Category Archives: Facilitation

Are you following unnecessary rules?

There are many conventions and rules which govern our lives and which we mostly don’t question or think about. Most of these rules are there to protect us and maintain a civilised society. But did you ever stop to realise how many rules we impose on ourselves unnecessarily? I had a great experience of realising this the other week during a course.

As part of the course we played a game called ‘Diminishing Resources’. It works like this:

Summary – The floor of the room is set up with various sized squares, made of newspapers, or flip charts or A4 or 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of paper. Participants are asked to move from one square to another. After two or three moves, begin to remove papers, forcing participants on to a smaller number of squares until new and different solutions are arrived at.

Instructions –  To begin, everyone must have both feet in a square; when I say “change,” you must move to a new square; we continue when everyone has both feet in a new square; be brief in the setup, refer questions to the guidelines.

When I was playing this game I realised my self imposed rule of standing only on the paper squares (it wasn’t in the instructions, they only said to stand on a square) when I saw a fellow participant standing on a chair with a square seat. After this I realised the carpet tiles were square, and then that the room was square, so I could stand anywhere and be on a square.

This was a powerful realisation for me – how often am I hindering my creativity by these subconscious, unnecessary rules?

My learning from this game is to try and be more aware of all the possibilities when considering a problem or idea. I will try to ask more questions about how and why particular solutions are created.

I encourage you to use this game with your team or teams/groups you work with – it’s a fantastic kinesthetic and experiential way to realise the power self imposed rules have over our creativity.

If you have experienced this game, what did you think? How else might we expose those self imposed rules?


Seek first to understand…

My dad has always said: “You have two ears and one mouth for a reason” – a simple but effective way of reminding me how important it is to listen (as does this picture by David Shrigley!).

This is underlined in a book my dad gave me – ‘The 7 habits of highly effective people’ by Stephen Covey, where the fifth habit is ‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood’. This is about empathic listening, really deeply listening to the other person without any ‘autobiographical’ responses such as probing, evaluating, advising or interpreting. The main practical skill to use in empathic listening is rephrasing content and reflecting the feeling e.g.

Son: “Dad I give up! School is boring.”      Dad: “You’re really frustrated about school.”

Here frustration is the unsaid feeling being reflected and school is the content.

It seems that listening is becoming a more important topic of thought today, probably partly because our world is so noisy/frenetic. A good recent example is the BBC/British Library collaboration ‘The Listening Project’. Although its aim is to build up a picture of our lives today, its focus on doing this through recorded conversation serves as a reminder of the power of one to one conversation to create deep connection.

This focus on conversation is vital in a world where, according to a recent TED Talk by Sherry Turkle, we “…sacrifice conversation for mere connection.”

This talk also feeds into the growing need to think more about the level of our listening skills today. Turkle addresses this through the use of technology – one point she makes is that tweeting and texting doesn’t allow us to really learn about each other, to understand each other. She suggests we can end up hiding from each other even though we are constantly connected to each other. Certainly my life has more texting than talking nowadays.

However, I think its OK to have a world with texts and tweets as long as they exist alongside conversation and listening. I think what would help is a more conscious focus on listening skills – I have found that since I started focusing on my listening skills I realised how much I wasn’t really listening before. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of waiting for the other person to finish so you can share your related experience.

Improving listening skills will also help with creativity and idea generation – as Covey says in his book: “When we really, deeply understand each other, we open the door to creative solutions and third alternatives” Who knows what great idea you might miss if you’re not listening properly?

Do you practise empathic listening in your facilitation? How can you improve your everyday listening skills?

Introverts and ideas

“There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas” – this quote from Susan Cain in her recent TED talk stuck in my mind.

So much of the way we do things at work is designed for extroverts to thrive – bosses are expected to be dominant and out spoken, we are expected to be ‘team players’, we work in noisy, busy open-plan offices. Where does this leave people who need some solitude, some time for reflection in order to their best work?

As someone who Susan Cain would probably describe as an ‘ambivert’ (my learning styles are also equally activist and reflector), I can understand the benefits of both an extroverted and introverted way of being. It’s just that the extroverts’ way of being will naturally be more dominant as extroverts are more dominant. However, as the TED talk suggests, I think it’s worth actively promoting the positive things about the introverted way of being.

For example, Cain suggests that introverts make good bosses. This was based on the work of Adam Grant at Wharton School ‘Analysing effective leaders: why extroverts are not always the most successful bosses’  His article suggests that the best boss for a very proactive team is actually an introverted boss. This is because an extroverted boss may feel threatened by proactive staff, whereas an introverted boss is more likely to listen and support their team’s ideas.

Just as introverted bosses can help encourage ideas, introverts are also better equipped to come up with ideas themselves. The TED talk alludes to Darwin going for long walks alone and Steve Wozniak working alone on the first Apple computer – examples which emphasise the need for solitude in the creative process.

Overall this TED talk made me think about my facilitation work and whether I am fully enabling the more introverted participants to develop their ideas. Am I doing too many group activities? Could I build in some solitude?

What about your work? If you consider yourself introverted, are you able to express yourself properly? If you manage a team, do you consider the needs of the more introverted members?