Master Facilitator Journal | Issue #0231, November 22, 2005 ....

Dear friends,

Establishing safety and trust in the groups is an ongoing concern of effective facilitators. When trust is low, little effective work gets done as the needed information is usually withheld or poorly expressed. In this weeks article, "Creating Safety and Trust," we explore several simple tips you can employ to open up your groups.

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Have a great week!

Steve Davis


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The Point

Creating Safety and Trust
Creating an environment where the best thinking can emerge.

Relating Skill

One of the most often quoted concerns group leaders have around group process is that of establishing safety and trust in the group. When fear and restraint rule the day, our emotions are in charge, and our mental capacity drops accordingly. Further, when trust is low, people are unwilling to share what they really think and feel. Expressing the things we are afraid to share often yields the specifics information we need to solve a problem or to make a necessary change.

What are some things we can do to create safety and trust in our groups? Below are a few possibilities. We'd love to hear other approaches that have worked for you in the past.


Set the Stage. Do your homework with your customer and interview as many participants you can prior to your group meeting to get an idea of where current trust issues lie. Often, trust of the boss is the biggest issue. If so, work with them up front to explore ways to improve the situation early in the group process.

Take emotional risks. Model risk-taking as the facilitator by sharing something of yourself. This generally means taking the risk of exposing some of your own thoughts and feelings, especially ones that often donít get voiced in groups, like fears and anxieties. Then open space for participants to express their concerns and fears. Thank and encourage people for taking risks. If "trust of the boss" is the issue, as discussed above, the boss may have to be the first to take risks to make it safer for others.

Enforce ground rules. Ground rules, once set and agreed upon by the group, are useless unless they are enforced. Enforcing ground rules intended to create an open and safe space will do just that. Fail to enforce them and you'll not only minimize the safety felt by the group, you'll also lose their trust as a facilitator and guardian of the process. This means that it's your job to respectfully but firmly confront a participant who isnít living up to a commitment theyíve made to the group, such as violating a ground rule.

Use your body language. To begin to establish trust with group members, smile, make direct eye contact and relate and build report on a person-to-person basis. Keep an open and relaxed body posture (no arm crossing or hands in pockets). Also, consider sitting with the group when it's appropriate to step out of the leader role or to build rapport.

Show respect and patience. Model the behavior of truly listening to others until you really understand them. It's rare that people take listening this seriously and it's refreshing and trust-building to do so. Don't cut people off but do redirect them when they're off course. Acknowledge inputs that are off course and record them in a "parking lot" to revisit near the end of the meeting.

Safe doesn't always mean comfortable. Part of establishing trust means that we do what we say we're going to do. To accept anything else from your group erodes trust in you, in the process, between participants, and within themselves. Therefore, it's essential to directly and effectively confront incongruent or dysfunctional behavior whenever it shows up.

Get people working together. Have the group do as many activities as possible that require them to
work together in ways different than they usually do. Increase the risk required during these activities as trust increases and the group warms. These activities can assist people to temporarily move out of their business/corporate roles and meet each other on a person-to-person basis.

Model functional behavior. It's imperative that you as the group leader model functional behavior to be worthy of the group's trust and to be an example for the conduct and skills that the group is working on. When you make mistakes, come clean with them and you can often use them as learning opportunities as well. Showing a group what not to do is often an effective learning strategy.

Use appropriate humor. It's hard to feel fear when you're laughing. Using humor that is relevant to the work at hand tends to make people feel more open and connected in their shared laughter. Further, appropriate humor can contribute to a free flow of information and rather than waste time, can actually speed up your process.

Be Authentic. We know when people aren't being sincere. It's an instinct possessed even by five-year olds. When people are insincere, we don't trust people. So be real! Share something personal but relevant about yourself that shows people you're real. Donít pretend to be bigger than you are, nor smaller either. Show your humanity, admit when you're wrong or make mistakes. If you don't know something, say so, then do what you can to help find the answers. Be there as a partner with your group to help them with the issues of the day and do what you can to make it energizing.

Be compassionate. Compassion makes it safe for others to be honest and to risk sharing what they know, who they are, and to try on new behaviors.

To meet everything and everyone through stillness instead
of mental noise is the greatest gift you can offer.
--Eckhart Tolle--


Which of the above examples will you work on with your groups this week? Have we missed any? Please email us what you discover, we'd love to hear from you.
In the Spotlight

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