They will try to seduce you…

Your participants, that is; if you are a facilitator. But before you get all excited, I have to disappoint you. It’s not what you think. They will try to seduce you into doing their work for them. What work? And how do they do it?

If you are like me (and like most facilitators), you love feeling clever and in charge and like you have something great to contribute, like you can solve people’s problems. And this vanity is what makes it easy to seduce us. A participant just has to come to you with a complicated problem and say: “I don’t know what to do! What shall I do?” “Oh, well,” you think, “from my vast experience I know exactly what she should do.” And your solution may well be more thought through, realistic, clever etc. than what your participant will ever come up with. But stop. Don’t do it. Don’t do their work for them. Because telling someone what they should do comes with a number of pitfalls:

  • It’s your solution, not theirs, so it may only work if you actually were in their shoes, because you have different personalities, experience, networks, status etc.
  • They get the solution far to easily, without actually struggling and working on their problem. This will not prepare them for the pain of implementing this solution.
  • Whether it works or it does’t, they don’t own it. They can blame you if it does not work out, but they will also only feel halve the joy, if it works.

So, watch yourself, don’t be seduced, give the work back to them. And then give them the space and the tools they need to get this work done. Facilitate.

4 Responses

  1. Bang on!

    And I would say: facilitators shouldn’t derive their pride and happiness from feeling in control and knowing what needs to be done, they should derive it from seeing their participants feel in control and know what to do or what to try out. As facilitators we’re not supposed to ‘know’, we’re supposed to help people come to the conclusions they need…

    • Hi Ewen,
      I couldn’t agree more, that’s how we should feel. But sometimes it requires a lot of self-awareness and discipline not to be caught up in traps like these. Especially as participants often give you positive feedback if you solve their problems for them and look at you with frustration if you give the work back to them. It’s like they asked for chocolate and you try to feed them broccoli…

      • There’s a really nice analogy there because giving them chocolate will indeed make them happy but will not feed them over time, while broccoli will contribute to them getting healthier.

        At the same time of course there’s the dopamine effect of chocolate which can also be useful to keep the energy of participants in a workshop setting😉

  2. And that seduction is so, so tempting! When I do a train the trainer, I tell my participants that they shouldn’t answer the participants’ questions, but rather throw the quesiton back to the group. I call it the “boomerang” strategy.

    And almost always someone challenges me on this with a comment like: “So, are we supposed to just let people in the training room give incorrect information to everyone else?” It’s an honest (if cynical) question. The thing I try to emphasize is that I generally find that SOMEONE in the audience can give correct information, but if people are off track, then it is the facilitator’s role to eventually step in and ensure the group gets back on track.

    Of course, by throwing questions back to the group first, it buys you time as the facilitator to perfect your own thoughts and answers if they become necessary.

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