The best place to start thinking about facilitation is from a very simple place.
What makes a great conversation, one to one, or in a small group?
In the course of this conversation, something shifts, for all parties. New meaning is created, future directions become clear, needs are met, and commitments are made.
Good conversations always enter unknown territory. When you start, you don’t actually know how it will turn out with your partners. You may have a purpose, or an end in mind. But this purpose must allow for other voices and other expectations. If you are just pushing for a specific result or change in the other person, it’s a lecture, or a scolding. It will be resisted.
The best conversations go beyond discussion or debate. Someone with a sense of humour noted the etymological link between ‘discussion’ and ‘percussion’. Discussion is the clash of ideas. The very best requires an open mind, and authentic and honest sharing.
The best conversations go even further. They enter the realm of dialogue.
Dialogue is more than a mere exchange of ideas, as useful as that is. It is not just about information, data, and facts. We can google for that. Dialogue encompasses at least two more things: empathy and intention.
Feelings first. Do we have a sense that we are open to another’s emotional universe? When someone is angry, moved, delighted by an insight, do we step into their shoes to sense the full implication of that emotion? By contrast, do we acknowledge the danger of getting railroaded by someone else’s passion.
Then intention. There is almost always some forward movement in someone else’s words. We are creatures of the future. We are heading somewhere (however vague or short term). For each of us, gathering in a group, there are multiple intentions available, intentions that have, potentially, coalesced for the brief moment of this meeting. Is there something that might emerge between us that creates a collective insight that has some mutual forward movement?
Then a last element. This one from David Bohm (a theoretical physicist who promoted free flowing, non-judgemental dialogue as a transformation tool): that some new meaning emerges between the parties in the discussion.
So. Dialogue implies is an openness of heart and intention that, from your careful sharing and listening , allows new meanings to emerge that are actually created between you all in this group discussion. Imagine, if every conversation was seen as an opportunity for this kind of dialogue? Dialogue with depth and delight. What would be different?
The etymology of ‘conversation’ : to ‘turn together’