To Sniff or Not to Sniff

My neighbour (and good friend) David Donaldson, and I kind of do similar work. David works for Tidal Shift http://www.tidalshift.ca/staff/david-donaldson/ as Director of Client Solutions (and Grand Poobah). More importantly, he and his wife love the same wine as I do, and we laugh a lot together.

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Fuzzy Facilitators!

A few weeks ago, David asked me if I’d be an expert guest on a webinar he was doing for clients and students about facilitation. The idea was an interview format, where he spends a few minutes setting the stage, introduces me, throws some questions out, and we’d be off to the races as we both explore and answer the questions. All the while, people will be coming and going in and out of the webinar and participating as they see fit.

Of course, I’d love to!

David arranged the webinar so that neither of us had to go anywhere. He walked over to my house, set up the camera and computer, and we were ready to go.

His questions were designed to find out how I addressed challenges while facilitating: How do you deal with
• Disengagement
• Disruption
• Let me steer (those who like to take control)
• ‎Discussions going off track

As facilitators, we all have our own tips and tricks that work for us, but I tend to introduce some common ground rules that set the stage, encourage participation and define how we are going to carry out our discussions. I write them on a flip chart in the front of the room and refer to them throughout any session.

  • Show up – be present (this is a fancy way to encourage people to put down their cell phones!)
  • Listen first
  • This time together is precious
  • Trust and respect
  • Contribute (don’t dominate)
  • Let differences motivate you
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Forestry workshop where the facilitator was listening first.

Now allow me to digress.

The other morning, as most mornings, I was out walking my two wonderful dogs. IMG_5901I knew I had a lot on my plate that day, and I was anxious to get the girls out, get them moving, then get them home so I could get to work. We went one of our normal routes, around the tennis courts, up the hill and then headed towards home. Lucy was preoccupied with sniffing. Apparently, EVERYTHING needed to be thoroughly sniffed and investigated, and this took a great deal of time. Time, according to me, that I did not have.

Grrrr. I could feel my anxiety rising. Every time she’d stop, I’d hear myself say “No, Lucy, come on, no, Lucy, no!” (repeat and repeat and repeat). Roxy, the older dog, just looked at me as if to say “But that’s Lucy, that’s what she does. Lighten up Susan.” (I’m sure she was thinking that anyway).

I finally stopped and listened to myself. Everything I was saying was negative. Don’t stop, don’t sniff, no, don’t walk there, don’t…, no….all uttered in an exasperated tone.

Time to pause.

If I were facilitating a meeting, I would never tell my clients/participants what not to do. I would focus on what to do. I would be positive, give ideas and options, and would not be demanding. So why am I doing this with my dog?

(I find so often that lessons from my personal life can be instrumental in my work life, but I sometimes forget that work lessons can help with the rest of my life, too.)

So, I paused. I became present. I listened to Lucy (for the record, she is quite a loud sniffer). I reminded myself that our morning time together is precious – she is 12 and Roxy is 15. In dog years, they are both seniors, and you know what that means. Lucy trusts me, I need to do the same for her. I won’t dominate, but I will lead her to where I want her to go (in this case, home!). And instead of telling her what NOT to do, I will tell her what I want her to do – heel!

And when she knew what I wanted, she walked next to me quite happily. Imagine that!

And so, going back to facilitation, when you have to deal with disengagement, disruption, people who like to take control of the discussions and discussions going off track, make sure you set your ground rules ahead of time. And consider those I’ve shared. Usually people, like my little Lucy, have their own agendas (for the record, sniffing is critically important, especially after it rains). But most people are also willing to take direction, if it is delivered in a positive fashion.

Follow your ground rules, and you’ll get home in plenty of time!

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Ground rules followed and on our way home!

 

 

 

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