Facilitator Journal | Issue #0422, December 15, 2009
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With Christmas just around the corner, many of us will be attending parties, family and social events. And while we think of facilitation as a skill set used only
by thusly initiated group change agents, the opportunity
to use at least the basic elements of this skill set is available during ordinary social interactions.
Consider your typical social conversation. Do they always
go as smoothly as you'd like? Or what about those small group roundtables
you're involved in at luncheons, community gatherings, or at workshops?
On these occasions, some basic group process skills come in very
handy. In this week's article, Five Ways to Facilitate Group
Conversations, we review a few basic skills anyone can employ
in small groups to make the conversation flow. Use them yourself
and pass them on to your friends and clients who may be less familiar
with these skills than you.
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Ways to Facilitate Group Conversations
Employ basic group process skills for more rewarding conversations
Group Process Skill
Have you ever felt ‘stuck’ in a conversation with three or more people that just wasn’t going anywhere? People are droning on and on about this and that, leaving you bored and wishing you could just slip away? This is an all too familiar social situation - we’ve all been there and, chances are, we're unaware that we can help shape our conversations to be more productive and meaningful for all involved.
You can make a difference in group conversations, if you choose. You can “facilitate” them so that they’re rewarding to you and the group as a whole. To do so, you must be willing to take responsibility for the course of the conversation without being pushy or “in charge.” In well “facilitated” conversations, those unfamiliar with facilitation skills will know they’ve had a good experience, but they may not know why.
Here are five guidelines to effectively facilitate group conversations.
As a caution, keep in mind when making interventions, to be polite and
take a “curious” versus a “commanding” perspective. This is particularly
important in those social situations where you have not been granted the
role of official group facilitator.
1. Get everyone involved. One problem with group conversations
is that they often turn into monologues for the most vocal people in the
group. People often politely allow others to monopolize a conversation
when they’re obviously uncomfortable. We’ve all felt the awkwardness and
read the obvious body language of those tolerating a tirade.
In this situation, validate the speaker, and then ask for input from someone
else. This might sound something like, “Wow Bill, I didn’t realize you
were so tuned in to the stock market, it reminds me of how important investments
are to us all. In fact, it makes me think about Joe having recently
started his own business, how is that going for you Joe?”
One important thing to notice is that I connected what Bill was saying
to something completely different, but related to another person in the
group. Recognize that you can make connections from one thing to anything
if you simply put your mind to it for a moment.
2. Know it’s OK to interrupt when appropriate. One thing
to consider when redirecting a conversation is that you may have to interrupt
people. This is hard for many of us who’ve been trained to listen when
others are speaking. The funny thing is, I’ve found “over talkers” actually
expect interruptions, as this is the only way they can experience a dialogue.
you are actively listening. Listening is the key to all good
conversations. We’re often thinking of our response while others are talking.
Good conversations require us to stay present and pay attention when others,
and ourselves, are speaking. This means that we don’t entertain other
thoughts while we’re listening. Whenever our mind wanders, we bring our
attention back to the speaker. When we’re listening closely, we’re better
able to interject and ask clarifying questions or redirect the conversation in the presence of
4. Stay on track but be willing to leave it. Some of the best
conversations I’ve had moved all over the place. Not in a disjointed fashion,
but like a dance, forming a mosaic of meandering patterns that fit together
into a coherent whole.
and willing to move from one subject to the next, but beware of leaving
incomplete ideas hanging. This is particularly common in conversations
where poor listening and unconscious interruptions occur. If the conversation
shifts to a new subject when an idea hasn’t been brought to completion,
politely interrupt and ask the group if they’re complete with the idea,
or say something yourself to feel complete about it. The simple act of
intervening to get completion often has the effect of drawing others into
deeper listening and better dialogue. Staying with a subject long enough
to truly express ourselves around it increases our connection to others.
on cultivating your relationship. We humans are social creatures
who sometimes just need to talk. So coming together simply to chat isn’t
always a bad thing. However, if we really want to have better conversations,
ones where we feel closer to the others in the group, we need to work
on relating better to one another.
How do we do
this? Start by asking yourself how you like to be related to. For me,
it’s about being heard, respected, and having others “be real” with me.
In your next conversation notice the following: Do you truly listen to
yourself when you speak? Are your words respectful to yourself and others?
And most importantly, are you being real in the conversation? Then get
ready for others to nearly invite you to facilitate!
Try these skills out in your next conversation or share them with your clients who complain about their small group meetings. Let me know what happens, I'd love to hear from you.
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