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Facilitating with patience


I was observing a training in a province in Cambodia. It was a very hot day as Cambodia was approaching the hottest season. During the lunch break, the participants laid on the tiled floor of the training room. It was a refreshing break, away from the sun, with the air-conditioning cooling the air. When the time came for the training to continue, the participants sat in a circle. In the middle of the circle, the child of one of the participants was still asleep covered in a red blanket. Nobody minded. We went on with the training.

When the facilitator started talking, the girl who was asleep on the floor in the middle of the room woke up and started crying. Then something happened that I did not expect at all. When the child started making noise, the facilitator did not tell the mother to go and take the child away. He did not say, the child was disturbing the training. But instead he said simply, “Oh, I think I was talking too loud.”

The facilitator’s patience surprised me. He was acting with kindness. Technically, I can see he was a good facilitator. But no, he was better. He was facilitating with patience.

Think about how you deal with unexpected disturbances in your work. How can you relate to others with patience and kindness?

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Star Entertainer

Have you ever come across facilitators who should never have taken on that role? I posed this question to an experienced colleague. Without a second thought, she described to me ‘facilitators’ who would never stop talking. She recalled facilitators who were excited to get up in front, but more to perform than anything else. She told me about facilitators who look for praise and popularity, who love to hear their own voice. She spoke about the dangers of being a star entertainer.

As facilitators in any process whether in organisational assessment, strategic planning or during a conflict mediation, our task is to create an environment that encourages active contribution and free sharing of views, impressions and convictions from all participants. We have to acknowledge that the participants have wisdom and experience. We should equally value the perspectives and opinions of all participants, allowing them to be authentic and to behave according to their values. How do we create such an environment?

I’ve learned to be mindful of the fact that the participants have to own the process. It is about them. It is not about what facilitators think – they are only guiding. To own the process, participants need to feel able to speak from their hearts, to feel heard and have their contributions valued. When this happens, groups and organisations become healthier. Being a good facilitator is an invaluable skill, but one that should hardly be noticed.

As facilitators, do we ever seek stardom in a group?
Are we aware enough of both our abilities and our disabilities? How do we manage them for the health of the client?