Understanding the Facilitation Cycle, the first book in the Facilitation Analytics series, applies to a wide range of public meetings, from simple dialogues to deliberative forums, from World Cafés to town halls. Using the Facilitation Cycle can make a real difference in how you plan, host, and facilitate meetings.

If …

  • … your experience in facilitating high stakes meetings is limited. You know there is more to good facilitation than getting a room, posting a notice, setting an agenda, and hoping that those who attend aren’t too unruly, but there’s no time or budget for training.
  • … you’re already skilled at helping discussions around a table flow smoothly, but now you have to plan a larger meeting with many participants around many tables and multiple sessions. How do you shape this event to make it successful?
  • … you’re wondering how you’ll train up a dozen colleagues to handle table discussions at your organization’s conference smoothly.

Order the Understanding the Facilitation Cycle from Amazon now, read it, and put the cycle to work for you.


Section 6: Guide

  • Discussions may falter when participants wander off topic, fail to hear one another, or are disturbed by strong emotions. Guiding helps keep the discussion moving forward.

Most groups need a guide to help them stay focused on the topics at hand and on what can realistically be achieved or discussed in the time available. Guide by inviting, summarizing, and asking questions. For example, you might say, “we have 10 minutes left in this segment, let’s check in with those who haven’t spoken in a while, and summarize the key points.” There are many opportunities to guide. Consider the following:

Guiding back to the topic:

If participants are wandering far afield or getting sidetracked in argument, you might say:

  • “Help me understand how that connects with the questions we were asked to focus on.”
  • “So there are at least two strongly held views, x and y. What other viewpoints have you heard that we have not yet considered?”
  • “There are several other viewpoints that have come up in [the press/past discussions/ information handed out] that we have not yet considered. These include . . .”

Guiding when there are cross-purposes or misunderstanding:

Often arguments occur because people are talking about different things and not listening to each other. When you realize people are talking at cross purposes, you can help get the discussion back on track by saying one of the following:

  • “There are at least two different interests here, x and y. Why don’t we consider each, as well as others we identify?”
  • “I’m not sure we are all having the same conversation, I hear some of you are talking about values and others are talking about data. Let’s unpack and consider each of those and how they interrelate.”

Guiding when there are strong emotions:

When people show active discomfort with an idea or differences that are emerging as the discussion proceeds, become emotional, or react negatively to those that are emotional, the facilitator needs to guide the group through that discomfort as well. Here acknowledging what is occurring, combined with acceptance and invitation, can help you through.

For example, you can acknowledge the discomfort without putting anyone on the spot by saying “this is a difficult topic to discuss and I appreciate the hard work you are all doing in listening and sharing.”

You can help calm emotions by modeling acceptance, for instance by saying: “Because we are all different, with different experiences, we react differently. It takes time to process all that is being shared.”

You can reinforce boundaries by asking the group questions like these:

  • “Is everyone ok moving forward at this point or do we need to take a break?”
  • “How comfortable are you with what just occurred?”
  • “How might we discuss this differently?”
Practice Tip 5. Dealing with strong emotions.

Strong emotions raise challenges both for Accepting (Section 5), which is focused on helping participants feel comfortable and included, and for Guiding (Section 6), which is focused more the needs of the group. Sometimes you have to “accept” and “guide” at the same time! We have used the following phrasing to good effect more than once: “We all lose our temper sometimes and I guess it was [name’s] turn. Let’s all take a deep breath, and try to remember we are all human and we need to help each other through this discussion.”

To read the rest of Understanding the Facilitation Cycle, buy it in Kindle format from Amazon and download it now.