Thursday, February 15, 2024

Trusting Your Gut as a Facilitator

For the last two decades, the most complex and fun thing I do on a regular basis is train facilitators for working in cooperative culture.

Fundamental to my approach is teaching the necessity (and skill set) needed to work both rationally (with ideas) and emotionally (with energy). That said, humans are a good deal more complex than just those two components, and I want to focus today on working intuitively—knowing when to do something because it feels right, whether you can explain it or not.

To be fair, for most people this is not accessible when they first learn to facilitate, because they don't yet have sufficient body knowing in the role of facilitator to access subconscious inspirations, or sufficient grounding to trust such inspirations.

But you can get there, and I think I do some of my best work when I allow my gut to enter into an internal dialog with my head and heart about what to do. This shows up in a couple ways.


About 15 months ago I did 10 days of work in person with a longstanding group that was deeply divided over who they were now that the kids had grown up and started questioning the course that had been laid out by their elders. They were stuck and wanted outside facilitation to guide them through an attempt to figure out whether there was any hope of reconciliation or whether it was time to seek an amicable divorce.

The personal strain among members was so bad that there had been moments of near physical violence, which is not something I commonly encounter. Working with a dear friend and fellow facilitator, Sarah Ross, we were given a small suite of rooms in the basement of the common house, where we could meet with individuals when they wanted to confer with us, and where we could discuss between us what was happening in the group and how best to proceed. 

Each night Sarah and I would talk over where we were, and where we might go next, and I'd go to bed with an open mind about how to start the next day. By placing that question in the center of my attention as my last conscious thought, my subconscious would chew on it overnight, and every morning I awoke with clarity about how to proceed. I did this every day for nine days, and came to trust it.

While I love working this way, it's quite rare to get the chance to be with a group for that long a stretch. More commonly, the longest I have is from Friday evening until Sunday afternoon, which means only two overnights.

In the moment

In addition to dreaming into the future (described above), there is a more immediate version of intuition playing a key role in my facilitation. Often enough, someone will tell a story about how something has gone wrong for them, or they're afraid that it will, and I have learned in those moments to try to let myself feel into their reality and imagine what that might be like—to get what they're describing viscerally, not just rationally. For a few minutes, I try to be in their skin, and reflect back what I imagine them to have experienced, with explicit attention to the emotions.

When I get this right (practice helps), it builds a bridge to that person, who might otherwise feel isolated and is likely to not trust that they have been accurately heard or held. They are able to exhale, and they become more available to hear what others are saying. This step both deepens the conversation (legitimizing emotional experiences and impact) and deescalates tension—both of which can be highly beneficial. To be clear, I am not "taking their side"; I am becoming them, temporarily—a facility I make available to others in the room as well.

Sometimes new facilitators report that they are too empathic, by which they mean they can get so entangled in another's story that they lose track of who and where they are. For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, I don't have that problem. I know what I'm doing when I try on another's footwear. While I may or may not do a good job of reading the other's reality, I never lose sight of why I'm doing it, or who I am. I never worry about losing track of what's me, and what's astral projection. 

Taken another step, once you have a bead on an outlier's reality, you have invaluable clues about how to build a bridge to them when it comes to problem solving.

1 comment:

Cuba said...

I'm grateful for the valuable insights and perspectives your blog consistently provides.