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Connecting and Communicating with Learners
Over the last 10 years, as a facilitator, I have had a chance to witness many facilitators and their delivery styles. Some of these observations stem from facilitating a certification process for other facilitators, while others are a result of witnessing them during conferences and presentations. Early on in my facilitation career, this experience resulted in my developing a habit of comparing – wondering how I would have conducted an activity or revealed a framework or answered a question, had I been in their place.
In the years since, I have let go of that mental exercise and forgiven myself for having taken part in it. Why? Because over the years I have come to understand that everybody has their own delivery style, not necessarily better or worse than my own. This has been an important lesson for me because I have realized that some facilitators are patient and nurturing, others provocative and animated, and then there might be those who are storytellers and scholarly. The list could be never ending!
While there is no denying that each one has their own style, a question that has plagued me for a long time is whether there are any bedrock facilitator behaviors that are non-negotiable? Are there things that facilitators must or must not do irrespective of their delivery style? In other words, I wanted to understand what the gold standard was for Flawless Facilitation.
I decided to fulfill this agenda by putting on my researcher hat, observing facilitators clinically, and jotting down my observations from which I looked for patterns. In other words, I followed the typical ORCE (Observe, Record, Classify, Evaluate) methodology. Through the data collected, I discovered some very interesting facilitator traits and facilitation methods, which I will share with you in a series of posts. In this post, I highlight my observations on a very important part of facilitation – the way a facilitator connects and communicates with his/her learners. As I share my observations, do take a minute to reflect on how they unfold in your sessions.
There are three important elements to communicating and establishing a connection with learners. We look at all three of them in a little more detail:
- Addressing the participants: Using the word ‘Guys’
‘Guys’ is a term widely used to address learners in a session, be it in the classroom or on a virtual platform. Common phrases are: “Come on guys, let us get back work”, “What do you guys think?”, “Guys, can I have your attention?”.
While participants usually do not object to being addressed in this way, there is an obvious issue with the term that we often overlook. Although we may want to establish a safe, comfortable, and friendly learning environment, and using commonplace slang allows a sense of familiarity, let us not lose sight that we are still part of a formal set up. Hence, we facilitators need better ways of addressing our audience.
The simple rule of thumb here is that the context is our compass – being cognizant of our context will always help us understand the appropriateness of the words we use. A term like ‘guys’ may be better suited in a gathering of people at dinner. Even if these are the same people we engage within a learning session, we need to think of an appropriate reference for our learners, simply because the context is no longer the same.
As facilitators, let us be mindful and think through the appropriateness of the way we address our learners in a formal set up, while still maintaining a cordial relationship with them.
- Acknowledging the responses of the participants: Using words like Brilliant/ Great/ Fantastic
Superlative words such as ‘brilliant’, ‘great’, and ‘fantastic’ should be used with caution. I am sure most of you will be familiar with the context in which these words get used. You ask your audience a question, and these words are used to acknowledge their responses. Although we aspire to enthuse or encourage participants with these words, is every response truly brilliant or great? Or are we only saying the words without meaning it?
While our intent to encourage participants is good, giving the same high-voltage acknowledgment to all responses overshadows our processing of response relevance. The suggestion here is not to pass judgment. Rather, the idea is to be comfortable collecting viewpoints, without feeling the need to reciprocate using such superlatives.
Used frequently and without discretion, our well-meaning responses of acknowledgment may come across as inauthentic. Instead, can we think of acknowledging responses with simple sentences/words like ‘That is interesting’, ‘Okay’, ‘Yes, what else?’, ‘This is one way of looking at it’, etc. In my experience, when learners see that these superlatives are reserved for some exceptional responses, they think harder and deeper about your question before responding. Thoughtful use of these precious words will surely drive them to earn it!
- Engaging the participants: using questions such as How many of you…?
As facilitators, we all have the tendency to do a quick poll. Often, the use of the “How many of you…” question is a spontaneous occurrence, rather than a well thought out question. While it is a good engagement tactic, we need to reflect on the purpose it serves. On occasion, asking this question is a genuine need, e.g., “How many of you have completed the pre-work before coming to this session?”
Take a moment to reflect on all those times when we have asked this question. Did we really make use of the statistics that we generated from asking this question? Without much forethought, this question serves no better function than that of a garnish – making the dish look good without any real nutritional value. Hence, it is likely that whatever data (read as ‘raise of hands’ in this context) is generated from responses to this question barely serves any significant purpose. The guideline here is to always leverage the power of the tool – in this case, the poll questions. Let your questions be purposeful so that they add value to the discussion and make the interactions meaningful.
That brings me to a pause on my journey to discovering the attributes and behaviors of Flawless Facilitation. Until the next part of this post, I would love to hear about your experiences and learn from them as well ? You can write to me at: email@example.com
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