Facilitation… trust the group’s silence

Guest blogger Chris Pedersen and strongly endorsed by Barb Pedersen


Trust the group and embrace the moments of silence in a facilitation session.

An important aspect of a facilitator’s work can often be the most awkward. I have seen the following scenario repeatedly play out during my time as a teacher and a facilitator. The facilitator stands in front of the group, asks for silence, and then, asks an important question (as I wrote last week, every question is important). Once the facilitator’s question is asked, she/he glances furtively around the room, expecting an answer. When no one says anything, the facilitator may perceive the silence as inaction, becomes awkward and feels the need to speak. He/she proceeds to interject and disrupts the group’s silence. In the past, I have broken this silence too early. Sometimes, I notice my mistake immediately, often, I don’t realize until I de-brief the session at home.

Standing in front of a group, looking out on silent participants, can be an awkward experience. I want to embrace this amazing awkward silence. Trust your process, trust your questions, trust the group. Embrace the calm, take time to reflect on what has occurred in the session, what will occur, and relax. Think: Whose silence is it?

For me, silence often demonstrates the commitment of participants to processing questions, deep thought, taking time to construct answers—which can lead to great insight, great conversations, and innovative ideas. Some participants may use the silence as a mental or physical break. Perhaps that may be what they need at the moment. Trust the group.

Premature speech or interjection may eradicate the space participants need to think seriously about questions and answers. Don’t automatically assume they have misunderstood the question or are uninterested. You can ask (as we described in last week’s blog), whether you explained the task or question clearly, and then provide the silent time the group needs. Trust the group.

During the time participants are thinking, those silent moments, I like to reflect on what has worked well during the session, what can be improved, how I will transition from the silence to the spoken. As facilitators, during the group’s silence, we can think about many different things: we  can plan ahead, can observe the non-verbal behaviour of the group, and take time to look out at the group and bask in the magic of a group hard at work thinking seriously about an issue. At times, and often most importantly, take the opportunity to have a drink of that delicious cup of coffee. Before sessions, I love to visit the closest local coffee shop.

I dislike setting up the next activity or moving things around during this time as it can often be distracting. Trust the group, embrace the silence and take some time to think—or drink coffee.

Embrace the silence. Trust the group.

Facilitation… trust the group’s silence