A Facilitation Moment: a challenge by a participant

A facilitation moment. You know it! You are facilitating a group and this happens.

➡ A participant forcefully challenges an activity.
➡ A participant challenges you or someone else about an idea.
➡ A individual stands up and yells at everyone.
And so on.

The success of a session can hinge on one moment of facilitation. A facilitator recognizes these moments and responds appropriately for the benefit of the group.

analog clock face with a second hand
Analogy clock face with a second hand

Here’s a facilitation moment that occurred during a recent community workshop I facilitated to help participants decide the future of a well-loved and long-term community event. We started by sharing stories in trios and then with the large group about the magic, fun, and success of the event. Wonderful! 😃

I then invited them to reaffirm or re-create the purpose of the event, the Why it is held. I planned to use the Technology of Participation Consensus Method. That’s when a facilitation moment happened. ❇

As participants individually started writing ideas, one person said, “Barb, I can’t do this exercise. It doesn’t make sense.” The tone and demeanor and the immediate attention of other participants quickly led me to realize that my response could make or break the session.

What I didn’t do:
🙄 I didn’t become defensive.
😑 I didn’t ask them to “give it a try” and see what would happen.

What did I do?
✔ I breathed deeply. I thought about what my best action could be.
✔ I kept my face and body expressions open and inviting. I leaned forward in my chair. I kept gentle eye contact.
✔ I asked the person to tell us more about their statement.
✔ I listened carefully.
✔ Then, I asked the group what they thought and felt about the comments.

Participants talked freely. They realized that they had different definitions and understandings of the event. They then developed and approved a draft definition and moved on to strategy and action planning.

The participants expressed great success and satisfaction at the end of the session.

A moment in facilitation, like this one, can seem small, yet the impact can be significant. I could have lost the trust of the group. I could have destroyed the sense of safety to speak. I could have become defensive or asked the person to suspend disbelief and try it or been rigid about my process. Instead, I listened, observed, assessed, and took it to the group for their wisdom and decision.

In the next few months, I will write a mini-series about facilitation moments. Watch for the story of the drunk participant, the refusal to take part in a 5-scale rating activity, and a challenge by an Indigenous individual about the assumptions of a group.

Please share your facilitation moments in the comments.


A Facilitation Moment: a challenge by a participant