They Won’t Speak if You Don’t Listen
One of the biggest problems facilitators have is very basic: failure to stay in the moment to listen and respond to what people have to say.
When we work with facilitators in our workshops, we always say that there are two primary goals in every discussion. (1) Facilitators need to encourage the conversation. They need to get people talking about the topic at hand. (2) They need to control the discussion once it begins. They need to be good managers and as efficient as possible.
What often happens is that facilitators spend too much of their energy on the second and not nearly enough on the first. The result is that the people in the group don’t really feel heard. This discourages participation. Individuals won’t exert the effort required to say anything—or anything substantial—if they feel the facilitator isn’t genuinely interested. If you’ve ever lead a discussion that never really got off the ground, this could be the reason.
Good listening requires giving the person you’re listening to your full, un-preoccupied attention. That person needs to feel not only heard, but that what they’re saying has the power to influence the discussion as a whole. If that doesn’t happen, sooner or later, they’ll shut down.
How can you prevent this from happening?
- Be patient. Don’t interrupt. Look interested. Think about what people say.
- Probe beneath the surface and be interested in nuance.
- Don’t listen for simply the “correct” response, the one you expected or hoped to get. This turns the discussion into an exercise that’s all about you.
- Your plan is not the most important part of the discussion. Be flexible.
Facilitating a discussion is an act of faith. Facilitators need to trust the people in the group and the process of interacting with them. Successful facilitators expect things to get complicated and to go off track. And they also trust themselves to be able to manage the process when that happens.
Read the follow-up to this blog at Encouraging Discussion.
Written by Dale Ludwig
Dale Ludwig has a Ph.D. in Communication and, prior to Turpin, taught at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He founded Turpin Communication in 1992 with the mission to provide the best presentation and facilitation skills training possible. Since then he has worked to do just that. In addition to being one of Turpin’s lead instructors, he also serves as our Chief Learning Architect when tailoring learning engagements for our clients. Dale is a frequent blogger and the co-author of the book "The Orderly Conversation: Business Presentations Redefined." He’s excited about his latest book, also co-authored with Greg Owen-Boger, "Effective SMEs: A Trainer’s Guide to Helping Subject Matter Experts Facilitate Learning."