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How to be the worst facilitator – Episode 4

Because we can learn a lot from others that have boldly gone (excuse the split infinitive) where other facilitators fear to tread, it is time for the next episode in the series.  Learning how NOT to do something, is as important as learning to do it correctly.

In the spirit of trying to be the worst facilitator in the world, here’s the next tip on how to get it absolutely wrong.

Never ask questions.  Assume that the group is on board and that everyone is on the same page.  If they’re not, they’ll say so, won’t they?  In fact, you’ve contracted for that upfront!

Uh, no.  A facilitator’s main job is to ask questions.  Questions help the group evaluate where they are and what they need to achieve.  It shines light on issues that are usually hidden.  Questions is the facilitator’s proverbial magic sword.

And don’t just ask “Is everyone ok?” or “Do we all agree?”  Closed-ended questions like these don’t allow people to think wider or clearer.  Ask open-ended questions to encourage people to respond with full sentences so that more information is shared.  Closed ended questions have a purpose, of course – especially if you’re testing understanding, looking for confirmation or needing to move the discussion forward.

Here’s a couple of questions that I have found valuable in facilitation:

  1. In his book “The Book of Beautiful Questions” Warren Berger recommends asking yourself if you’re thinking like a soldier or a scout. A soldier defends a position while a scout looks for new territory.  You can use this when facilitating groups to get them to reflect on how they’re asking and answering questions.
  2. What is the problem we’re trying to solve? It often happens that people get caught up in the argument and defending their positions.  Asking this question allows everyone to catch a breath and re-engage on what the outcome should be.  This usually has the effect of bringing focus to the discussion.
  3. What will happen if we do nothing? These days we are very focused on action.  Getting things done is sometimes seen as more important than thinking about things.  This question allows the group to evaluate where they need to do something, or if doing nothing is the right answer.

Finally, a great resource for awesome questions is “And the next question is…” by Rachel A Alexander and Julia M L Russel.  Chock full of questions for particular situations (goals, communication, self-awareness, influence etc.) you will never be stuck for lack of questions.

Check out these question cards – 48 different questions that will help you when you are stumped.

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