Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Art of Effective Facilitation: When Neutrality Is Not Enough

Chapter 10

Hi there everybody. Welcome back. It's the weekend again, and I'm in the office this weekend. (I wasn't last week. I um... Injured myself. Yeah, that's it. My sister in law and I went to Land of Illusion last Friday, and I walked myself into a lot of pain on Saturday, so I didn't go in to the office last weekend.) I worked from home instead, but this weekend, I'm feeling fine, so I came into the office. It's a gorgeous day out there, so I wish I had my laptop so I could work outside for a while. Anyways, enough of that. On to Chapter 10 of The Art of Effective Facilitation.

It's a good chapter in some ways, and not in others. In some ways, it was a frustrating chapter in that there's nothing to really get ahold of for most of it. Effective multipartiality is both a science and an art. Honestly, I think it's something that you grow into more than learn. The book gave three examples of facilitations, an impartial, partial, and multipartial. Impartial is when you can't get the participants to take risks in being partial. The example used was that of five scenarios. Some participants expressed the idea that the scenarios were UC-Centric. The facilitator thought otherwise, and didn't dig deeper into why these participants thought so. This was impartiality at work. The second example, partiality, was of an exercise where the author indicates that the participants in the facilitation igonored the facilitator's instructions and did their own thing. No one remarked upon this, even though it was a team building experience. (The objective was to count to fifty with each person speaking at least once and no person speaking again before everyone had spoken. You had to do all this with your eyes CLOSED.) There was a group of three males that counted off to fifty, putting the goal (reaching the number fifty) ahead of the process (not speaking again until everyone had had a turn). No one else in the group pointed out this breach in the rules, and the other voices were silenced. The facilitator, feeling triggered, didn't know how to resolve this. (I'm not sure how I would have resolved it myself. Maybe asked for a show of hands of people who had said a number and then gently reminded the participants of the rules? I really don't know.) The facilitator considered this a failure and a debacle for a long time. (I'm not sure if I would be any different, in that respect.) Finally, there was an example of multipartiality. It was a group discussing the prison industrial complex, along with facts and figures regarding the marginalization and mistreatment of minorities. In this discussion, several dominant narratives were introduced. The art of it is knowing when to encourage and/or present the counternarrative. It is giving respect to all beliefs and bringing out the experiences of people who are marginalized so that we see all the sides of an issue and can really discuss the meat of it. The three facilitations were handled very differently, and had very different outcomes. The multipartial experience was the hardest to understand, hence the reason I said I think you grow into it. After doing multiple facilitations, I think you would have a better idea of how to judge the group and bring forth those marginalized viewpoints.

So the question is, "How do we, as social justice educators, come to the point of recognizing when is the right time?" When is the right time is a hard question to answer as every group is different. The dynamics of the group are unique to that group and that session. Even if you get the same group together a week later, or two weeks later, they're not in the same mood they were in last time, and that makes for differences. I think this is generally true of all groups, even small groups that get together day after day. Each person is in a differnt place each day, not so much in their mood, but in their learning and in their process. On Monday, I may be grumpy. (I got to sleep in over the weekend, and now I can't.) On Tuesday, I could be happy. Wednesday I could be troubled. Even if I'M grumpy Monday through Friday, my co-workers moods will change as the week goes on. So each group has a different dynamic. You can never count on having the same people say the same things. So a skill that is important if you want to be a multipartial facilitator is to read the crowd, and be able to determine what they need to progress along the path of their learning at any moment. You have to know the right time to introduce new ideas or encourage participants to speak up. And your participants have to be brave enough to speak out and share feelings that are sometimes deeply personal. (And deeply rooted, too. We have to remember that we are challenging, or having others challenge, ideas that have been around for our participants since they were in diapers sometimes. We begin to learn sterotypes in early childhood, and sometimes, participants don't want to admit that mom or dad may not have had the right of it. These are emotional times for participants, and we have to let them learn from each other as much or as little as they want.)

Since we encourage our participants to share deeply held personal beliefs and incredibly moving stories, we need to make sure everyone is respected for what they bring to the table. We all have a unique viewpoint, brought about by our life experiences to date. We all learn different lessons at different times. Sometimes, we learn those lessons the hard way. Sometimes we learn by example what to do or not do. But we all learn at our own rate and in our own time. As the saying goes, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink". (Of COURSE it's a male horse, lol.) The same is true of participants. Some of us have to take a huge risk to change our opinions. It is a difficult thing to do: admit something we may have taken on faith for YEARS is wrong. It's a hard thing to recognize that we are privileged because of our gender or our skin color or our religion or whatever identity it is. It's hard to admit our world view is skewed. We cherish those lessons we learned in early childhood, and don't want to let them go. It's a risk to have that conversation. You don't want to learn that you have been privileged while you didn't even know it. You don't want to admit you've been blind, or that you don't see clearly. Sometimes, we fight harder for those things we have learned that make the least amount of sense, and we don't even know why we're fighting it.

Facilitation is an emotional process, and participants will be emotional about their learning in many cases. It's a painful process, to realize you've been a part of marginalizing others your whole life, without doing anything overtly oppressive. I know for a fact that I learned this lesson the hard way. I then felt guilty about it for weeks. I felt like I had done something wrong, when I was simply oblivious. These are extremely difficult realizations to come to, and very personal as well. Deep seated needs and beliefs are at play. There is a reason that these conversations are so difficult to have: they're intensely personal, and difficult for all involved. We have to trust others to see where we are in our own journey and respect us for what we bring to the table.

I see clearly how difficult multipartiality must be to achieve. It's another step in the process, but I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to judge people adequately enough to reach it. I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve, and be brutally honest with people. In other words, don't ask my opinion of something unless you really want it. You're likely to get an earful. Unfortunately, my face is as easy to read as my words. I worry about facilitation with that face. It gives me away every time, sigh... This is one of the challenges Ali and I face as cofacilitators. We have to get used to each other's style and viewpoints. Our identities are opposite in many ways, and that is a good thing, in my opinion. We can learn from each other, and from the participants that we facilitate, which is a very good thing. What we learn from our endeavors depends solely on our desire to learn and our participants and each other as the sources of knowledge. I hope to learn much this year, about both leading and about social justice. I also hope to help others learn in any way I can.

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