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Skill of the Week

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The Master Facilitator Journal | Issue #0019 | September 18, 2001
5,600 Subscribers

Relating Skill

Cut Through the Crap!
Clarify and reveal assumptions.

The Point?

Sorry for the strong language above, but I felt it appropriate given the mountains of assumptions I've heard in reaction to last week's tragic events, and because sometimes we need to get rude to break ourselves out of our assumption prisons. That said, I'll do my best to refrain from political commentary while attempting to bring forward a powerfully relevant facilitation skill that may relate to these and other events nonetheless. 

We so often communicate with one another on top of layers of unspoken assumptions and agendas, often without realizing it. The "not realizing it" piece is the killer. Unconscious assumptions present huge barriers to clear communication and understanding. As facilitators, one of the most powerful things we can do is to act as detectives in search of assumptions, rout them out, expose them, and reveal them for what they are. Once those evil little assumption nazis are discovered and labeled, deeper relationships can be cultivated based on mutual respect, understanding
, and even love.

But when we react to our own assumptions, we are reacting to the unreal, and most often, to our own projections of our worst fears. Carl Rogers, one of the 20th century's leading pioneers in psychology and human potential worked extensively with groups of hundreds of people in a room (warring factions in Brazil and Ireland, for example) with radically opposing views. He found that if as facilitators, his staff simply held a compassionate space, only speaking to make sure everyone and everything is actually heard, allowing the group to seek its own direction like a living organism, the wisdom of these groups would eventually rise to the surface and all members would bond in mutual respect and understanding.

How do we detect assumptions? David Bohm, quoted by Peter Senge in the "Fifth Discipline," identifies three types of incoherence in our thinking that lead to assumptions:
1) Denial that you are a participant (It's not my fault!... Look at what they did!)
2) You stop tracking with reality and start running your program (look for people preaching and stuck on one point of view).
3) You establish your own standard of reference for fixing problems, problems this frame contributed to creating in the first place. (When someone attacks us, we have to attack them).

Senge goes on to suggest three conditions necessary for "dialogue":
1) All participants must "suspend" their assumptions, literally to hold them "as if suspended before us." 
2) All participants must regard one another as colleagues.
3) There must be a "facilitator" (that's you!) who "holds the context" of dialogue (i.e. attends to group process).


I once sat in a circle of 15 strangers for 8 hours with the intention of allowing true community to emerge. During this time, we couldn't help but let go of our pretense...our playing the nice game...and we got real. 

I must say that the path to real wasn't real pretty. There was yelling, accusations, crying, blaming, fear, hiding, and general misery. But we stuck to it until we all reached a point of emptiness, where there just wasn't much left to be said, and yet there weren't any "answers" either. At some point, an older lady shared her pain from deep in her heart, others in the group gathered around her either physically or emotionally to comfort that moment we were one--we were a community. The next day we bounced in and out of this sense of community but while in it, we created wonderful things together. There was a feeling that in this state, we could solve any problem put before us as a wise, interconnected, group mind.

During this process, the facilitators didn't say or do much. But they listened intently to every word spoken, and the energy of their intention to hang in there and "stand by our intention" to reach community was tangible. 

Getting through assumptions can be messy but not nearly as messy as the fruits of our hatred, distrust, and disconnectedness.


Iím interested in hearing your perspectives on this topic and how this information might help you in your role as a facilitator in the groups you work with?  Please email me your thoughts, stories, and experiences on this issue.

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Reader Survey 
How are Facilitators Marketing Their Service?
Thank you to everyone who sent in examples of icebreaker exercises they use to support groups in warming up and getting to know each other.

This week, we're asking you to send us ideas and methods that you've found effective in marketing yourself as a facilitator. We'll make all of these available to everyone who contributes at least one idea.

Please email your responses to me at Thanks for your help in making the site the best facilitation resource site on the web!

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Interactive Forum
Creating Dialogue With Our Readers
In an effort to stimulate discussion on facilitation tips, tools, and processes that are relevant to your interests, we'd like to hear from you. Please post your answers to the questions at on our interactive forum to stimulate discussion on these topics, or simply send me your feedback and I'll post it here or at the forum. Here is some recent feedback from one of our readers:

In a recent issue of the Master Facilitator Journal you asked if we would share stories relative to the topic of "being the message". I present often on several topics that are near and dear to my heart, and find the audiences have a "warm up curve" that we have to break through to take a module to where it is most effective. Here is the story of a curve that we took on two wheels to the delight and benefit of all.

As a presenter in a personality profiling workshop recently, I, along with the rest of the audience was listening to a participant relate the challenge of being married to a particular personality type. At the close of her statements another participant raised her hand and asked if persons of that personality had a particularly difficult time establishing relationships. Since my personality types the same as the "difficult" one, I took a deep breath and told the truth - - "No, that personality type really doesn't have a hard time establishing relationships - - you can ask any one of my 3 ex-husbands - - it's the maintenance part that we are slow in mastering." The audience roared, the momentum soared and the pace of the workshop picked up because everyone in the room was now willing to commit themselves to being honest in the process. 

I learned as much (maybe more) than my audience that day, and I got the best evaluations I have ever received. Thanks for providing an article that caused me to reflect on that experience. --Chris Bez.

Please email your questions and input to us. We look forward to hearing from you.

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About the Author: 
Steve Davis is a Business and Life Coach facilitating others to stretch beyond their full potential in their business and personal lives. Please email your stories, comments, suggestions, and ideas. I'd love to hear from you. If you find this newsletter helpful, please forward it to your friends. Thanks for reading! 

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Thank you for reading this issue of the Master Facilitator Journal.  Look for your next issue on Sept 25, 2001. 


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