The participant who drives you crazy is not you at all!

What can I learn from someone so different? (picture copyright by Temari 09 on flickr)

So, you read my post about the participant who drives you crazy because you feel like looking in a mirror with bad lighting. And you are thinking about a recent experience when a participant really didn’t work for you… but try as you may, you cannot find yourself in their behavior. Maybe they are of the other kind, the participants who drive you crazy because they are not you at all.

I don’t know you, maybe you love jumping into new experiences and this participant who drove you crazy was hesitant and caught up in analysis paralysis.

Maybe you need to think things through step-by-step and love having a clear, well organized session and they brought in chaos, the unexpected, the urgent problem you didn’t prepare for.

Maybe you are polite and inclusive and love giving space to everyone and this one person just took all the space there was and didn’t stop talking.

You migh be a natural born skeptic, seeing possible pitfalls wherever you go and this participant just drove you crazy with unbearable blue-eyed optimism.

Or maybe it was the other way round. But this participant who drove you crazy did everything the way you would never do it, they did it all WRONG! The rational part of you may admit that there are many different ways to sucessfully participate in a workshop. But there is a part of you that just feels that your way is the right way, so this opposite of you has to be wrong.

I said it before and I’ll say it again: Listen to your gut. But don’t do everything it tells you.

You are feeling friction and frustration because by doing things so differently, your participant challenges your belief that your way is the right way and the only one. You have two options: Learn something from this or refuse to learn.

Refuse to learn: Push participant to act more like you. If they refuse, push harder. If they still refuse, find a way to silence or neutralize them so you can continue without obstruction, working with the part of the group that is just like you. In a certain limited way, this strategy can be successful (for you and those group members who are like you), you will be able to get from the beginning to the end of your planned session and do the activities that you promised would be done. And you might even feel clever for the way that you put the annoying participant on the eternal parking lot. But you will continue being stuck in the narrow-minded assessment that your way is the best. No learning. So what is the other option?

Learn: Listen to your gut while it complains about what a pain this participant is. Step away and take a deep breath and ask yourself: So what is the real problem here? And: Can I see this opposite behavior as my missing half? What is the most positive view you can have of their behavior? Do they bring something to the table that you don’t have? If they are your missing half, how can integrating their views and personality lead to a more rounded experience? How can you facilitate an experience that works for the other half as well, not just for those who are like you? And: Can you learn something from them that will broaden your own horizon, expand your personality? Maybe you even want to experiment with trying out their behavior to see how it feels and if it gets you places you have never been to before…

Let me warn you: This is really difficult, and most likely you will not be able to do all this thinking in the middle of facilitating a busy workshop. So go as far as you can. And do the rest of the thinking after the action is over, so that you can be more prepared for this the next time you meet the other half of your personality. If you can recognize why the participant drives you crazy (too similar or too different?), take a deep breath and not snap at them, that’s an important first step. Congratulations, you are on the road to learning. If you can embrace the thought that their being different actually enriches and deepens the workshop instead of thinking that it is a pain and they are a distraction that you need to neutralize, wonderful, you are getting there…

The participant who drives you crazy is you!

Edgar Degas, Madame Jeantaud in the Mirror (1875)

I recently had the great learning opportunity to deal with a workshop participant who drove me crazy and rubbed me all the wrong way.

Why is this so great? Because, let’s face it: If I didn’t recognize parts of myself in her, I wouldn’t have reacted with strong emotions. I would just have thought (in my head, not in my whole body): “Oh, this participant does things that don’t work well. What can I do to help her?”

But when you see someone who does something you tend to do, and you see it from the outside, experience how your behavior must feel to others, that is a whole body experience of: “Why can’t you just STOP DOING THIS?!” And if I didn’t take a deep breath and looked in the mirror before reacting, I would be tempted to shout something like this. I think an important part of being a facilitator is actively feeling what is going on in your whole body (not just above the shoulders), observing it and then taking yourself beyond your immediate gut reaction. It may sound paradox but that’s what it is, you have to closely listen to your gut reactions, but then not just say whatever your gut tells you.

So what did I do when my participant just couldn’t stop doing it: Looking at everything from an evaluation or co-facilitation perspective, getting stuck in thinking and discussing about process instead of allowing herself to experience it? And keeping her group from the experience as well?

Well, the first thing I did was walk away and take a deep breath. Acknowledge that the participant who drives me crazy is me. And then I tried to think of her as if she was me: “What would be a kind thing that someone could say to me if I were stuck in the same way?” The “kind” part of it can be the most difficult one, because your gut may be far more ready to pick a fight, push, dragg and put pressure, than to open a door and get out of the way so the other person can walk through the door.

When I am the participant who is stuck in analyzing the process, it won’t help me if someone tells me to just stop thinking and get on with it. Because if I feel like something in the process is not going to work out the way I think it should, I can get pretty stuck and feel like this needs to be fixed. So what kind of door could I open for my participant that would be easier to walk through? Here is what I said: “Try to let your concern rest for half an hour, join your group in going through the process and let’s talk about your concern afterward.”

That is basically saying a number of things:

Your concern is valid.

You have permission to let go of it for a while.

You also have permission to pick it up again afterward.

Did it work for her? I’m not sure… but it definitely taught me a few things for my next group meetings – both as facilitator and participant.

I’d be interested to hear from you: Does this ever happen to you? How do participants show you your own face in the mirror? How do you deal with it?

Word of the day: Stick-to-it-tiveness

Heard this in an NPR interview with Robert Langer, prolific inventor (over 800 patents to his name). He claimed that this is one of the secrets to being a successful inventor – it’s not enough to have good ideas or be clever, you have to stick to it and really follow through.

That reminded me of a time in the summer of 2006: I had come up with Net-Map earlier that year, used it in two cases and felt ready to move on. “Interesting”, I thought, “but I am ready for the next more wonderful thing.” Looking back I have to say, I didn’t even know what Net-Map was all about… A more insightful colleague recommended that I give it just a bit more time, stick to it just a little bit longer because, as he put it: “This may well be the best idea you’ll ever have.” I don’t know about that, but here I am, seven years later, still sticking to it, and still excited. The most interesting thing happening at the moment is that I have gotten so much closer to implementation, most of the projects I am working on at the moment are concretely helping people change the world, not just analyze how it works.