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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Hoodies and Happiness

Imagine you went for a hike with your dogs in a local Conservation Area. As you wander

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Part of the trail.

along the wood-chipped trail in the sunny weather, you hear voices up ahead. You can’t see anyone, but the voices you hear are deep, and there seems to be three separate voices, so you conclude perhaps there are 3 men ahead of you. As you wind your way through the bends of the trail, you can just make out the men up ahead, standing together near a small viewing bench.

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The Bench, from a distance.

There are actually 4 of them, and they are all large men, with one distinguishing characteristic: they are each wearing dark hoodies with the hoods up, hiding their faces. They are clustered together, lowering their voices and quietly laughing.

What is your first reaction?

Do you feel a bit of anxiety? Do you slow down? Do you want to turn in the other direction before they see you, or before your dogs see them and start to bark? What is the first thing you think about?

PAUSE for a moment…and consider what your own reaction might have been. 

That happened to me last week. It was one of those exquisitely lovely, sunny spring days and I was hiking along the Gorge Loop Trail at the Belfountain Conservation Area. That when I heard the voices. Roxy and Lucy were too busy sniffing to notice the men, and had I wanted to, I could have turned around and headed in another direction to avoid them. But I was not going to be intimidated by a few guys with hoodies on a sunny day! So on I forged, anxiety at bay, to firmly walk past the Bench and the hoodies.

And as I rounded the bend and the men could see me, the largest of them quickly pulled off his hoodie…and grinned at me! The other others did the same, and they all smiled and yelled out hello. I thought of all the things that had gone around in my head, and the first words out of my mouth were “You know, you 4 look like a bunch of thugs out here with your hoodies on!”

They all roared with laughter and the first young man said “I know! I didn’t want to scare you with my hood, but it is so windy that I waited till you came close”. His face was full of concern and humour, and before we knew it, we were all laughing so hard two of them had to sit down on the bench!

As I wiped my eyes, said my goodbyes and headed back on the trail, I realized I had actually made myself feel anxious about what might have happened. And yet, what actually happened – unplanned shared laughter – was wonderful. How often do I think something is going to happen, and then pre-empt my own activities to prevent something that MIGHT happen from happening?

I literally stopped walking to consider whether I do that in my personal life, and what the implications are. I know I sometimes imagine all sorts of crazy outcomes, but like the day on the trail, I tend to forge on and take the “risk” of the unknown. But when I consider my work life, I  am not certain that I am the same kind of risk taker with my business. I have been known to not look at the horizon for growth opportunities and instead, focus on the potential negative things that might happen. I envision the challenges rather than the benefits.

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Me, clearly envisioning the challenges.

Erika Anderson, writing in Harvard Business Review, talks about changing your inner narrative.  So rather than first being negative, be curious, and motivated to find the positive.This requires a willingness to experiment, to be confident and to trust…your business, yourself and others. I know I need to do more of this in my work life.

If I had turned around and walked the other way on the trail, I would have been fine. The dogs would have had a good walk, and I would have made it home safe and sound. But I was willing to be curious, and to risk just a little. The rewards of the risk – the laughter and the smiles, and the incredibly delightful change in my mood, was well worth it. I think about my business and I am determined to risk a bit more, and to not just be safe and sound.

I challenge you to do the same, in business and in personal life. You may find hoodies, but you’re also sure to find happiness!

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My girls, at the Bench, wondering why I even think about this kind of thing!