28 Oct 5 Tips For Facilitating a Difficult Group Conversation
Having tough conversations isn’t easy but they can make a huge impact. Here are some tips for facilitating a difficult group conversation.
We live in a very polarized time where issues like racism, politics, faith and mental health are part of our daily conversation. Except we don’t have conversations with each other. We have them at each other. Through social media and other impersonal forms. When we lose our ability to have civil engagement with people who look, live, and think differently then a break down of communication occurs.
When there is a lack of communication we lose trust and organizations, communities and families break down. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can practice being open, vulnerable and can practice creating trust and listening to one another. We can reap the benefits of positive communication and grow as individuals and a society. This is the reason The Blue House produces social impact entertainment. We believe that by telling engaging stories we can provide a tool to create space for facilitating a difficult group conversation. So what are the main things to keep in mind when facilitating a conversation around a difficult topic?
1. PREPARE THE SPACE FOR FACILITATING A DIFFICULT GROUP CONVERSATION
When we want to have an important discussion with a dear friend or a partner we honor the importance of that person by setting up time to talk. We might choose a place that is comfortable and private where we can really focus on the person and communicate our feelings in the best way possible. It is the same when facilitating a difficult discussion with a group. Make sure you honor the importance of the conversation by choosing a place that is comfortable and allowing enough time for everyone to communicate their thoughts and feelings in an authentic and respectful way. Just as you are setting the scene you must set the ground rules. For example, it is good to let people know that nothing will be repeated outside of this room and that this is a safe place.
2. PREPARE YOURSELF
When you are coming into a space as a facilitator it is important that you do your research on the topic that you will be facilitating. Make sure that you are empathetic and non judgmental to the people you will be engaging with. Take time to deal with your emotions and personal opinions so you can keep them in check and be fully present during the discussion. It is important not to get in your head or emotions during the facilitation because it is not about you. It is about serving and holding space for others.
3. BUILD CONNECTION AND EMPATHY BEFORE THE DIFFICULT CONVERSATION STARTS
You might be wondering how you could possibly create empathy before starting a difficult group conversation. But it’s possible through storytelling. When a group listens to a storyteller studies show that their brain neurons begin to fire in the same pattern as the story tellers creating mirror neurons in the listener. They begin to feel the same emotions as the story teller! When the brain is captivated by an engaging story it produces oxytocin. Oxytocin increases, generosity, compassion and trustworthiness and sensitivity to social clues. After listening to a shared experience the hearts and minds of the audience are primed for “compassionate conversation”.
4. LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN
Mom was right. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listening is extremely important when facilitating a conversation. When you actively listen you can guide the conversation in a more effective manner. After listening or seeing a story together, we are ready and primed for “compassionate communication” (Waldman and Newberg) which refers to a type of communication which encourages respect and sincerity towards others. This is the type of mindset we need to be in before engaging in difficult conversations.
5. ACKNOWLEDGE EACH PERSON’S STORY
Every person that shows up to participate in the difficult discussion is brave for doing so. If they choose to share their stories and personal experiences it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Let’s face it. Someone somewhere is going to say something that you don’t agree with, makes you uncomfortable or even triggers you. Take a breath and acknowledge that person’s bravery and willingness to be vulnerable. Don’t ignore people when they share something that is on their mind. Ask clarifying questions that go deeper and create impact.
If you are interested in learning how you can use story to create space for difficult discussions consider hosting a screening of one of our films at your organization.