This is a follow-up to the blog I wrote a few months ago, They Won’t Speak if You Don’t Listen.
In that post, I mentioned that facilitators have two fundamental goals. They need to (1) encourage participation in the conversation and (2) control the discussion once it begins. As I said, facilitators often spend too much energy on the second and not nearly enough on the first. The result is that many discussions take too long to get started or fail to get started at all.
Part of this problem has to do with how the group feels about the process and the facilitator. When they feel that the facilitator has their needs in mind and is genuinely interested in their input, they will be willing to do the work required to participate. When they don’t feel a part of the process, they will hold back, only put in the minimum amount of effort required or shut down completely.
When you’re facilitating a discussion, think about these questions.
- Are you willing to let the discussion go where it needs to go? If not, maybe a discussion isn’t appropriate at this time.
- Do you welcome opposing points of view? If not, the discussion will grind to a halt.
- Do you care about the process, not just the result? Good discussions are not efficient. They are about exploring and understanding a variety of perspectives. While a facilitator can often sense where a discussion is headed, sometimes it’s important to let others discover the way themselves.
- For trainers, are you using discussion to reach deeper understanding or merely the “right” answer? If it’s the latter, you may be straining your trainees’ patience and good will.
So, the next time you’re leading a discussion and feeling that you might be losing control of the process, stop and think about the possibility that what’s happening might be the exactly what should be happening.
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."