Permission to photocopy. ©2006 Public Conversations Project. www.publicconversations.org.
Take a preventive approach
- Before and between sessions, collaborate with participants in order to foster shared responsibility for the conversation and to build understanding and trust between yourself and the participants.
- Foster clarity about purpose (and other expectations) so those who attend are very likely to be interested and motivated to do the work. Decisions to shift the group’s purposes should be explicit and consensual.
- Ask the group to make explicit agreements about how they want to communicate. If the agreements aren’t supporting the group’s purpose, work with the group to revise them.
Prepare participants to deal with challenges
- Elicit participants’ wisdom about what has worked or not worked in the past when they have wanted to have a constructive conversation in the face of conflict.
- Give them self-help tools for enhanced self-responsibility.
Prepare yourself to deal with challenges
- Understand the “old conversation”: repeating patterns and stuck places; what to avoid/ support; buzz words/problematic language.
- Develop your emotional readiness to facilitate a conversation which may be challenging to you as well as to participants.
When you consider any intervention, aim to:
- Be legitimate. Keep in mind that your authority is rooted in: the agreements, the articulated purpose of the whole endeavor (and/or one segment), and an acceptance by the group of your role description.
- Be compassionate and positive. Be positive and avoid shaming judgments; assume good intentions; suggest alternatives when there is an infraction; note what seems helpful
or understandable. For example, if someone is taking a lot of airtime, you might ask
if those who have not spoken would like a chance to speak. Or, if someone speaks in generalities about the experience of others, you might ask, “How did you personally experience that?”
- Match flexibility with group development. At the outset, intervene with greater strictness to avoid setting a precedent for laxness about the agreements; over time, your intuitions may tell you to be a bit more flexible, but always attend to the well being of the group and its members, and support its progress toward achieving its purposes.
- Be curious and transparent. Remember that you may not understand what is happening—ask rather than assume. Also, remember that the group is a resource for addressing dilemmas. You don’t need to have answers to group process dilemmas. You can serve the group by sharing dilemmas and asking for input. This puts less pressure on you and enhances group ownership of their conversation.