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Global Flipchart #15

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May 2019
| Global Flipchart #15

Staying Razor Sharp!

Melissa A. Matthews

As professional facilitators, it can be easy to fall into a rut or to lose one’s edge. This can be especially true if we’ve been facilitating the same types of processes for an extended period of time; it can become formulaic.

Over the years, I’ve developed some simple strategies to avoid the professional monotony that can sometimes occur.

Seize ALL opportunities to flex your muscles

Whether or not most people realize it, facilitation is a part of every aspect of our lives. From negotiating the next family vacation with a spouse to choosing a school for the kids or planning a party. It’s all about guiding those around us through a process to achieve a particular outcome. Use these seemingly mundane everyday occurrences as opportunities to try out new facilitation techniques.

For example, a professional acquaintance of mine is pregnant and she and her husband have been having a difficult time choosing a name for their pending bundle of joy. She decided to design and facilitate a process by which it would be easier. She wrote out each of their name choices index cards along with their meanings. They then laid out all of the cards and began making combinations of first and middle names that they like. Once the combinations were made they ranked them 1 to 5 and then ruled out the lowest ranking names. Left with three they compared combinations with the meanings of both names as a factor and ruled out any combinations that simply did not make sense or align with their values. Left with two combinations they weighed each person's feelings about the remaining names and took votes from close family members. They then settled on the combo with the most votes.

It was a pretty simple process but it was an effective facilitation nonetheless.

Never stop learning

After years and years of facilitating, it can feel like we know all there is to know, but it’s virtually impossible to know everything.

“Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” -William Pollard

I have recently decided to invest in professional development as a regular part of my professional practice.  This year, I’ve attended one leadership training and one or two professional development workshops.I learned so many new things. My advice: go to facilitation conferences and local facilitation training even if on the surface they appear to have nothing to do with your particular facilitation niche. Make space and time in your calendar for professional development—whether it is quarterly or annually—and, budget for it too.

If you have financial constraints, consider skill-sharing with facilitators that you respect. Offer to assist them on training days so that you can absorb the material. Allow them to attend any processes or training you are facilitating and exchange feedback.

I have found that this practice has helped to stretch me. I’ve been exposed to styles, terminology and techniques that I might’ve never been exposed to otherwise.

Be reflective and intentional

So much of what we do as facilitators is a result of who we are and what we bring into the spaces we traverse.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” -Maya Angelou

I’ve found that a meditation practice coupled with keeping a facilitation journal helps me to stay aware of how I feel and who I am in my work.

I set clear intentions for each facilitation process—both with the client and without. Having a personal benchmark or goal attached to my performance helps me to connect with the process as a learning opportunity. It might be to try something new or connect with a certain number of participants.

I log how I feel before, during and after facilitation using actual “feeling words.” I have a chart that I reference. I use feedback forms or evaluations to get a better understanding of how participants are connecting with the material and my delivery of it. Having already unpacked my feelings about the negative and/or positive aspects of a process, I am able to divorce emotion from my processing of the feedback and onboard constructive criticism as needed.

Take risks

While you are exploring new techniques and training opportunities, try to implement what you’ve learned into your facilitation. What’s the use of learning new things if you aren’t going to apply them? I’m never quite sure that I’ve fully grasped a new concept or technique until I’ve put it to use. What’s the worst that can happen?

We could flub it up! Yes, we could and probably will at some point. I’ve done it a number of times and learned some of the best lessons of my professional life by doing so.

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”-Henry Ford

Be vulnerable

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and the path to the feeling of worthiness. If it doesn’t feel vulnerable, the sharing is probably not constructive.” — Brene Brown

Connection is the key to unlocking any successful facilitation. People connect to people not to data or processes but to the person guiding them through said elements. If—like me—you believe that a facilitator is not a sage on the stage, but a guide by the side, you must be vulnerable and transparent within your work to allow your participants to do the same. You have to be the embodiment of the process. As such, you will be the vessel through which participants connect to the concepts you are trying to convey. Vulnerability creates a safe space for all involved to truly be involved.

I promised five of my strategies, but here’s a bonus that cannot be left out:

Have fun

Enjoy the work you do and everyone that comes in contact with you and your work product will be drawn to you and it. I do this by incorporating my winning wit and games into the work. Find what works for you, but just have fun with it. It’ll make you want to wake up and go to work and make others want to show up and work with you.

I hope these strategies help you as much as they’ve helped me on my journey.