How to be really present when facilitating groups?

Following two thought provoking CPD events, exploring the links between excellent facilitation and Mindfulness we are running the workshop for the third time on 22 November in London.  Working with an experienced and talented group of facilitators is a real joy – the insights and reflections of these groups are really rich.

What is Mindfulness and where does it come from?

Mindfulness was developed by Jon Kabat-Zin, a medical doctor and yoga teacher from Massachusetts Medical Centre. It started as a Stress Reduction Programme in hospital for those suffering from chronic pain and illness. He brought the western traditions of meditation and yoga to groups of seriously ill patients, for whom medical interventions had nothing more to offer. By training patients to live more mindfully, to live and experience the present moment fully, he improved the quality of their lives drastically and Mindfulness in the west was born. This was in the late 1970’s.

The world had changed since then and now we have the ability to be connected 24/7 with anyone anywhere. Strikingly – the more connected we are with email, wifi etc. – the less connected we often seem with ourselves.

This extra pressure is seen in teams we work with. Pressure from change, to succeed in markets in recession; the pressure to be seen to be constantly responsive to customers with the advent of social media, smart phones, wifi and the like.

So how could Mindfulness make a difference to me as a facilitator?

Exploring when we have been at our best we realised that the interventions and qualities we bring resonate with what Mindfulness offers. At our best we are able to be fully present for difficult emotions and situations, hold the space for the participants and stay with the feelings. We notice what signals our body is giving us about what is going on in the room and have the confidence and courage to listen to those cues. By bringing Mindfulness we are able to make choices in the moment as to the best way to respond. We laughed about how sometimes that choice means tearing up the preparation and at others it means returning to it. But what was critical was being able to have the emotional space to be fully with the participants and not overwhelmed or distracted by our own reactions to those in the room.

The most challenging facilitation situations raised questions like:

  •        What to do with moment of real conflict in team situations?
  •        How to respond to deep distress?
  •        What to best do for those with loss or sadness?
  •        How to deal with real anger in a team event?

For these times we need a moment of pause. We need to create the space to make a choice about responding. This means we need to avoid being caught in our judgements and reactions– noticing them for what they are and at the same time not letting them colour everything. This is a mindful awareness response, noticing our thoughts and feelings and knowing they will pass.

This moment gives us/me the space to decide on an intervention for a group. The interventions may be simple, like an extra break, it may be looking again at the intention for the event or calling on another facilitation tool. The important thing is that we are able to make that choice for the group while fully aware of all that is happening on every level.

The challenge to be mindfully aware while working with all the different perspectives that exist in a group is a real one….but a rewarding one both professionally and personally.


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