I’ve trained many facilitators and notice a feeling that appears in the apprentices, somewhere near the end of their formal training. Almost all of them want to watch experienced facilitators work before they go off on their own. This in itself is not a bad idea, but then they want to watch more, and watch some more, and keep watching. At first, I didn’t understand this hesitancy, then one day I had the ”aha”. I call it: Facilitateaphobia – the fear of being the facilitator.
Strange as it sounds, facilitaeaphobia is a condition that occurs when the facilitator begins to think about what it is they’re doing while they’re doing it. It’s marked by that little voice in your head asking questions or sometimes raising self-doubt; things like, “What if they don’t like me?” or, “What if I miss something?” It also shows itself in random unrelated thoughts such as, “It’s getting close to lunch” or “I really like that outfit that Peggy is wearing”.
What Triggers Facilitaeaphobia?
Facilitateaphobia grows out of not being present to the group (see past article, Your Presence is Your Present to Your Group) and is aggravated by being unsure of yourself as facilitator.
If you’re not sure of yourself, you allow facilitaeaphobia to take hold. If you’re not present to the group you will begin to think about other things. This “Thinker” (that little voice you hear in your head when you use all your filters and relate things to past experience, future possibilities or just random ideas) is not the facilitator’s friend. It takes away your presence to the group. When you are present, I say “the Watcher” is at work, you’re there and because of your training and experience, you know what to do without debating it in your head. When suffering facilitateophobia, you no longer experience the here and now of the group, but instead you experience what you think happened – the magic of facilitation is gone.
The “Thinker” vs. the “Watcher”
Here’s a little background on the “Thinker” and the “Watcher.” When you know something and are comfortable with your proficiency you are the “Watcher.” Take driving a car for example; it is a very present focused activity. When you take a trip, first you plan it. You plan where you are going. You may use a map, a GPS or it may be a familiar destination. Once planned, you get in the car, put the key in the ignition, start the car, check for traffic, put it in gear and off you go. During the trip you speed up, slow down, check your interval, switch lanes and turn signals off and on, always assessing the situation.
Yet, very rarely do you hear the “Thinker” in your head. If you do, it’s usually a reminder about maybe a confusing turn. You acknowledge that thought then move on; this is the “Watcher” in operation. On the other hand, if you drive using the “Thinker” you separate yourself from the act of driving and the “Thinker” starts to put time and attention between you and the act of driving. Soon while you’re thinking about your destination or the conversation on the cell phone you don’t notice that the car in front of you is stopped. If you’re lucky, you only have a close call, but if are still being the “Thinker” then you may fear that all cars will stop in front of you. Your proficiency as a driver is diminished. If you don’t drive, you can adapt this illustration to almost anything you do.
By now you’ve probably said to yourself, OK Fred this driving lesson is all well and good, but, what does it have to do with Facilitateaphobia? Great question! Read on to find out.
How do You Avoid Facilitaeaphobia?
- Be competent in the art of facilitation. Become a student of the facilitator’s craft. Work on your skillset so that you don’t need to be the Thinker talking to yourself in your head, telling yourself “if this happens then I’ll do that.”
- Thoroughly plan and prepare for the session. You will know what to do or you will know the options to present to the group for them without the complications that the “Thinker” brings. Fear comes from memories and possibilities rooted in the “Thinker”. You will not suffer facilitateophobia. You have no fear of what might happen because you, as the “Watcher,” are in the here and now and this is where magic happens.
- Be present and honest with your group. As a beginning facilitator, you may fear that you’ll run across a situation that you haven’t experienced before, didn’t prepare, and didn’t anticipate. Well guess what, that happens to all of us. Human dynamics are just too complex to be fully predictable all of the time. One thing is assured however, by being fully present and honest about what you know and don’t know, you provide the group with a clear mirror about where they are now. This is the grand gift of the “watcher.” Armed with this perspective in the here and now. Then you can help them decide what to do next. As a facilitator, you act as a catalyst for the group’s decision-making, you are not the decision-maker!
About the Author: Fred Niziol facilitated for the US Social Security Administration for 8 years doing IT groups, labor management IBB sessions, strategic planning and facilitator training. He worked with community organizations and served as a member of the IAF and the Mid-Atlantic Facilitator Network (MAFN). He’s also a contributing author to The IAF Handbook of Group Facilitation.
Do you suffer from Facilitateaphobia? If so, what can you take away from this article that will help you deal with it? Click reply and email your comments to me. I’ll love to hear your insights. Share your questions, feedback, or experience on this topic in the comments section below.