Lessons from a Facilitation Evangelist

December 18, 2009 Leave a comment

I attended a powerful, short workshop led by Adrienne Maree Brown (abbreviated from longer trainings she offers) and Invincible on how to facilitate high tension and/or high conflict conversations at the Making Money Make Change conference. Weeks later, ideas and exercises from that workshop are still sticking with me.

Adrienne calls herself a “facilitation evangelist,” because she believes that the world would be transformed if we all practiced facilitation intentionally and were prepared with the tools to do so. I agree with her. And this reminded me of something so basic – facilitation isn’t just for meetings! I hadn’t thought about practicing facilitation in tense conversations with family members, for example, but Adrienne pointed out that facilitation in these and other everyday situations, whether the role is explicit or practiced silently within oneself, can have a profound impact on peoples’ experiences – turning what could be explosive into something more productive.

Adrienne named three key tools to facilitating high conflict and/or high tension conversations.

1. Ground yourself with a practice that works for you (e.g., deep breathing both before and/or during your facilitation), and by making “four agreements” with yourself (from don Miguel Ruiz’s book of Toltec wisdom teachings):

  • Be impeccable with your word (for example, say only what you mean and only ask questions for which you have the space and time to hold the answers)
  • Don’t take anything personally (for example, listen to constructive criticism and use it to improve your practice, but don’t get defensive)
  • Don’t make assumptions (speaks for itself)
  • Always do your best (recognizing that for example, your best as a facilitator when you’re over-tired compared to when you’re well-rested)

2. Set a safe space, which the people involved must co-create. Invincible led us through a powerful trust-building activity, which she recommended using with caution because it invites people to be really vulnerable. She asked each of us to close our eyes and imagine a moment when we felt safe. I imagined ringing the doorbell of my Granny and Pouis’ house throughout my childhood, and the warm hugs and hellos they greeted me with each time they opened that door. Listening to others’ moments around the circle felt sacred and real.

3. Learn what your triggers are as a facilitator, and actively work to overcome them. Adrienne led us through an abbreviated version of a listening and coaching activity in trios. We each shared a couple of our triggers and gave advice to each other on strategies to overcome them. Sharing my own triggers and listening to those of others felt a little raw, and very helpful.

What do you think about these as core principles and practices for facilitating high tension and/or high conflict conversations?

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  • Gibran says:

    Thanks Jen! These resonate very clearly with me, sometimes I feel like I’m Adrienne’s biggest fan, there is a way in which she integrates these practices so that they are not just good principles and ideas but actualized experiences instead.

    I think that the more inner work we do, the higher our threshold for such tensions – so I would stress her first principle of “Ground Yourself,” do it often, do it all the time, so that you become intimately familiar with what “groundedness” feels like, then it becomes an easier place to come to.

  • Curtis says:

    Love the guidance around not taking things personally and paying attention to triggers! And yes, facilitation takes us well beyond meetings. Thanks, Jen.

  • Malik says:

    Evangelize away, JWillsea! Don Miguel y the inner work remind me of the book, “Dont Just Do Something, Stand There.” it offers similar tools, on triggers for the facilitators in each of us. As for my safe, comfy spot, it would probably be the icebox rolls that my father has breaked every year since I was a kid. Happy new year! Please keep bloggin yall!

  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    Sorry I’m late to the conversatio, and I totallly agree! I especially appreciate the reminder to facilitate in our personal lives as well. I often half-joke with folks I train in facilitation that if we can do at home the things we teach in our workshops, doing them at work will be a piece of cake!

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