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The Master Facilitator Journal | Issue #0027 | November 13, 2001
7,300 Subscribers

Group Awareness and Mastery Skill

Making of a Metalogue
Sometimes we need to forego the desire to get something done, to make a decision, in order to get below the layers of assumptions that keep individuals disconnected from each other and from their own wisdom and power.

The Point?

In his book, the "Fifth Discipline," Peter Senge discusses the concept of "Dialogue" in these words: "During the dialogue process, people learn how to think together--not just in the sense of analyzing a shared problem or creating new pieces of shared knowledge, but in the sense of occupying a collective sensibility, in which the thoughts, emotions, and resulting actions belong not to one individual, but to all of them together."

I believe this is an operating state many of us wish we could reach in the groups and teams with whom we work with or are part of. Some part of us knows this is a possibility, but we haven't a clue as to how to get there. Instead we feel helpless as we see people (including ourselves if we look hard enough) defending their ideas, opinions, and perceptions as if they were protecting their children from a raging fire. We become almost like religious zealots on crusades defending our ideas to the death...of relationships, mutual respect, expanded awareness, creativity, harmony, and understanding. Why are we so attached to our perceptions? 

Most of us are intelligent enough to know that we are operating on very limited perceptions of reality, viewed through filters that only let in a little bit of the world. Yet we're dead set on the righteousness of these perceptions. It's almost like if we don't get others to accept them, then we might not exist--probably because we've identified so closely with them that we think we are our perceptions and ideas.

I think that sometimes, if we can show people the value in communicating about how we communicate and relate to each other, and how fabulous it would feel to be a free-thinking individual in a group that has incorporated this free thinking into its own group mind, that people might be willing to do what it takes to reach this level of working together. (Please note that I'm not talking about group think here. On the contrary, I'm talking about freedom from it through the "honest" expression of our fragmented perceptions.)

For me, a group operating in this fashion is like a collection of  individual rivers of meaning. They flow in concert with one  another, sharing amongst themselves in a dynamic fashion, engaging in a process of creating a collective wisdom and consciousness free from old limiting beliefs and resultant assumptions, acting based on a dynamic flow of meaning making, which Senge refers to as "Metalogue"-- meaning moving with and among. 


I've enclosed a model of the "Evolution of Dialogue," that illustrates the process addressed by the following discussion. You may want to view it before reading this section.

Dialogue seeks to produce a "cooler" environment of shared attention where groups can enter "containers" of inquiry that may uncover sources of unrest and disagreement, deeper understanding of existing problems, and more powerful and creative solutions.

The dialogue process begins with Phase 1--Instability of the Container. Here, people have brought with them the  problems, disagreements, assumptions, and communication  styles that have led to the problems they're currently having. Typically, at this stage, people try to understand each other or reach a decision based on compromise.

An alternate option, if the group seeks to enter dialogue, is to suspend their views and assumptions. The facilitator's job in this phase is to help participants learn to observe their own process, to look at thoughts, feelings, and assumptions that produced conflicts among group members instead of reasoning to support their positions.

In Phase 2---Instability in the Container, the group will oscillate between suspending their views and discussing them. A crisis of suspension befalls the group. Chaos may emerge as people get frustrated over the fragmentation and incoherence that emerges in everyone's thought patterns. At this point extreme views may be presented, chaos will ensue, and this is exactly to be expected. In this phase, the facilitator's job is to support and encourage the ongoing suspension of viewpoints as they ride out the storm but do not try to impose order on the emerging chaos. Instead, continue to model suspension of assumptions by pointing out objective reality, e.g. this part of the group is getting quiet and seems to be distancing from the rest. The group simply needs to sit with the questions, "What is the meaning of this?"

In Phase 3--Inquiry in the Container, if the group makes it to this point, they will begin to function collectively, to inquire as a whole into the issues before them. The quality of the energy changes such that there is an emerging sensitivity to how each input impacts the group. New insights may emerge spontaneously in the presence of this new environment. A new sense of feeling separate and seeing past behavior patterns clearly may cause pain in a "crisis of collective pain," a major characteristic of this stage. The group may not have the capacity to move to the final stage for a considerable period of time.

In Phase 4--Creativity in the Container, a group will experience "Metalogue," or meaning flowing with it. In this stage, the group itself becomes the meaning they were after and mere words may fail to express the understandings that emerge. Yet in the silence, healing happens and the group is in a position of power like never before to solve together, with their collective wisdom, compassion, and understanding, whatever challenge stands before them.


Your assignment this week is to look objectively at your underlying assumptions around the one big problem in your life that's currently causing you the most grief. Imagine that you really don't have a clue to its source and begin to explore its aspects as if for the first time. Get help from a friend if necessary to help you stay objective and simply look at the facts and your assumptions about them. Iím interested in hearing what happens for you. Please email me. I'd love to hear about it!

cartoon image of a talking man.

Reader Survey 
How do you handle difficult participants as a Facilitator? 

We received the following request from one of our readers, Carol Blair

A situation involved a member of a working group that I was facilitating as part of a larger project. This individual dominated and tried to facilitate the group despite the presence and work of a "legitimate" facilitator, i.e., she seemed to be trying to assert her power and undermine the facilitator. She had a reputation for doing this (I was forewarned!) so I probably should have been prepared better. I pride myself on my facilitation abilities and thought I could handle it, only to find that this individual had a very strong and negative personality and no one in the group (who were well aware of her tactics) was prepared to challenge her. She simply ignored me and my attempts to keep the group moving--ultimately we did get the agenda back on track and accomplished what was needed but I have never felt satisfied with that experience. 

Any thoughts about handling such difficult people would be insightful and instructive. Thanks so much for your consideration of my request. All those who respond will be sent the entire collection of responses.

Thanks for your help in making the Master Facilitator Journal the best facilitation resource site on the web!

Skill Related Resource
The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook,
Peter Senge

eter Senge's national bestseller, The Fifth Discipline, revolutionized the practice of management by introducing the theory of learning organizations. Now Dr. Senge moves from the philosophical to the practical by answering the first question all lovers of the learning organization ask: What do they do on Monday morning?

The Fieldbook is an intensely pragmatic guide. It shows how to create an organization of learners where memories are brought to life, where collaboration is the lifeblood of every endeavor, and where the tough questions are fearlessly asked. The stories here show that companies, businesses, schools, agencies, and even communities can undo their "learning disabilities" and achieve superior performance. If ever a work gave meaning to the phrase hands-on, this is it. Senge and his four co-authors cover it all including:

        Reinventing relationships
        Being loyal to the truth
        Building a shared vision
        Organizations as communities
        Designing an organization's governing ideas

The Fieldbook is designed to help you create a learning organization right from the very beginning! 

If you know someone who might benefit and enjoy this newsletter, please send this link to a friend.

picture of Steve Davis, editor of the Master Facilitator Journal.

About the Author: 
Steve Davis is a Business and Life Coach facilitating others to reach  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! 

In the Spotlight


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Thank you for reading this issue of the Master Facilitator Journal.  Look for your next issue on November 20, 2001. 


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