Facilitation involves a set of skills that don’t always come naturally to us. The facilitator needs to dance in and out of the group’s focus, directing when need be and allowing discussion or silence when the group is engaged with each other or with a problem productively.
One way to make it easier to address any of these issues is to establish a few ground rules with participants. Ask them how they want to group to function during their time together. Even a simple statement that everyone is expected to participate gives you something to call back to if you need to interrupt someone, redirect a discussion, or solicit more comments.
Here we’ll address some common issues experienced by facilitators and trainers.
One person hogs the conversation
It’s possible that this person seeks validation or attention. You can provide that by moving closer to them and thanking them for their thoughts before redirecting the conversation.
If you’re in a physical space, move toward the speaker so they feel included, while also gathering the attention toward you and your movement. If the learner is pontificating and directing all comments to you, step behind them. That will force them to speak to the entire group and more likely to notice audience signals that it’s time for them to allow another to speak.
Summarizing the dominator’s statements can be seen as a reason to begin speaking again—just to clarify of course. Avoid providing this opportunity.
If a comment was made that you plan to come back to, you can let them know that you will bring the topic up again yourself.
If in an online training, you can suggest that the speaker can share any additional comments on the topic in chat, and you’re moving on to hear from others or to a new topic.
Remind the entire room, if applicable, about the their ground rules of giving everyone time to respond. Share that some personalities (DiSC styles C and S) need a little bit of silence in which to compose their thoughts before they speak.
Keeping things moving and including everyone is the facilitator’s job so don’t hesitate to step in where needed. You own the room. Pull attention to yourself when necessary.
One person isn’t sharing
Allow for silence. We all tend to get uncomfortable with silence, but some of us need it to gather our thoughts. Give silence a chance before calling on someone directly.
Make sure you’ve done everything you can to make the session seem safe. Thank people for sharing. Model ways of including a reluctant speaker.
Give learners a chance to speak in smaller groups by pairing them off for discussions or using breakout rooms.
Be sure you’re asking interesting questions. Avoid simply asking if anyone has any questions. Ask what questions the content brings up. Ask for examples of how the content presented might be misinterpreted.
If you’re facilitating online, have a producer, and aren’t hearing from several people, remind learners how to ask the producer for help. The problem might be a technical one.
The session is/was hard and draining
Prepare for this possibility. If you’re working with a team on the topic of conflict, for example, it’s very likely to be challenging for the team and for you. Consider how you’ll address possible outcomes before you being the training.
Include opportunity for movement. Asking participants to stand, to dance, or to make faces can help relieve some tension.
Find ways of ending on a satisfying and rewarding note. Summarizing growth and change that you’ve seen can be a positive way to end a program.
Encourage people to take a little time to personally process the day before moving on to new tasks. Give them permission to reward themselves for their hard work.
Consider beginning the next group with a little time to reflect on this one.
The session was shallow and superficial
Prepare for this possibility as well.
A newly formed group or a group with unpleasant past history might be resistant to learning together. The facilitator will need to address this. Offer your observation about their behavior and talk a bit about how positive healthy conflict can be and that you’re there to help them use conflict constructively. You encourage some disagreement. During facilitated sessions, you will draw people out, mine for conflict, call out aggressive behavior. That’s your job and they can practice having harder conversations with you there to help them out.
Your content might not be as engaging as you thought. Search for ways to enliven the learning. Can you ask more questions? Can you switch out slides for a video? Is your pacing too slow or too fast? Have you included any anecdotes or stories? Are you making the content relevant? Are you engaged and smiling or showing enthusiasm?
Debrief with another trainer or with the session’s sponsor. What’s the others trainer’s thoughts? Did something happen with this group that upset them before the training?
Someone goes off topic
When you discussed ground rules, you probably let people know that keeping discussions focused was part of your role.
Ask the speaker to bring their comments back to the matter at hand. Or ask a question that directs them back to your topic: “How does this apply to…?” “I think you’re saying X, is that right?”
Treat the interruption like the normal part of group dynamics that it is. Some personality types, like the DiSC i style, really enjoy exploring, and their enthusiasm can take them off track for a bit. Allow someone like this a chance to bring themselves back on topic before jumping in.
Some groups have a “parking lot” for new ideas, additional agenda items, topics for extended discussion, or whatever they don’t want to lose track of but also do not want to devote time to at the moment. You can offer to add something to the “parking lot” and address it later in the training or give it to the group leader after your session.
People are not engaging with each other
A lack of engagement can be caused by several things. One is an absence of trust. Perhaps no one knows each other or they have had bad experiences together. Do a little trust building before engaging with content. Even just introducing themselves or having their camera on if online, can help to drop boundaries. If the group knows each other, ask each person to talk a bit about what encourages them to trust another person.
Be sure that the person shutting down engagement is not you. Are you speaking too much? Are you trying to lead the group instead of facilitating its work? Are you giving positive feedback only to a select few members of the group? Are you shying away from allowing conflict to arise in the group?
Look for someone shutting down any good discussion as soon as it starts. That behavior needs to be called out. State what you observed. Refer back to ground rules, if applicable. Begin again. Model how to hold someone accountable for their behavior, while assuming that they will respond positively. (They might not and you can choose to allow them to sulk or sit fuming or whatever they need to do for a bit.) Wait a bit and thank the person for accepting your feedback, even if they didn’t do a great job of accepting it. Explain how important accountability is for any group to function well.
Set yourself up for success
Facilitation is a skill that grows as it’s practiced. So be prepared, be trustworthy, and take care of your own needs before starting a session. Take time for reflection after a session and change whatever whatever you have the power to change. Engage with other facilitators for support and tips.