When we think of facilitators, the first people who come to mind generally are meeting leaders or team builders. Of course, facilitation is about meetings and teams. But when it’s effective, it’s much more. Facilitation is a skill and behavior that builds relationships and sparks meaningful discourse. Done well, it can have a positive impact on your life – from boardroom meetings to talks with your children.
I had the opportunity to coach a woman who was preparing for an important presentation. Her goal was to take a more facilitative approach to the presentation. During our session, she described a turning point when she realized how important it was to engage her audience through thoughtful questions. Anyone can tell people things they already know and believe. She wanted to ask specific questions to involve them actively in the discovery process.
Her realization was exactly right. Facilitation is about helping others process an issue or idea. When people reach a conclusion through their own thought process, the result is far more impactful than if they act on someone else’s ideas. Active engagement leads to holistic buy-in. With practice, anyone can perfect this kind of sophisticated facilitation.
Successful Facilitation Behaviors
It’s easy to talk about facilitation in abstract terms. Real impact happens when we discipline ourselves to learn facilitation as a more comprehensive and intentional approach. Here are five behaviors to help you apply this approach to your life.
- Don’t tell people what they already know.
Most of us love to talk to other people and share our experiences. The problem is, this isn’t facilitative. When we tell someone what we think or believe, we are putting them into a passive position. Rather than bore them with our opinions, ask questions that engage and excite them.
- Ask open-ended questions.
Facilitation is all about conversation. Think of a purposeful, open-ended question to get the creative juices flowing. Keep the question specific enough to fit into the conversation, but broad enough to share different perspectives.
- Listen objectively.
Listening is arguably the hardest skill for any of us to master. During a conversation, consciously listen with an open mind. Objectivity is not the same thing as neutrality. Neutrality means you don’t care. Objectivity means you care and have an opinion, but are open to learning other perspectives. If you listen well you can summarize what’s been shared with you.
- Ask at least one follow up question before you respond.
Once you have listened and summarized the speaker’s points, ask at least one additional clarifying question. The additional information gathered will ensure you are hearing the full story. It also will slow you down so you don’t jump to sharing your own ideas or conclusion.
- Solicit opposing input.
Even if you agree, ask questions to make sure you’re on the same page. You might have missed information or a perspective. Always consider additional questions you can ask to further the conversation and understand the other perspective better.
The facilitative approach is about asking questions and engaging with others. It has to be genuine and intentional, especially when you have a strong conviction. It’s not about telling people what you think — it’s about reaching conclusions together. When you facilitate discussion well, you and others will be more aligned, informed and committed to the decision at hand.
If you have a story about a meaningful conversation or meeting you’ve facilitated, or if you have questions, comment below. We’d love to hear your stories.
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