Another aspect of listening important to the integral facilitator is the archetype we call “The Investigator.” In our work with groups, we sometimes have to act as detectives to help them sort out their challenges in achieving their goals by unraveling assumptions and clarifying communication. The competencies associated with this role involve listening to get to the heart of the matter, often masked unintentionally by group complexity.
The Investigator Competencies
- Question incongruence
- Clarify and reveal assumptions
- Ask open-ended questions to draw out participants
- Concisely summarize key points of discussion
Clarify and Reveal Assumptions. How do we detect assumptions? David Bohm, quoted by Peter Senge in the “Fifth Discipline,” identifies three types of incoherence in our thinking that lead to assumptions:
1. Denial that you are a participant (It’s not my fault! Look at what they did!)
2. You stop tracking with reality and start running your program (did you run a societal program in the exercise above to make your choice?).
3. You establish your own standard of reference for fixing problems, problems this frame contributed to creating in the first place (e.g. when someone harms us, we have to harm them in return).
Question Incongruence. Sometimes we say things that seem to be at odds with one another. It’s not that we’re intentionally trying to be deceptive, it’s often just that the different aspects of ourselves are having their say and we don’t realize that our thoughts and statements don’t add up. For example: Jim says, “I always keep my commitments to this group.” Then ten minutes later discussing another subject, Jim begins to give reasons why he’s failing to complete his part in an important project. Bringing incongruencies to the speaker’s attention is another way to clarify their meaning and understanding.
Ask Open-Ended Questions to Draw Out Participants. Questions built around Kipling’s six serving men are known as open-ended questions because they do not pre-suppose an answer and cannot be answered with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ response. They require the person being questioned to contribute some additional information – and thus help the dialogue to move forward.
Open-ended questions are not necessarily always appropriate. Sometimes you will want to obtain commitment, confirmation or denial. In these cases, a yes/no question would be appropriate. Consider the contrast:
|Who?||Do you …?|
|What?||Will you … ?|
|Why?||Can you … ?|
|When?||May we … ?|
|Where?||Shall we … ?|
|How?||Have you … ?|
|Could we … ?|
Concisely Summarize Key Points of Discussion. The ability to summarize with clarity the points in an ongoing discussion is of great value and one of the skills of an effective facilitator. This requires all of the skills of listening and presence that we’ve talked about thus far, along with consistent practice. And remember, you don’t have to be right, you just have to be willing to make the effort to summarize the essence of a discussion. The group will let you know how accurate you are and in that process, they can collectively arrive at agreement about what is being expressed. This alone is a milestone in group work that doesn’t often happen without the help of a facilitator.
 Just So Stories, Rudyard Kipling, 1996.