumption that the person intended to create harm) and interacting in ways that doesn’t shut down learning or curiosity.

What else should I know before implementing calling in approaches?

Patriarchy carries its own traumas for men, including the trauma resulting from personal experiences, such as being bullied, experiencing homophobia, and being victims of sexual violence. Men also need healing and support to relearn connection and reclaim their humanity as individuals deserving of giving and receiving love.

How you frame the message is critical. Men must be engaged for their own liberation, not just as instruments for promoting women’s empowerment. Some men may actually need to begin with understanding how their own humanity has been denied and, from there, find the path towards understanding others.

Read more about calling in approaches:

In addition to the Shift research reports listed earlier, the following resources offer further information on calling in approaches: