Facilitator Journal | Issue #0285, January 16, 2007 ....
In the 1960's, Timothy Leary coined the term "set and
setting" referring to a context that influenced the outcomes of psychoactive
and psychedelic drug experiments on his subjects. "Set" refers
to one's mindset, "setting" refers to the environment in which
the user has the experience. In this week's article, "Set
and Setting," we take a look at how these contextual elements
play a significant, and often overlooked role, in our work as trainers,
facilitators, and group leaders.
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Set and Setting
Facilitating mind states and environments to impact group work.
In the 1960's, Timothy Leary coined the term "set and setting"
referring to a context that influenced the outcomes of psychoactive and
psychedelic drug experiments on his subjects. "Set" refers to
one's mindset, "setting" refers to the environment in which
the user has the experience. Now I'm not necessarily suggesting that you
administer psychoactive drugs to your participants, though I'm sure that
would make your job a whole lot more interesting. What I am suggesting
is that "set and setting" play a significant, and often overlooked
role, in your work as a trainer, facilitator, or group leader.
"Imagination creates reality... Man is all imagination."
Neville (19051972), visionary and mystic
The set is the mental state a person brings to your group. This includes
their thoughts, judgments, beliefs, mood, and expectations about the work,
the group, and/or particular group members. According to Neville and many
modern thinkers, mystics, physicists, and others, our expectations and
intentions about what will happen often has a lot to do with our experience
of what does happen.
The setting refers to the physical or social environment. We all know
the impact that friendly versus unfriendly, or stressful versus relaxed
environments have on us. Stress, fear or a disagreeable environment may
contribute a great deal to an unpleasant experience (bad trip in Leary's
terms). Conversely, a relaxed, curious person in a warm, comfortable and
safe place is more likely to have a pleasant experience (or a good trip).
Can we facilitate the mental state of our participants before, during,
or after group work? Can we manipulate the physical or social environment
to get better results? As facilitators, I say "yes" and "yes,"
this is a big part of what we do, intentionally or unintentionally. But
Several years ago, during a weekend workshop at our local community college
with a group of learning disabled students, I thought I'd try something
a bit provocative. This was a personal growth workshop aimed at facilitating
self-awareness around effective and ineffective behaviors to improve workplace
success. I decided to bring in a crystal bowl used to create rich harmonic
sounds for meditation and ritual. This particular bowl was tuned to the
3rd chakra, that of "Will." Though I was a bit unsure about
trying what might be considered by many to be a little too "woo woo"
for a college course, I trusted by intuition and decided to give it a
I placed the bowl, of opaque white crystal, measuring ten inches in diameter,
in the center of the table in front of the room. After some introductory
remarks about the work to follow, I told the group about the bowl. I said
something like this, "This is a crystal turning bowl I brought from
home that I thought might help us focus and tune in to each other today.
This bowl creates a very pleasant sound. The sound it creates is said
to resonate with a body center responsible for our will and our action
in the world. Since we are all here to clarify and strengthen our ability
to act effectively, I think that playing this bowl might help us off to
good start. You may find that closing your eyes will be most beneficial
and simply let the sound fill you."
I then played the bowl for a minute or so. There was a tangible sense
of quiet and stillness in the room. It felt as if we had actually "attuned"
ourselves to a common, peaceful mind state. I played the bowl each time
we came back from a break and people scrambled to turn off the lights
and get down on the floor to enjoy the experience. It was obvious that
everyone loved it.
Adjusting the Set
For centuries, shaman have beaten drums, churches have sung hymns, and
monks have chanted, all to affect states of consciousness through sound.
I share my story as another way sound can be used to shift the mind state
of a group. Here are more ideas you can use to align the mind state of
- Use other
forms of sound such as recorded music, chanting, and singing. Groups
making or experiencing sound together tend to resonate together in thought
- Ask your
group to imagine or visualize the perfect outcome of their work together
in great detail. Have them share these creations with each other.
- Ask your
group to let go of any judgments, assumptions, or preconceptions while
they engage in the possibility of creating something new together. Let
them know that the group's work will be impeded by preconceptions about
the "way things are," and that you are not asking them to
change their minds, you're simply asking them to "suspend"
their judgments, assumptions, or preconceptions temporarily as an experiment.
- Get a
reading from your group, preferably before they show up, as to their
expectations about what is to take place and to be accomplished. If
the element of surprise is not a necessary feature of the work you're
doing, give participants some preview of the work, making adjustments
to meet their expectations to enhance their commitment to the work.
- Ask yourself
these questions to help you arrive at additional ways to adjust the
"set." Where have your participants come from? What is their
likely mindset as a result? What mind state will support the work you're
there to do? What can you do to help put them in this state?
We all know that our physical and social environments can have a dramatic
effect on us. We spend a great deal of effort decorating our homes and
offices, landscaping our yards, and surrounding ourselves with our favorite
people. When it comes to facilitating, training, or leading groups, we
are similarly impacted by these environments. Here are a few tips to adjust
the setting for your group work.
the seating arrangements to be appropriate to your purpose. Here is
a site depicting seating arrangements for various purposes.
- Make sure
everyone is visible to everyone in the room. Also confirm that all participants
can see any visuals you're displaying.
artifacts such as pictures, decor, scents, colors, and other props that
will enhance and support your group purpose. For example, for a group
seeking to develop a strategic plan, you might choose to display pictures
that inspire creative and expansive thinking.
to come up with further ideas, ask yourself these questions. What do
you want your participants to sense when they come into the room? How
do you want them to feel about working together? What can you do to
the environment to have it reflect these sensations to enhance your
work together just a bit more?
How can you use the concept of "set" and "setting" to
improve your group events? Please click reply and tell me. I'd love to hear
Imagination/the Search, by Neville
I first encountered Neville on the recommendation of a Religious Science
practitioner. Since that time, I have read all of Neville's books and
all I can say is POWERFUL! I reread this book for the second time and
it seems that the principles explained and put forth in this book really
shined in their clarity this time around. Neville teaches the reader to
use one's imagination, with all of one's senses, to manifest that which
they desire in reality. Neville wants us to see it as fulfilled NOW, to
act as if it were happening NOW and to abolish all negative thinking to
the contrary. One has to let go and know that it will happen and to not
wonder how or why. The mind is incredibly powerful, as Ernest Holmes,
the founder of Science of Mind teaches: "Change your thoughts, change
your life." Neville says, "Man becomes what he imagines."
On both accounts, so very, very true!
--Judith E. Pavluvcik, Arizona--
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at a Distance: The Essentials of Teleclass &
Virtual Meeting Facilitation
you considered offering a teleclass as a more efficient
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are you working with a distributed team that requires
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done right, Teleclasses and Virtual Meetings (T/VM)
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