Warning – Your Approach Is NOT Working!


Sometimes a situation gets SO bad, you just want to opt out of it. This applies to almost anything in life but what I am talking about today – a need for radical change – is about working with groups you lead. Given the current situation in the USA, some feel like opting out now too. Today I am not going to refer much to the US 2016 election except to say that the story below, written just before the election, remarkably applies to what is going on in this country and the world’s reaction to it. It applies because it is a universal story of struggle, pain, outlash and healing. At the end, I am going to remind you if you have any privilege at all, that opting out, is not an option.

Instead, I am sharing a current personal story to help make my case about approaches that don’t work. And, I put in links of some of my favorite applicable earlier blogs. Here is the story introduction.

I have experienced a foot injury for almost 2 years and am having surgery to repair it today! Yes – TODAY – November 15th, 2016! I’m going to relate it to my practice as a facilitator WHEN I GET STUCK with a group and I know they need a radical change. You may find it helpful to think about my story as it relates to a job or boss you can no longer tolerate, a team which has descended into the abyss of agony, a relationship which simply needs a “do-over versus a make-over” or the current tense situation in the USA or another country you call home. Each of the five short chapters of my “foot journey” will offer some lessons I’ve learned about being human and being a professional facilitator.

Chapter 1: The Denial Stage

My Story: OK – so I’ve been doing vigorous, jumping back standing yoga poses since 2015. I am not new to yoga. I have been practicing since I was nine years old. However, I had never done jumpings on a regular basis (sometimes 50-100 or more in a single practice), and I’ve had numerous injuries with this foot. I did notice after a short time of starting the regular jumpings that the foot was complaining a bit. But I just thought it would go away. That is being pretty human but also it is about my ancient pattern of coping with a bad situation.

Lesson Learned & Facilitator TIP: Sometimes you just “carry on” when you’re running a less than ideal meeting. We hope the “unpleasant situation” will go away. That’s why I am calling it the denial stage. It’s probably a good idea to pay attention to the early warning signs, and get some outside opinion on what might be going on. For example, there may be some complaining behavior that you are ignoring. Or, maybe there is some body language that you notice in a session that alerts you to the fact that the way you are doing things right now is just NOT working. In other words, you might consider abandoning your usual denial approach, and actually state what you are observing: “I notice arms crossed and some frowns in the room? What would you like me to do differently?” This earlier blog might give you some ideas about how to really pay attention to what the group is needing in the moment, “Dropping In versus Dropping On Your Group”.

Chapter 2: Modify A Bit And Hope For The Best Stage

My Story: At this stage of my foot injury my mindset was, “Well, I’ll just look after this all by myself”. I won’t do that kind of yoga practice. I will avoid activities that further make my foot hurt. So I just stopped doing so my regular life activities such as hiking and the same kind of yoga. I instead took up kayaking, and short walks and a non-jumping yoga practice. The foot continued to bother me. With group work, this stage of your approach looks like switching up some activities, shortening up one thing and adding time to another, and other minor modifications.

Lesson Learned & Facilitator TIP: This approach sometimes works. However, if you are getting no useful results after modifying a few things, as I was with my foot, that might indicate a need for a much bigger, faster, radical “get out of your comfort” zone action. You might seek expert external help, or abandon your agenda all together. It always help to have a back up agenda, a whole suite of tools to do other things and a deep grounding about your own ability to help the group no matter what! Don’t be afraid to take appropriate risks and experiment. In the end, it will make things go better for you and the group.

Chapter 3: Ok, Finally, Seek All The Help You Can Get Stage

My Story: So about a year ago, I finally approached a podiatrist (i.e., an expert whom I should have seen much earlier), and he put me in a medical walking boot. He told me to expect 2-3 months in the boot since I had let the injury go for so long. Since the foot still hurt after 2-3 months, I continued wearing it for 5 months! After 5 months, I went back to see him, and he recommended continuing the same treatment. By that time, I was mad. All my reading had led me to know that it would be highly unusual for a foot injury NOT to heal after three or more months in a walking boot. I have been extremely rigorous about keeping it on all the time in the house and out on jobs. I sought a second opinion from a different podiatrist. He recommended that I try a different kind of shoe, and a cortisone shot. That also was a makeshift, albeit temporary helpful solution. Pain continued but at least I wasn’t in a walking boot. Some of you may have noticed I have been wearing these really cool high-tech shoes made by MBT. You are off-balance all the time and in my case, it meant pressure on the sensitive area was less regular because the shoes force you to keep moving the weight around on your feet. They are pricey but I got mine by accident in a tiny health food store in Winnipeg, Manitoba half price – last pair and they fit me!


They did indeed make it possible for me to do my facilitation work without being in great pain by the end of the day. However, once again, I was exclusively paying attention to other people’s expert advice, and not really trusting my own inner gut feeling. I maintained this mode of walking for another six months and kept walking less and less.

Lesson Learned & Facilitator TIP: After you seek advice from others, also trust your own instincts. If something does not “feel right”, you are probably tapping into your own lifetime of experiences to assess the situation. Bring your whole, fully authentic self to the group – body, mind and spirit. It will help others do the same. Don’t be afraid to make a BIG fuss and really find out what is needed. In the case of a facilitation, you might just sit down and say, “I know something is really odd here. I need us to talk about the “elephant in the room”.

You might also take courage from this blog as you contemplate making a mistake, “Let’s Talk About My Mistakes”.

Chapter 4: Finally, Getting The Right Diagnosis Stage

My Story: I was extremely reluctant to go back to the podiatrist because at this point I really didn’t trust any medical expert very much. You may have also experienced that in leading a difficult group – you don’t really know exactly what to do next. You are expecting exactly the same outcome which is disheartening. Perhaps you are assuming the group has no ability to change. I was pleasantly surprised when I finally returned to the second podiatrist. He said, “It’s pretty obvious you have done your due diligence in trying to heal this foot in the normal manner. What we now know is, after all this time, it is not healed. The problem is now clear that you have a tear to the ligaments (plantar plate tear if you are really interested) that does not heal on its own. You can do surgery, or you can just try to continue the way you have been for the rest of your life.” The option of surgery seemed much better since I love to dance, do yoga and hike long distances. And without those things in my life for the last two years, I have been leading a rather miserly existence. That is a bit of an exaggeration! But still I have missed them greatly.

Lesson Learned & Facilitator TIP: When all else fails, just “bite the bullet” and do what you have to do to rescue yourself, the situation or group. Continue to consult the group, share some ideas about what you think really needs to change, and systematically figure out what steps you can jointly take to drastically change things to get on a better path. Have the courage to do this and know that when you have tried all the usual interventions, it’s worth taking a completely different, often difficult direction.

You might find this blog on handling conflict helpful: “Did you Say Conflict? I’m Out of Here!”

Chapter 5: Moving Slowing So You Can Go More Quickly Stage

My Story: I am preparing myself for the big changes to come. I am planning to take the full recommended two weeks off after surgery. I have enlisted a lot of help to make it as easy as possible: meals, having friends and listening buddies (peer counselors) over to visit or call me, researching alternatives to narcotic pain-killers, thinking of questions I want to ask the doctor for post-surgery recovery, getting lots of sleep ahead of time, etc. I am also continually reminding myself that I am not a failure. I have done the best I can to resolve this injury without surgery. I did not tell you that I had acupuncture, wear toe-spacers, applied ice and heat as recommended on a daily basis, followed an anti-inflammatory diet, tried different orthotics, tried cold laser therapy, and bought and wore sensible stiff, wide toed shoes (see banner photo for proof!), and most recently took up swimming and spinning classes (cycling) as alternative low impact workouts, etc.

Lesson Learned & Facilitator TIP: When you make a drastic change or difficult decision that affects you and your group or team, try moving slowly. Take it easy as you make your way forward. You may need to feel your way through it, because there is no precedent for what you are trying. This is where intuition and experience comes into play a lot. Continually evaluate. How are things better? Whom do you need to consult with? What resources are needed and when to help the situation move from survival to one of thriving?

As you read this, I will be on my way to, or in surgery or recovering from surgery. In our next newsletter sidebar, you’ll hear an update! Thanks for listening. Please do send me good wishes for a speedy recovery if your time permits. May your next difficult life, leadership, career or group facilitation decision go well and a little faster than mine did.

Postlude re USA: Many of us in the USA are also feeling our way through an intolerable resurgence of hatred and slurs. It certainly is not an approach I can or will tolerate. I am taking time to connect with people to grieve, rage, tremble and only now am I able to even think a bit. I am trying to find out what others different from me are feeling and thinking. I want to make radical changes in the way I interact and in what I decide to support. I am remaking a decision to STAND UP against hatred or careless remarks every time I hear, see or even sniff it. We as facilitators have a potentially huge role to make the whole world a safer place. Like it or not, the whole world is watching the USA. For those of us who can, let us show the world we are diligently working for an approach that WILL work for every single person, regardless of race, gender identity, ableness, faith and country of origin. And, that we won’t “opt out” just because we are uncomfortable. As my friend and Colleague Tia Ribary of Ribary & Associates said, the world needs facilitators now more than ever.

If this story is raising some aha’s or insights for you, please read also about Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey blog here (He beautifully outlines the universal story that we all go through many times in our lives and in our country’s histories): The Hero’s Journey Metaphor to Help Groups Through Change

Barbara MacKay

Barbara loves “everything facilitation”. She thinks BIG! She loves working with other facilitators around the globe to create transformational results for client groups. She loves teaching others how to do that. She loves presenting at global facilitator conferences. She loves certifying new professional facilitators. If you also love what process facilitation can do for the world, connect with her – virtually or in person. She believes facilitation processes, used well, will provide the roadmap to a more just and sustainable world.

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