Practical Hints for Learning Facilitators (#3)

Based on blogposts D18 (“Teaching versus Facilitating Learning”) and D19(“Debate versus Discussion versus Dialogue”), here are some practical hints for learning workshop facilitators (numbers below refer to the four stages to generative dialogue in D19):

  • Don’t mix bosses with their subordinates in the same workshop group, or else you may be stuck in 1. This is more true among Asians, whose tendency is to respect or bow to authority.
  • To move faster from 1 to 2, state a ground rule at the start: no one should monopolize or dominate participation; everyone should be given a chance to speak out.
  • The minimum goal is to reach 3 and stay there as long as possible; in actual practice, the group can shift quickly between 1, 2 and 3 within a short period of time, or different participants will be at different stages 1-3 at the same time.
  • To help move the group to 3, be a model to the group of the ability to suspend judgment; for example, continue to visibly and seriously pay attention, accept and listen to what a participant is saying, even when many are showing signs of judgment (sniggering or laughter, booing or making sounds of disapproval) of what a person is saying. If the group misses your modeling, be explicit by saying, for example, “You noticed I did not react or make judgement in any way on what he just said; I continued to be open and to listen. Be aware when you are making a judgment, and try to suspend it…..”
  • Awareness of one’s own assumptions is necessary to stay in 3. Help the group practice being aware of their personal assumptions and judgments by asking someone who just made a judgmental statement: “You just said that….. Let us practice awareness of assumptions and judgments here. Reflect on what you just said; what are the assumptions and judgments behind what you said?” The rest of the group can help in answering this question; just be factual and refrain from making any judgment on the judgment itself, or from adding more judgments or alternative judgments. As learning facilitator, if you yourself make the mistake of making a judgment, it will show up as mild but very visible signs of approval or disapproval: half-smile, quizzical look, surprise, etc.
  • As learning facilitator, you can be candid about your own internal process. For example, you can say: “Upon hearing that statement, my tendency was to disagree. However, I saw that tendency immediately and I held back and said to myself ‘I should continue to listen; he may have a point that I do not see yet'”. This kind of intervention also demonstrates to participants the ability to be aware of your own thought processes or metacognition – another skill needed to move to 3. It also demonstrates the value of being aware of (and being able to name) a process.
  • You can ask a participant (particularly someone you sense is entertaining a private reaction): “Miss X, what were you just now thinking when you heard Mr Y said what he just said?” Whatever her answer is, tell the group that it should be regarded as an internal report of Miss X, instead of Miss X’s judgment of Mr Y.
  • It can happen that by simply listening to different ideas, someone (or you as facilitator can do it, if no one seems to come out) may come upon a way to combine, reconcile, adjust/readjust or build upon two or more of these ideas to come up with a new or seemingly better idea. Point out this process of synergy and its importance (for moving to 4). Teach the importance of being aware of or keeping track of group processes (especially to participants who are technical people and thus have a tendency to see only the content and not the process).
  • If you see signs of ego investment (e.g. defending an idea simply because it is “his/hers”) this can block movement to 4. Remind the group that they are after a group output and group ownership.

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