Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Exploring the language of facilitation

I bumped into a fascinating article about the 'language of facilitation'. By coincidence, one of the authors works for Anecdote, a company with a great weblog. The researchers wanted to find out what it means to speak 'facilitatively', from the premise that it is through the act of talking and speaking that sense is made and action enacted (Weick). They talk about face-to-face facilitation, not online facilitation.

To speak facilitatively means:
1. saying something that invites more thought
2. is behavioural and incorporates elements of body language
3. an attitude style emerging in language
4. using engaging and opening words like 'exploring', 'possibilities' rather than closing words like 'givens'.

A highlight to check out are the metaphors that facilitators use to describe their style of facilitation, most using movement with the elements, like 'flight of an autumn leaf' or 'sailing, going with the flow'. (too fluid for me by the way!)

A major conclusion of the article is that verbal and non-verbal communication of a facilitator should be in congruence, to ensure authenticity and show genuine curiosity and openness, otherwise the facilitation speech becomes a learned technique (my addition). There is an implicit understanding amongst facilitators of what it means to speak facilitatively, opening up discussions to become dialogues.

You can read through the lines, that the definition of a facilitator is someone who guides a discussion and is in front of the group or at least has a special, designated role. The definition of facilitator is a little shallow, but basic. What he/she does are things like providing a climate of trust, being neutral, ensuring clarity and encouraging inclusiveness. When you think of a facilitator of a community of practice the language of facilitation may be important too, but in my opinion you'd need to bring along a lot more like knowledge about communities of practice and the domain, and ability to read what's going on in terms of community, domain and practice development. Would be interesting to do a similar research what a facilitator of a community of practice 'does'. Similarly, in a group, I'd expect the facilitator to read group dynamics and try and intervene or feed back observations.

For the Dutch speaking people, there is an interesting article by Julien Hafmans in Dutch about 'vrijplaatsen'. She argues that it is interesting to share the facilitation role with all participants, since we all have the capacity to summarize, ask questions, listen, probe. So not one facilitator would speak 'facilitatively', we would all speak 'facilitately'.

1 comment:

conversaction said...

this is very interesting. I have found that in the role of facilitator I sometimes ask "closed" questions (like "is that your experience?" or "is that a valid comment here?") that start conversations. I am aware of this because I sometimes find it hard to think of the appropriate open question (something I am developing).

Perhaps also - groups understand implicitly that the facilitator is not "closing" the subject but "opening" the dialogue.

Also, perhaps my tone is and body-language is usually "open"

something for reflection...