The term "facilitation" originates from the Latin word "facilitas", which means to make easy. A common definition of a facilitator´s role is to make easy the process of achieving a desired objective. From my perspective, this is only the immediate objective of facilitation. the ultimate objective of facilitation is far bigger and much more inspiring. It is to empower the people and organisations we work with. What do I mean?
Every time an empowering facilitator makes easy the process of achieving a desired goal, she does not focus just on the destination. She focuses equally on the process used to reach the given end. She facilitates the participants to think on their own, and learn from each others´ knowledge and experiences. She avoids the participants becoming dependent on her. Instead, she uses processes to strengthen the overall capacity of the participants to find solutions by themselves, no matter what issue they may be facing. By the time she has finished facilitating for a team or an organisation, she achieves two things: (1) enable the group to reach their immediate desired destination, and, more importantly (ii) enhance their ability and confidence to effectively manage on their own, now and in the future. The latter is what makes learning and growth sustainable.
What are your thoughts on the issue? What has been your experience?
In an earlier blog titled "What is your listening to telling ratio", I wrote about the importance of active listening to be effective leaders, managers, coaches, and facilitators. Here, I would like to share some of the specific active listening skills that we can use to strengthen our listening ability. Implementing the following tips will ensure the speaker feels heard by you:
The best way to sharpen a skill is to practise it. So, try out the above tips the next time you meet someone and experience for yourself how they work. Do share your experiences here, so that we may learn together.
Giving feedback is an inescapable responsibility of leaders, managers, coaches, and facilitators. Used skilfully, it can promote growth and development of the receiver. Used unskilfully, it can trigger defensiveness, anxiety, and drop in performance. So how can we offer feedback effectively?
Before I offer feedback, I like to keep three principles in mind: Encourage, Educate, Empower. Asking myself the following questions helps me apply these principles.
Encourage: Will what I am about to communicate encourage the receiver to keep an open mind? Will it put him in a positive frame of mind? Will it make him feel confident and capable?
Educate: Will it reveal blind spots that she was not aware of? Will it make her aware of strengths she did not know she possessed? Will it make her aware of potential areas of improvement to keep growing?
Empower: Will it prompt him to think for himself and find his own way forward?
Following are some specific actions I try to take, to ensure alignment with the above three principles.
How do you offer feedback? How would you like to?
The power of questions has been known for a long time. In the words of Jonas Salk, developer of the polio vaccine, "What people think as the moment of discovery is really the discovery of the question." It is not that "The wise man doesn't give the right answers, he poses the right questions," said Claude Levi-Strauss. Albert Einstein said, "The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has it own reasons for existing." In philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti´s words, "To ask the right question is far more important than to receive the answer." And one of the famous innovators of today, Elon Musk said, "I think that´s the single best piece of advice: Constantly think how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself."
In our world of rapidly advancing information technology, finding answers is possible almost at the click of a mouse. However, to get useful answers we must first ask the right question. And technology is not much help in formulating that right question. That ability remains the prerogative of us human beings. Fortunately, it is a skill and we can sharpen with practice.
Questions can help us in many ways:
Would you like to harness the power of questions? If yes, consider asking yourself, "What is my guiding question for the day?
In 1998 when I was training as a facilitator, a quiet Sri Lankan friend of ours said, "We have two ears and one mouth because we should listen more and talk less." That wonderful lesson has stuck to me ever since. I must confess that I have much to improve in this aspect. However, my experience as a facilitator has only served to confirm my friend´s statement.
I have asked myself numerous times, "What are the key skills of an empowering facilitator and coach?" Over the years, I have narrowed that down to a few fundamental skills. At the top of that list is the skill of listening.
Listening may be divided into two categories: Passive and active. The primary purpose of passive listening is to gather information from the speaker. In active listening, however, that is only one of the many purposes. Active listening aims to validate the speaker, promote empathy, enhance trust and connection. It also helps the facilitator to decide what would be the appropriate follow-up questions. And by helping the speaker articulate her/his thoughts, active listening stimulates deeper reflection and learning. While listening actively, a facilitator engages at two levels: Listening to what is being said, and listening to what is not being said. That allows the facilitator to get a more comprehensive understanding of the speaker´s message than simply listening for content would allow.
As facilitators know, facilitation is not about providing instant answers and ready-made solutions. It is not about dazzling the audience with the facilitator´s knowledge. An empowering facilitator encourages the people to dive deep within and find their own answers and solutions. A powerful facilitator unleashes the wisdom hidden in the hearts and minds of the participants. This requires powerful questioning skills (perhaps the subject of another post). However, once a question has been delivered, the facilitator has to listen actively if deep reflection and learning are to occur in the participants.
While coaching, it is said by some that the listening to telling ratio should be around 80:20. Coaching is one arena of facilitation. Depending on the facilitation arena, this ratio will vary. But the "golden rule" would still be the wisdom expressed by my Sri Lankan friend: Tell less and listen more.
A useful exercise to develop our listening skills is to be aware before we speak. Whenever we intend to utter a statement, we can ask ourselves, "Would it be more empowering to convert this statement to a question?" The more we make this conversion, the more we will offer the participants the opportunity to think and speak for themselves. In turn, we as facilitators will focus more on listening and, thereby, empower the participants.
So, would you like to ask yourself, "What is my listening to telling ratio?"
In today´s world, there appears to be a tremendous emphasis on getting results. The means have become subordinate to the desired end. That is, the means are seen as relevant only to the extent that they support the achievement of the desired end. This, I believe, is a mistake.
Yes, results are important but not obsession with it. If we reflect for a moment, it will become evident that achieving any result is not really within our control. We can definitely influence the achievement of the desired results, but influence is not synonymous to control. The materialisation of any results is the work of numerous variables, some within our control, some not; in fact, there could well be variables that we may not even be aware of. So obsession with getting results can easily end in despair and desperation. This is one reason why obsession with results is unwise. There is a more important reason.
When we prioritise the end over the means, we tread in the quicksand of intense desire. In our zealousness to get the results, we become willing to take even harmful means to get there; harmful to ourselves or to others. We cut corners here, we say a lie there, we hide relevant information from our clients, or we exaggerate to promote ourselves. After all, we are driven by a need to get the results at almost any cost. Instead of insisting on win-win solutions, we become comfortable with win-lose solutions, as long as we are the winners. Business that are run with this attitude can make big profits but are unlikely to last in the long run or become great brands. Even if they do, the crack in their ethical foundation leaves their people ultimately unfulfilled. Why? Because it is based on the erroneous assumption that our happiness can be independent of the happiness of others.
A different approach to conducting business is to be value-based, principle-centred. In this way, results are important not because they have to be obtained at any cost, but because they set the direction for our efforts. After all, reaching New Delhi requires a different direction from getting to New York. Once the direction is set, a value-based business focuses on the means to get there. This is based on the belief that the only real control we ultimately have is over our actions. Our greatest responsibility is to take responsibility of our actions simply because that is what we control. When we focus on our actions, rather on the achievement of the desired results, we become acutely aware how our actions can help or harm us and others. As our wisdom of the effects of our actions grows, we become more and more value-based. We become conscious that non-harming actions have a beauty of their own, are deeply fulfilling, and are a reward unto themselves. From this arises the realisation that striving for win-win solutions are so much more satisfying. This leads to harmony, non-greed, contentment. The inevitable result of this is the good of all.
What leadership path will you choose for your business?
Leadership can be a powerful skill, no matter what our position is. Check out the YouTube video below to listen to my views on some aspects on leadership that I had offered during an interview. If you have problems playing the video, please paste https://youtu.be/dMiSQY58qyE on a browser.