Hospitality, openness and curiosity in facilitation
Contributing Blogger Chris Pedersen
In this post, I am going to discuss hospitality, a concept I believe is inherent in the art of facilitation. During the Christmas break, I read Jo Nelson’s book The Art of the Focused Conversation for Schools. While reading her book, I was reminded of Claudia Ruitenberg’s article, “Hospitable Gestures in the University Lecture: Analysing Derrida’s Pedagogy”; so I blew the dust off my old files, dug up the article and read it again. Nelson’s and Ruitenberg’s writing provoked me to think about hospitality and its importance in facilitation. In this post, I present two understandings of hospitality and how they are inherent in facilitation
The prevalent understanding of hospitality is that it is a reciprocal exchange between host and guest(s). The host welcomes guests into their space, and in return, the guest reciprocates based on certain conventions. The second notion defines hospitality as an unplanned event and not a reciprocal exchange. Hospitality is not, “a convention of exchange,” but rather an event that ruptures such exchanges. The guest has not reciprocated based on convention. They have reciprocated something that ruptures commonly held conventions, whatever they may be. These two very different ways of understanding hospitality underlie much of a facilitator’s practice.
The facilitator creates a hospitable, welcoming space. They are the host. They ensure everybody is respected and acknowledges the importance of others. The guests are the people working together in groups. The facilitator welcomes them to their space and, in return, expects certain actions based on convention. This is the first definition of hospitality at play. The creation of a hospitable space where people work together is extremely important for facilitation. The facilitator has created a well-thought-out plan and leads the groups through certain activities as they work towards a common goal. There is a convention of exchange. However, the facilitator as host is not rigid and glued to process in the way that a train is guided by the track and may not deviate. The facilitator is open and curious about the unexpected. They know guests may radically alter the space and break this convention of exchange that we see in the first definition of hospitality. I have witnessed numerous facilitation sessions where the relationship between host and guest resembles the first notion of hospitality before something occurs that ruptures that relationship. This is often where something truly magical occurs. The great joy of facilitation is that when we invite people into space we have created, groups often take over that space and great wisdom emerges. When the facilitator has their plan but is open and curious to the unexpected, new ideas and wisdom bubble up from underneath.
The two ways of understanding hospitality that I mentioned above — 1) a reciprocal exchange based on convention; 2) an event that ruptures such exchanges and breaks with convention — are, I believe, inherent in the practice of facilitation. Facilitators create hospitable spaces where ideas flourish, groups work together and generate new wisdom and new ways of doing things that often break with convention. Therefore, facilitators are also hospitable to events that rupture the process and break the exchange of convention that guides the conversation. These ruptures can only occur within the hospitable environment the facilitator has created. The facilitator must design processes while at the same time remaining open to the possibility that these processes may be ruptured.