This week’s article, Facilitation Aikido: Part I, is extracted from Barry Shapiro’s book, Casting Call in the Theatre of Corporate America…the role of the extraordinary facilitator. This book serves as a practical guide to assess, measure and develop facilitators to ensure that their extraordinary impact in the classroom translates to extraordinary outcomes at work, the ultimate stage of modern life.
Barry’s Facilitation Aikido model offers simple laser strategies for intervening on the five most challenging behaviors we typically encounter in groups. He takes a fresh perspective that views energy dynamics and environments as the source of these behaviors. In the coming weeks, we’ll visit all five one of them at a time.
This week, we’ll be working with the flattering Mr. and Ms. Puckers. This is the participant who hides from deeper engagement under a veneer of flattery.
There are five common energy challenges that face today’s Active Facilitator. Energy challenges often mask themselves, or get marginalized, as “people problems.” But the problem is not ultimately with a single person. The problem often involves specific group dynamics.
Under the right environments, all people flourish—even criminals, the physically disabled or the mentally ill. Since effective group dynamics require creating the right environment for each individual participant to flourish, I will present challenges in terms of participant obstacles. Along side each obstacle is a suggested method, described by a mnemonic, to redirect participant energy into more productive directions. These suggested methods make up what I call “Facilitation Aikido.”
Aikido, as you may know, is the Asian martial art of using another’s energy against or with him or her to prevent harm or to generate a more productive outcome. Facilitation Aikido is the application of this philosophy to the group dynamics in your learning room.
Facilitation Aikido interventions will be illustrated through a series of five participant archetypes: Mr. Puckers, Lemon Face, Nostradamus, The Bopsie Twins and The Stealth Bomber. Each week we will introduce an example of each of these including tips to productively intervene on the behavior.
Case Study #1: Mr. Puckers
The first of the participant obstacles that gets in the way of enthusiastic engagement is called “Mr. Puckers,” though it’s not really gender-based. This persona can easily be demonstrated by a “Ms. Puckers” as well. These are participants who kiss up. Everything you say is a pearl of wisdom. They compliment you during breaks or even during the presentation in front of others. Sounds like a great participant…right? Not really. They are often superficially engaged. That is, they put out disingenuous energy. It may be more important for them to show others that they are finding value in the class than it is for them to actually learn or interact in a personally significant way. Consider the following example.
SONG LI: (during our first morning break, she sidled over to Amy who was buttering her bagel)
Amy, I very impressed with your transition between Instructional Designer and Facilitator. It appears you have a natural talent for engaging the participants.
AMY: (smiling and imbued with a shot of desperately needed confidence) Thank you, Song Li.
NARRATOR: At lunch, Song made her way to Amy’s table and complimented her again.
SONG LI: I love the fabric of your shirt. It looks very expensive.
NARRATOR: Amy smiled and volleyed a compliment about Song’s red scarf back. And, at the end of day one, Song rushed back over to Amy.
SONG LI: Thank you so much for all of references during day. Very helping, impressive.
Meet Song Li, whose lips have formed into a perpetual pucker and whose forehead is creased thinking about the specific cause and effect of seemingly insignificant events in the session. Song Li has become Ms. Puckers.
NARRATOR: I’m not suggesting that you squelch Mr. or Ms. Pucker’s positive attitude, I am merely proposing that you can help their actions and energy go deeper and become more meaningful in the session. So, how do we do this?
Here it can be helpful to PROVOKE them with questions or paradoxes.
1. “What, specifically, Song Li, are you finding helpful about the program?”
2. “How, specifically, Song Li, will you apply what you are learning back on the job?”
3. “Why did you choose to make your last comment?
Or use a paradox to PROVOKE PUCKERS. A paradox involves two opposite thoughts or statements that are not normally put in practice at once and, therefore generate cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance, which is experienced as internal tension, occurs when you stand for one thing but do something entirely different.
I currently work with a very conservative organization that manufactures heavy farm equipment and highly values relentless diplomacy and conflict avoidance. During a recent training, not one person challenged the senior leaders, nor did any one question anything that I taught. Imagine an entire room full of Mr. and Ms. Puckers smacking their lips. The sound was deafening. So, I started challenging them by providing paradoxical statements about their behavior and then used myself as a safe model for them to engage.
One strongly reinforced goal of this group was to become “more competitive through the development of more innovative ways of going to market.” Thus, I provoked, “So, on one hand I hear you spouting this goal of increasing innovation, yet on the other hand, I have never once heard you challenge any internal messages from senior management and I have yet to see you challenge even one external idea I’ve taught. You can’t simultaneously have both innovation and complacency. Help me to understand this apparent discrepancy.”
These two mutually exclusive ideas, innovation and complacency, generate cognitive dissonance. Most people find it difficult to keep two diametrically opposed thoughts in our head at the same time. It creates tension, sometimes even including physical tension in the form of headaches, neck strain and anxiety. Ironically, it is this internal tension that can create the energy necessary for us to resolve this thought inconsistency and ultimately help us feel better.
The conscious, though sometimes unconscious, internal dialogue goes something like this. “Hmmm…I believe in innovation, but I am acting complacent. I have three choices. First, I can make excuses for why I am taking a break from innovative thinking and action, second, I can reject the importance of innovation altogether and continue my complacent behavior or, third, I can bring my actions in line with my thoughts and beliefs.” Our role as an Active Facilitator is to help participants examine these three choices and light a path toward action which is aligned with their belief systems. This will decrease cognitive dissonance at the individual level and will foster harmony and alignment at the group level.
This is what we did with the farm equipment client. We built in short discussion periods during the training session in which participants examined the alignment between their values, thoughts, and actions. I created workbook pages in their participant manual which provided the structure for two-person, ten-minute conversations. This way, participants could apply what they’ve learned about alignment by role playing customer conversations. These exercises tested the participant’s ability to maintain alignment between what they thought internally and what they said to their customer externally. As a result of this intervention, managers have begun to generate more innovative ideas about how they can outperform their closest competitor.
About the Author: Barry Shapiro is an extraordinary facilitator, executive coach, consultant, and author of Casting Call in the Theater of Corporate America. He helps individuals and organizations unleash breakthrough creativity to inspire themselves and their people to live more authentically and to perform more effectively. Barry’s vision is to demystify the concept and practice of leadership and make it accessible to managers around the globe so they can improve the world in which we live and work. Learn more about Barry at http://www.BarryShapiroNow.com.