Silence is………. really uncomfortable

Facilitation toolkit essential?
Facilitation toolkit essential?

This week I have been mostly facilitating. Doing it for real Monday, and learning how to get better at it the rest of the week. Check out Plas Menai near Caernarvon, North Wales if you want a great venue.

The main learning point to take away …….. shut up! (me that is).

My default facilitation approach is to keep things busy, maintain the energy in the room and have lots of people downloading their content.  Silence is bad….. and I’ll always step in to fill the gap, in that nature abhors a vacuum style.

Well, that was the old me. From now on I’ll be keeping quiet and using the silence or
the ‘power of the pause’. Perhaps asking the ‘what do you think that means?’ question or just saying nothing.  It doesn’t come easy for me, but it has a few interesting effects:

  •  Useful and unexpected things emerge. The obvious stuff surfaces quickly and then ‘floats off downstream’. Then by waiting in silence other things bubble up from the depths;
  • It does take more time, but even the most talkative person will eventually go silent, allowing others to contribute;
  • Silence is uncomfortable, you’ll get fidgeting and lots of people really don’t like it (me included);
  • Controlling my body language, including eye contact was really difficult. But it does avoid that subtle influencing of the proceedings; and
  • Groups seem to learn the process reasonably quickly. The superficial ‘gap filling’ comment and diversionary chatter drops off and you get down into the deeper content that has greater meaning and significance.

It’s a tough one to pull off. I found that out for myself, but the outputs felt so much better than ones achieved previously using a much ‘busier’ style. Being busy,rescuing people from the silence and helping them find the answers (I subconsciously wanted them to find) is not as effective as letting them dig up the answers for themselves. Even if it is a bit uncomfortable.

At this point I must also apologize for being a bit of a plonker, not getting it, and disrupting things early on. Sorry Daniel, and thanks.

So what’s the PONT

  1. Silence is really powerful and can be used very effectively.
  2. The discomfort it creates can help to surface what people really think, or what really matters to them.
  3. It’s hard as a facilitator not to jump in and rescue people from the silence, but well worth it (use the duct tape on yourself).

Picture source:

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here:

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