Facilitating the right conversations
Entrepreneur, Startup CEO Coach, Team & Culture Expert
People are trying to communicate through our complex layers of assumptions, contexts, and beliefs.
People will repeat themselves a lot if they feel like they are not being fully understood.
A good facilitator makes sure the right conversations are happening in a productive way.
Lesson: Productive Meetings with Dave Kashen
Step #9 Facilitator: Facilitating the right conversations
The role of facilitator can be very useful whether that's a formal, hired external facilitator or someone in the meeting playing the role of facilitator. I think for a lot of meetings that can really help. Sometimes the facilitator is the designer of the meeting. The one who makes the plan, who makes the agenda, who figures out who needs to do what if different people need to talk about different actions in their own different agenda items, and also to figure out what needs to happen before the meeting. So sometimes the facilitator will handle the pre-meeting arrangements and preparations. And then whether they do that or not, often the core role is in the meeting, to keep the conversation on track, to paraphrase.
The reality is it is hard for a group of human beings to communicate. We can just call that as it is. It's just challenging for us to get truly on the same page. There's so much behind our communication. There's so many layers of assumptions and context and beliefs. Just to fully understand each other, to create a shared meeting and shared understanding, it's a challenging process.
So sometimes a facilitator can help that along by one, checking in to make sure people are fully understanding each other by paraphrasing. Often that's just a really useful, simple facilitation tool to let the person speaking know that they've been understood and help other people understand.
It also has the effect when people have an idea that they're not sure has been fully communicated, it's hard for them to let go of that. So people often wonder why people in meetings say the same things again and again. It's just because they don't know, and they're not yet confident that they've been fully heard. A good meeting facilitator will paraphrase that or even write it on a board somewhere or in school somewhere so that the people know they've been heard and they can let it go and move on and start to listen or engage in the next part of the conversation.
They'll put sort of mile-markers and help people understand where they are in the meeting, right? "Which item are we on?" Maybe someone goes for a second or was checking their email or Facebook or all these things we're not supposed to do in meetings. Well, then if they're lost for too long, you sort of lose them as a participant, so a good facilitator will help the team or the group understand where they are in the meeting, where they are in the process, and keep everyone sort of on track or on the same page and then also handle tangents.
The nice thing about being a formal facilitator, whether that's external or internal, but you establish that you are going to be the facilitator. It gives you a little bit of permission to break through the social stigma of interrupting people. And sometimes I'll actually ask permission, "Can I interrupt you guys if I feel like we're going off-track?" and people almost always say, "Yes, that's fine." And then when I do it, "Hold on, I think we're going down a rabbit hole here," it’s just more likely to be received graciously versus someone feeling defensive about it. So really to keep the meeting on track and make sure that the right conversations are happening and that they're happening in a productive way.
They can also help keep the meeting above board. So one of the agreements I often appreciate and like to have is that we debate ideas, not people. Don't make it personal, no personal attacks, no shaming. I think that serves nobody. But sometimes we get emotional about our ideas and when someone challenges us, we can take it personally, we can react personally, so I think a good facilitator will help to stem the tide of that. Both create the agreement upfront and the set of agreements that are more likely to make the meeting more productive but then also reinforce those agreements or even if they're aren't specific agreements, maybe there's implicit agreements, a facilitator can sort of enforce those by stemming it if someone's getting more personal or acting in a way that's inappropriate to the healthy discussion that's trying to occur.
In some way, it's creating safety. A lot of what it takes to have a productive conversation, to have, to work productively together is for people to feel safe with one another. I think that's kind of the hidden role of the facilitator is checking to make sure there's safety, taking action if there's not to reestablish safety. I think that's it is a less thought about, less understood but equally important role.
And facilitation is a fairly challenging skill. It takes training, it takes learning. And one of the things that I love about technology and we're so excited about technology is that it allows less skilled people to do more skilled tasks. So one of our goals with Meeting Hero is to have people who don't have facilitation training be able to expertly facilitate a meeting. Or potentially not even need a formal facilitator, that the tools sort of serves in that role and can be the sort of bad guy when it needs to be, right? It's sort of subtly nudges you to stay on track and things like that nobody has to be the enforcer. You can even, sort of follow up with people on action items and things like that, so no one has to step into that socially awkward role. We can be that for people.
I think the reality is while it would be great if everyone had a well-trained facilitator, that's just not practical. So we're trying to the extent possible obfuscate the need to have an actual facilitator and make that kind of facilitated meeting that we all appreciate and find effective available to more and more people.