How can you become an excellent facilitator? Here are the key traits that every excellent facilitator must-have:
Listening is a key characteristic for a facilitator. Both being able to listen to others and to encourage others to listen are equally as important. A facilitator needs to be able to actively listen to their group and understand what they are trying to say. Paraphrasing, summing up or using other active listening techniques are great ways to fully grasp and gauge the meaning of what people are saying. An excellent facilitator needs to be able to listen to a group, an individual and also themselves. If you feel like you aren’t feeling yourself, if you are tired this will emerge externally in your facilitation and the group will feel it.
Asking questions is crucial to allowing valuable dialogues to be had. The facilitator does not want to simply talk to the group and tell them things and you don’t want to just give the group the answers to their problems. Instead, they must come up with them themselves. Asking open-ended questions that can spark helpful and beneficial discussions that can trigger solutions is much more valuable to all involved. The facilitator must also know how to probe respectfully, firstly to get people out of their comfort zones, but also to encourage participants to delve deeper into thoughts in order to get more out of the meeting.
A good facilitator needs to be authentic. People will soon tune out, disengage and not trust what you are saying if you are insincere. Being authentic allows you to connect and relate much easier with the participants and enables you to bond with them. In order to be an authentic facilitator, you must create a safe space to encourage people to open up and express themselves without the fear of retribution. If people do not feel comfortable or safe to convey their feelings both they and the facilitator won’t be able to present their true authentic selves. Trust is the key to encouraging others to express their true thoughts and feelings. Without trust and authenticity, the meeting will be sure to be a waste of time.
Having an unbiased perspective and not tainting other’s opinions with your own is crucial to allowing open and worthwhile discussions. You don’t want to push your views onto others, instead, you want to create a forum where people can freely discuss and express themselves, enabling problems to be solved and decisions to be made. Not to mention, treating all participants as equal ensures that you maintain honest and open-minded conversations. It will be crystal clear to participants if the facilitator is trying to steer the conversation and push their own predetermined conclusions onto the group. An excellent facilitator provides an unbiased space for alternative opinions and views to be brought up in a respectful way.
A facilitator has to know how and when to bring the energy into the room and at the same time when it needs to be reeled back in. The facilitator’s energy holds the ability to control the feeling and environment of the room. It can help to inspire, encourage and motivate the group in order to provoke solutions and creative ideas if there is a brainstorming exercise or bring the energy back down if a serious discussion needs to be had. The capability to manage the emotions in the room will be of great help when constructive conversations and to keep the meeting on track.
As they say, patience is a virtue and it is a fundamental trait when it comes to facilitating. Staying calm in discussions or when things get heated is important to limit any tensions or situations before they occur. As the facilitator, you want to help improve the situation so leading by example and keeping composed is essential. It is almost unavoidable that sometimes things just don’t go to plan. Whether it be technical or process issues, things just don’t always go how you thought they would. The facilitator must ensure they are patient and resolve the issue by encouraging dialogues and introducing different questions to the group as the purpose or plan changes and adapts.
Keeping the participants on track and keeping the conversation aligned with the main outcome is important and sometimes tricky. It is human nature that conversations go off on a tangent, which yes provides some of the most interesting and constructive discussions but the facilitator needs to know when and how to bring the conversation back to the main purpose of the meeting. If the meeting is too long people will tune out and not focus, therefore managing the time is a tricky but essential part of facilitating.
Becoming an excellent facilitator takes time and practice. The skills you need will be honed and tweaked over many years of preparing and practising in live situations. It is very rare that you would wake up overnight and be the perfect facilitator. Putting in the dedicated hard-work to improve your facilitation skills will reap rewards in the long-term and ultimately be the founding difference between being a mediocre facilitator and an excellent one.