Trust the process … To say or not to say?

In my 28 years as a facilitator, I have heard colleagues saying “trust the process” to participants in meetings and workshops. I admit to saying it. However, not anymore.

Reasons to not use the phrase

Trust is defined as, “a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.” I have no right as a facilitator to tell participants what they should or shouldn’t trust. Trust is an individual right. By telling or asking participants to trust a process, I am taking away their assessment of and comfort with the process, method, or me as the facilitator.

What else could you say?

Facilitators are responsible to design processes and to select methods that will help a group achieve its desired results. When you believe a facilitation process or method will benefit the group and a participant challenges it, what can you say instead of, “trust the process?”

  • Explain your reasons for recommending the method.
  • Explain the purpose of the method. Describe the activities.
  • Ask if they are willing to carry it out. If yes, proceed, saying that you are open to questions about it. If not, suggest alternate methods and ask if they have any.

A story: I facilitated a visioning session with a committee comprised of municipal representatives and Indigenous community members. I used the Consensus Method from Technology of Participation to create five-year goals. One participant resisted and wanted to start by discussing the problems. I explained my reasons for using the method and how it would also lead to identifying problems. No one else objected to the method and I asked if she was willing to try it out. She was (willing suspension of disbelief). Two hours later, she said it was the most amazing goal-setting session she had participated in and was thrilled with the results.

Another story: I planned to use a Continuum of Agreement with a scale of 1 to 5 for prioritizing goals. One participant in a group of 16 strongly objected and wanted to use a weighting method. After I explained the process and its benefits and activities, they were still opposed. I invited them to describe their method and then asked the group to decide if we use it. The group decided to try the participant’s method and since it was similar to what I proposed, I facilitated it. It worked well and made the participant feel valued and heard.

What about the expertise of the facilitator?

  • I don’t tell my hairstylist how to cut my hair.
  • I don’t tell the mechanic how to fix my car.
  • I don’t tell my doctor the diagnosis of my symptoms.

I have heard facilitators use these examples to explain that they are experienced in facilitation processes and methods and therefore, know what works. However, in these situations, I contribute my ideas and preferences.

  • I tell my hairstylist what I like in a hairstyle and show her pictures.
  • I tell my mechanic what is happening with my car and may describe sounds.
  • I explain what I am experiencing with my health to my doctor: sores, aches, and pain.

When participants are pushing back about a method, ask for their ideas, preferences, and experiences. Consider them as you suggest a method.

When to say “trust the process”

  • Use the phrase within your head as a reminder that you chose the process or method and it will work. This is helpful in moments of divergence, conflict, and yuckiness in a group discussion.
  • Use the phrase with colleagues when co-designing.
  • Use the phrase when training someone in facilitation.

Please contact me with inquiries and comments about facilitation.

Trust the process … To say or not to say?
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