When you walk into a meeting and you feel like you are welcome and feel excited about being there, the facilitator has probably played a key role in creating that atmosphere. It’s as though you feel like you’re being welcomed into their home.
Facilitators use their body language, tone of voice, word choice and they arrange the room to create a business-like, yet living-room atmosphere that helps everyone to engage in the meeting. This style creates an air of active involvement to achieve the meeting’s desired outcomes. It creates a collaborative learning environment.
An effective facilitator continually learns how to see, hear and feel the interpersonal dynamics in the room. They watch body language and tone of voice. They also watch how listeners react to other speaker’s information. They watch for patterns and dances of behavior.
They know how to use facilitative tools without over-using them. They realize that the use of these tools is the “means” and not the “end.” They don’t attempt to facilitate the process perfectly; rather, they maintain focus on achieving the meeting’s outcome.
They know they only have to stay one “mental” step ahead of the participants. They are continually asking themselves “what’s next” and “how will we get from here to the desired outcome and beyond?” This is strategic thinking and strategic facilitation.
When there’s tension or conflict in the room, they don’t avoid it. They gently move towards it by safely reflecting back to the participants what they see going on. They look at the choices being made by the participants. They listen for key points being made and they reflect them back. This is a summarizing skill, which is a very important trait. They do this reflecting in such a palatable way that the participants are not only willing to resolve the situation they see the necessity for doing it.
They will use the agenda, particularly the meeting’s desired outcome, to keep the discussions on track. They keep the outcome firmly implanted in their minds and they use it as their communication screen. They’re constantly asking themselves how the current discussion relates to the overall desired outcome. If it relates, they stay out of the way and let the participants do their work. If the conversation is off track, they interrupt and ask “how does this information help achieve our desired outcome?”
They don’t ask people to blindly accept the meeting’s desired outcomes; rather, they ask participants “what’s in it for them” (WIIFM’s) to achieve the meeting’s outcomes. Then they work with everyone to synergize their WIIFM’s. For important meetings this is done before the meeting, not during.
While planning an important meeting, they will ask themselves what could possibly go wrong. They know there are two kinds of barriers: processes and people. They identify those barriers; they plan ways to prevent them and they also plan how they will intervene if the preventions don’t work.
Successful facilitators are true to themselves; they improve and grow their personal facilitation styles. They don’t try to mimic other successful facilitators. They find their own voice. They know that there is no one right way to facilitate.
They never use humor at anyone’s expense even though they are humorous at times.
They look for and take opportunities to get participants into action which often times means getting participants to do something with their entire bodies not just their minds.
Successful facilitators will step down from that position when they know they can’t let go of their beliefs and values in order to facilitate objectively. Effective facilitators don’t have to be neutral. They share their opinions without directing and they offer their critical-thinking skills to help the group make the best decision.
Successful facilitators ask themselves these honest questions:
- Do I understand the outcome from the stakeholders’ perspectives?
- Have I done my homework and am I prepared for the unexpected?
- If people get upset or things seem to go wrong in the meeting, do I have a pre-determined set of values and principles to guide my choices and interaction?
- When they answer yes, they know they’re ready.