Book Excerpt: Steps to Being Mindful as a Facilitator

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Even when we are in the middle of leading a facilitated experience, we have the responsibility to be mindful about how we “show up.” There are many ways to be mindful before, during and after the experience. In the excerpt from the new book, The SAGA Facilitation Model, I explore how you can improve your ability to be mindful when planning and participating in a facilitated meeting, workshop or training

One of the many ways to practice allyship is to be mindful of our dominant identities. In the workplace, we are often unaware of how these identities show up when we are leading others. This happens especially during trainings (a privilege, in itself). During self-exploration of my identities, I often focused on when my subordinate identities made me feel left out or isolated during professional interactions. While useful to share with a trainer or facilitator, I rarely used that time to look at myself and my own behaviors. I had no problem asking for allies to change their behavior; I struggled with practicing it on my own.

It was only when I began to focus on how my dominant identities were showing up that I began to take my own advice. I considered my impact versus my intentions. Then I listened more. I reacted less. I allowed myself to be vulnerable enough to take in the feedback, without feeling defensive. While I don’t always get it right, I believe I am better than where I used to be.

Below is an excerpt of my new book, The SAGA Facilitation Model: Skills and Tools for Your Meetings, Workshops and Trainings. One of the chapters is how to remain in the moment while also being mindful about how we show up in the group. I believe now, more than ever, we should be equipped with strategies for being the best version of ourselves when we are asked to lead our peers or colleagues, regardless of the learning that is taking place.

Excerpt from The SAGA Facilitation Model

One of the best ways to confront and acknowledge how biases show up in our facilitation is to be actively mindful when designing, implementing and evaluating the experience. Even if you’re participating in a planned facilitation, hosted by an event manager or for your supervisor, you can still put some of these steps into practice for yourself. If you are training other facilitators, consider adding some of these steps into your own training, so your facilitators are aware of how they will show up at the event as a facilitator/leader.

Being Mindful While You Design the Facilitation

We set our group up for success when we consider how we will acknowledge and mitigate potential biases that might emerge. Our role as facilitators requires that we give each of these considerations purposeful and thoughtful responses.

  • Consider each type of unconscious bias and intentionally work into your design document opportunities to be aware of and overcome them.
  • Work with key stakeholders in advance of the facilitation to get a clearer picture of the actual/perceived social identities of those who will participate (e.g., race, gender, physical ability and age/experience). Work with key stakeholders in advance of the facilitation to get a clearer picture of the actual/perceived social identities of those who will participate (e.g., race, gender, physical ability and age/experience). Use this information to lean into your unconscious bias, to raise your consciousness about the effects of power and privilege on participation, and to further inform your design.
  • The day of the facilitated experience, before the session begins, check in with yourself and answer the following four questions:
    • What’s one thing I’ve already experienced today?
    • What am I feeling right now?
    • What impact could this have on today’s session?
    • What’s one intention I have to improve the likelihood and quality of participation in today’s session?

Being Mindful During the Facilitation

In the midst of facilitation, we have even more opportunity to provide an open environment that invites as many voices as possible to contribute. Being mindful of our actions and biases is critical to ensure that everyone who wanted to contribute was able to with the best of their ability.

  • Although it’s important to monitor everyone’s participation throughout the session (including frequency and manner/quality of participation), this is particularly important for traditionally marginalized groups (e.g., people of color, women, transgender people and people with a disability).
  • When available, always use a microphone and have one available for participants. People who are hard of hearing may not speak up if you ask if everyone can hear you, for obvious reasons. Microphones also allow you to speak over the group if you need to draw attention back to you, rather than yelling over a large group.
  • Just some of the behaviors to monitor and correct for include:
    • Who are you consistently calling upon?
    • What voices are most dominant?
    • Who appears to be least comfortable speaking up?
    • What perspectives are not being shared?
    • Who took on a leadership role in small groups?
  • Addressing right away any behaviors from participants that could be viewed as creating an unsafe or hostile environment.

Being Mindful After the Facilitation

Following the facilitation, it’s important to either check in with a co-facilitator/monitor, watch/listen back to a recording of the facilitation and/or self-reflect using the following questions as a guide/lens with which to evaluate the session and your role in it:

  • What is one thing related to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) I was mindful of as I was facilitating today?
  • What is one thing I observed today related to DEI?
  • What is one gift/success related to DEI I experienced during today’s session?
  • What is one challenge/opportunity related to DEI I experienced during today’s session?
  • What were the effects of power and privilege on participation today?
  • What did I do today to create a more safe and trustworthy environment?
  • What is one thing related to DEI I intend to do differently the next time I facilitate?

We Can Be Better

Practicing mindfulness while facilitating takes time and practice. And almost certain, you will say or do something that interrupts the process that group is engaged in. I have found that you just need to acknowledge it, and move on. Sharing and being transparent allows you to retain the trust of the group, and shows that you care about the group. It can be tough to be transparent and vulnerable, but it allows you to retain the ability to continue asking questions the group needs to move on.

If you reflect on the experience and find that you need to do more work to avoid the situation, then you’ll become an even better facilitator. When I was about to start graduate school years ago, it was responsible for leading an LGBT youth leadership conference planning group. I had spent years engaged in social justice programming and believed myself capable of working with a variety of audiences. But it was pointed out that, even with what I knew and believed about myself, I would speak over women and cut off their remarks before they finished speaking. I was floored. But being an open person, who wanted to improve my facilitation skills with my board, I heard the feedback given. And I got better.

I now recognize that many of my identities have the potential to close down or stop the discussion. I work hard to acknowledge my privileges and when necessary, I step aside when I believe my presence presents more authority and power than will allow others to talk freely. It’s the best I can do in the moment and I encourage any facilitator to think about doing the same.

Here to Help You

The skills described above take time to learn. But we all need to start somewhere, in order to create an inclusive and just community. If there is anything I can do to help you and your organization improve the way it creates and sustains an open and just community, reach out to me. I am here to talk.

Schedule an introductory meeting so we can talk.

About Post Author

Joseph Rios, EdD

I am Joseph Rios and I believe that leadership is an expression of our values
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