The Being of the Facilitator, What Does It Look Like?

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The “being of the facilitator” keeps coming up recently as a phrase amongst my colleagues around the world.  Someone even invited me to do a workshop on this topic. I thought it would be helpful to write about this as a way to gather my thoughts. 

My Netherlands colleague, Mireille Beumer, joins me today as my blog co-author. She loves talking about this topic and recommends two books to get you started on this topic. Robin Parsons of Canada and Grace Tan of Singapore also offered great ideas. Their ideas are included below also.

Exploration of the Topic

But before we dive into the stories of my international colleagues, let’s explore a few classic ways to think about this “being” concept:

  • How does our formal global professional organization (i.e., the International Association of Facilitators or IAF) characterize the “being” part of facilitation? The closest we can offer is the IAF competency F1.3 called: Model Positive Professional Attitude – Practice Self-Assessment And Self Awareness.  They call it: “modify personal behaviour/style to reflect the needs of the group”.
  • In ToP facilitator language, I seem to recall the phrase “stance of the facilitator”.
  • You might also have heard it being referred to as the style of the facilitator. (see our previous blog resources below on the “style” of the facilitator).

Let’s start simply. What does being a facilitator mean? Being a facilitator of group process means we guide a group without ANY content or biases of our own to an outcome that will benefit the entire group.

The outcome might help the group solve a collective organizational or team problem. To do this, we as a facilitator are “mindful” and aware of our body language and facial expressions. We stay calm, centered, grounded, unconcerned, etc. even in the face of complex group issues,  intense conflict, or unexpressed needs.

The Being of the Facilitator

So what is ‘the being of the facilitator’? It has a lot to do with the ‘stance’ of a facilitator. Dwell on what is happening between you and the other, what is happening within yourself? Do not think in terms of judgment, but in terms of perception.

Robin Parsons from Canada says: “For me, the being of the facilitator is about holding the space and tension while a group struggles. Be patient, gently encouraging and even strongly encouraging at times”. 

Jo Nelson of ICA Associates Canada in her blogs, also talks about the positive impact of “the being” of the facilitator. When you truly are able to be, you can get to root issues and insights. By practicing the “being “skill of the facilitator, you can better illuminate the group potential.

Grace Tan of Singapore explained the Being of the Facilitator as follows: “It is about having confidence and congruence in intent and in what we say/do. And, it also embodies the concept of mindfulness: being fully present and in the moment. This allows a facilitator to be totally there for the group and helping the team”.

One piece of advice is to reflect on what you are saying and think about the purpose or intention you want to serve with what you saying.

Tip: Are the words and expression you are using the most effective way to serve the group’s purpose?

Just ask yourself: what is the effect of your words and expression on people (you can always observe and ask for it). Given the feedback or results, it shows you the way to a different way of communicating or being.

Be aware that what you radiate out, you get back. Thus the need to be aware of your thoughts and judgments. Give all your attention without thoughts and be delighted with the group at all times – good and bad. And yes, this could be very difficult. We all have our own references, our own meanings, but leave your own baggage at the door.

Enter the room with no judgments. See, feel, hear, and listen without any complaints or meaning making. Let’s go with what is happening now. This might sound like: ‘I am sensing the group needs this now’. Or just ask the group: ‘what is happening out there?’ Or, just sit down and tell them ‘I am going to wait till someone has the courage to say what is really going on here’.  Then be silent as long as you can stand it. A minute or two at least.

Tip: Be confident of what the group can reveal. Trust them and what already is there in them.

And, trust your own intuition and group will step up to this challenge! In the Netherlands, they say: ‘don’t put the monkeys on your own shoulder’.

It is not about pushing and pulling, cajoling, or coaching. It might mean stepping back, asking group: ‘What do you need now? Or, What is going to be your next step?’

Examples of the Being of the Facilitator

The explanations above might sound very abstract. So let’s give you some real world examples:

From Barbara: Some years ago, I had the following experience:

I facilitated a two-day session, with a large group of 100 participants. After the first day, the room is a big mess, full of data but no conclusions. On every wall there were a lot of flip-charts and post-its.

One option was to feel the panic. I could feel the tension in my body and my brain was hard at work. Inside, I was screaming at myself: ‘What do I do?’ 

The second option which I did do, after a short consultation with my co-facilitator, was admit the mess to the group and ask them: ‘We have to pull ourselves out of this mess. Let’s back up a bit and reflect. What have we done?  What is happening now? What is going well so far? What essential thing is missing? What are the consequences of not doing this? And, so, what shall we do now? 

Tip: In other words: I gave the responsibility back to the participants.

Robin Parsons from Canada came up with another story. She told me the following:

“My last trip to a USA client had me holding a great deal of silence while the group wrestled with their challenge to change the status quo. There was inertia and old assumptions to be challenged. There was a tentative push for something new and palpable relief when they realized they were all supportive of something new.” 

Tip: Be patient, alert and continually providing the process for the group to test their thinking out loud.

Need More Inspiration?

Read the book for our Top colleagues:  Jon (passed) and Maureen Jenkins ‘The 9 Disciplines of the Facilitator‘. Another recommendation is the book ‘Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There’ by Marvin Weisborg and Sandra Janoff

Below are some quotes and sentences of this second book, which could be inspiring:

  • Make friends with anxiety, just stand there and breath.
  • Track you inner dialogue. Be aware: your inner dialogue will never stop. Recognize it, accept it and consider it as a part of your job.
  • Experiment with silence, wait for 20, 30 of maybe 40 seconds.
  • Listen to what you do not hear. Learn to hear all the views without reacting.
  • Be aware of your presence, and the line between knowing and doing.
  • Control what you can, and let go what you can’t.
  • Do not spend energy on ‘what if’. Maybe that will never happen.

We would love to hear your experiences, ideas and feelings about ‘the being of the facilitator’!

Barbara and Mireille (Robin and Grace too – thank you)

Here is how you can reach Mireille – in Dutch or English.
Website is https://mireillebeumer.nl
LinkedIn profile is https://www.linkedin.com/in/mireillebeumer/ (Note: the link works even though you may see it crossed out.)

Resources:

Blog: 6 Facilitator Styles That Will Keep You Out of Trouble!

ICA USA Website: https://www.ica-usa.org/top-training.html

ICA Canada Website: https://www.ica-associates.ca/news/

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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