As the Facilitator, how to you make sure your desire for harmony doesn’t skew the process when debate may be beneficial / necessary? Or you might be just the opposite – how do you make sure your desire for debate doesn’t hinder agreement and moving forward?
Here are some things to consider:
(1) Explore potential areas of conflict in advance. Check with the client what is likely to be contentious and why. Inform yourself as much as possible about the potential conflict, and determine with the client what conflict needs to be carefully avoided (e.g. careful wording so as not to aggravate sensitivities) and where it is essential to address the source of the conflict in as safe a space as possible.
(2) When debate and potential conflict is on the cards, design for it using great techniques for exploring contentious issues whilst maintaining a generative group process.
If people aren’t provided with an environment to share contentious issues, they will likely emerge nonetheless – and if they feel the process is repressing the emergence of issues they may throw out your process providing you with little room for manoeuvre.
It’s safer to design for it.
(3) Co-create principles for your time together, and hold people to these (e.g. making sure comments are constructive and solutions-oriented, listening to one another and trying to understand the perspective of others).
Giving these a number, you could then task everyone in the room with the job of ensuring adherence to the principles, asking people to hand a card with the corresponding number on it if ever there is an infraction.
(This takes the pressure off you being the only one in the room trying to manage the conflict.)
(4) Challenging participants to think with different ‘hats’ – exercising / flexing different thinking muscles and showing their intellectual dexterity.
(De Bono’s Six Hats is a great example, others include using tools from Systems Thinking, and methodologies such as Thiagi’s Point-and-Counterpoint activity.) ‘Externalizing’ thinking is central to many of these techniques.
(5) Use techniques to ‘externalize’ thinking.
This helps participants move from an emotional state where it is about me and my issue (versus you and yours) to ‘an issue’ which is a little more ‘out there’… something happening in the system, amongst many other interacting things happening.
Getting all the information ‘within’ or ‘held’ by participants ‘out there’ – and especially written somewhere for posterity – is a great way of re-assuring people their concerns are being heard.
It also opens them up to better hearing what others are saying, and they look at the system of interacting bits and pieces (‘variables’) with a more objective perspective – as can others.
This often creates an environment for more generative conversation to follow.
Such techniques may be getting people to draw what is happening in the system as a series of causal loops.
Or use sticky dots to respond to statements and then stand back and look at results, and explore reasons for those results (rather than stating one’s own position).
(6) If conflict does emerge unexpected, have a break taking people ‘offline’ and rethinking how to proceed.
Determine whether resolving the conflict is essential to achieving the desired outcomes or not (sometimes it is between just two people on a related but tangential matter), and plan accordingly.
Note: in some instances, you can create a sub-group for people to debate a specific point or resolve a specific conflict, whilst the rest of the group work on something else.
(7) Remind people from the start of the event of why they are in their room and the commonality of their objectives.
Keep coming back to shared objectives.
(8) If you are a subject matter expert who likes to debate, this aspect of the facilitation role may be particularly challenging. Not only do you need to maintain your neutrality; you also need to know when to stop debating (which may be something only a few of your participants are doing anyway) and to move things along.
Again, remind people of why they are in the room, coming back to shared objectives, and how the process is going to get you there.
Practicing Creating Conflict:
responding to the most pressing needs of the communities. In 2002 all resources were refocused towards Healthcare and care of Orphans and Vulnerable Children. learn more