Avoid Failure – Facilitate Effective Communications
Over the years I have become convinced that communication is the key to optimal performance whenever there is more than one person involved in an endeavor. Last month we addressed mindfulness as a foundation for effective communication. Mindfulness is the base. Building on that base, add facilitation skills.
Facilitation is not just for communication professionals and academics. As a project manager, supervisor or functional manager, parent, friend, etc., you can make use of facilitation skills to keep communication open, avoid reactive behavior and stay on topic, at the right level of detail. While professional facilitators generally stand apart from the group and do not take part in content discussions, you can and should be both a facilitator and a party to communication. Professional facilitators (good ones, that is) make it a point to enable groups to be self facilitating. That means everyone takes on some responsibility to facilitate.
Facilitation is making things (in this case the exchange of information) easy by setting people at ease and applying skillful practices to enable effective communication. It is used to design and hold successful meetings as well as to manage conflict and generally make sure there is a healthy flow of information, ideas, facts and so forth in and around projects and organizations.
Facilitators make sure the parties have a clear sense of what they are communicating about, that the right parties are involved, that each has the opportunity to share his or her thoughts and feelings. Facilitators keep the conversation on track and at the right level of detail. They help the parties to establish and comply with “rules” of behavior like being respectful and civil. Perhaps most importantly they cultivate rapport
Rapport is a relationship in which people are in-synch or feel comfortable with one another because they feel similar or relate well to one another. There is mutual trust, emotional affinity, similarity, and common interests. When there is rapport, people are more likely to be open and to communicate with clarity.
In my forthcoming book Managing Conflict in Projects:
Applying Mindfulness and Analysis for Optimal Results I identify six facilitation techniques, which are used to create rapport
- Active listening—taking the effort to hear and understand what others are saying and to show them that you have understood it as they have meant it to be understood;
- Questioning—enabling active listening by digging into the other parties communication and making sure your understanding is accurate;
- Matching and mirroring—creating a sense of trust and comfort by recognizing the way other people speak, appear or behave and replicating it in your speech, appearance and behavior
- Using body language—recognizing the tacit, non-verbal part of communication to go beyond the words to get the real meaning of what is being communicated. Body language becomes an integral part of mirroring when you realize that the way you behave (how you stand, dress, speak, etc.) has a subtle impact on the way you are perceived by the others and that you can control the way you behave to manage the impact
- Making eye contact—maintaining trust and comfort while not over doing it with staring
- Moderating the communication process—managing the flow of communication to make sure everyone has an opportunity to speak, that one person isn’t taking over the communication inappropriately, that people stay on topic and at the right level of detail, etc.
As facilitation and mindfulness come together we get mindful communication. The guidelines are simple:
- Talk about what’s really important. Stay on topic. Stay at the “right level of detail”
- Really listen to each other. See how thoroughly you can understand each other’s views and experience.
- Say what’s true for you without making everyone else wrong. Bring facts to the surface and recognize the difference between fact and belief or opinion.
- See what you can learn together by exploring, particularly when there is disagreement.
- Avoid monopolizing the conversation. Make sure everyone has a chance to speak.
- Avoid emotionally driven behavior and speech.
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