I was once invited to deliver a half-day basic facilitation workshop for a group of program managers within a large corporation. My sponsor, also the group leader, was a big fan of facilitation and his primary goal for the session was to increase his team’s interest in the subject. To tailor the training, I had short telephone discussions with the leader and several of his staff. Through these discussions, I received hints that there were larger systemic issues that were inspiring a desire to increase facilitation skills, that facilitation alone would not remedy.
When I arrived prior to the start of the workshop, I began speaking with participants. One young man got my attention. He was one with whom I’d spoken with during my workshop preparation who holds a relatively senior position in the group. Let’s call him “Bill.” He seemed a bit tired, depressed, frustrated, very bright and very real. I sensed immediately that he could serve as an emotional barometer for the group. By emotional barometer, I mean that he was the type of person who could not help but be transparent with his thoughts and feelings. He would unwittingly serve as my mirror into the present during my workshop.
Now you may be asking what I mean by “mirror” and why I might need such a device while facilitating a training. However present and real we might be while leading groups, it’s not unusual for us to get caught up in our thoughts, our material, a tangent tossed in by a participant, or any number of other distractions or delusions. Having a mirror can be helpful in keeping us grounded in the present and in our intention while we work.
During this workshop, I found myself checking in regularly with Bill to note his reactions. This turned out to be a great tool for me as Bill helped me stay real. His reactions showed me when I was losing him, when I was talking too much, when I wasn’t real, when I needed to move on, when what we were doing was irrelevant, and so on. He was in fact my mirror who assisted me in keeping the pace, energy, and content on course.
So how do you go about creating your own mirror and furthermore, how do you use one during your group work? Here are some suggestions.
– First, find a mirror. You may not always be as fortunate as I was at finding a “Bill” in your group. But do spend some time looking for particularly sensitive and transparent members who might serve you in this way. They may not always be the most pleasant among the group, and sometime for good reason. If a group is significantly dysfunctional and everyone else is acting as if everything is wonderful, who would you rather trust? The most friendly and cheerful one, or the one who seems to be reflecting the problems you’re there to help them solve?
– No mirror? Bring a talisman. If we can’t find a person to be a mirror for our group, consider bringing a special object that you either conceal in your pocket or display somewhere in plain sight. Use this object to serve as an anchor or reminder of your intention for the session and/or how you choose to show up with the group. I
For example, I have a small, flat stone that contains an image of an eagle carved on its surface. If I carry it in my pocket, each time I reach down to feel it there, I recall my earlier intention to rise above any confusion that shows ups, retaining a “bird’s eye” view of the situation to help this group rise above and triumph over their current issue.
If this object is symbolic of your intention, you can even announce it to the group so that it helps remind everyone. If your group is seeking to be more innovative, you could use a light bulb to symbolize flashes of insight.
– Use the mirror. Read the body language and sense the mental and emotional state of your mirror periodically. Don’t give your mirror undue attention, but monitor their response as you would any other participant. At one point, I found my mirror looking exhausted and I was feeling a bit drained myself. We were moving into a particularly long stretch in order to finish on schedule. I made a point to check in with him and ask if there was anything he needed to do to re-energize. He apologized and declined, but this seemed to be all he needed to shift both his energy, the group’s, and mine.
– Don’t act on everything the mirror shows you. While tapping into a personal barometer can be beneficial, be aware that giving any one person undue attention at the expense of the remainder of the group can be counterproductive. Don’t assume that the responses of the mirror are all about you and your presentation. Even when mirroring others, human beings have a way of letting their own “history” leak through at times that may have nothing to do with the present moment. So consider your mirror’s input in addition to all the other information available to you before deciding to change course.
Have you ever used a personal barometer or a talisman in your groups? How might you try this approach yourself? I invite you to share your questions, feedback, or experience on this topic in the Comments Area below