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Is it okay to shut someone down?

Is a facilitator ever justified in “shutting someone down”? Craig thinks the answer is yes, IF three conditions are met. Here he explains the conditions and how he handled this situation in a meeting.


This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody. Hey, it’s Craig Freshley here, on a beautiful autumn day in Maine.

Is a facilitator ever justified in shutting someone down? I think yes, if three conditions are met.

One: if the facilitator has laid out the expectation that we are going to give everybody an opportunity to speak and try to make room for all voices. Number two: if the facilitator has given adequate warnings that the conversation is going to be ending soon and we’re going to change formats. And three: if there is somebody who’s dominating the conversation, taking up too much airtime.

I had such a situation recently in a meeting, a full group format. I was running around with the microphone, I had given the ground rules, I had explained that we were about to change formats and go to small group discussions and informal paired discussions, and I had a person who wanted to say more. I gave him his last word, and went to a couple others; he wanted to say more. I went back to him. I let him say what he wanted to say but then, you know, what he said triggered some other hands so I took some other hands, and what those people said triggered him and he wanted to say more. We were over time. And he was saying a lot. In fact he had given up on using the microphone and was just talking loudly to be heard – even without the microphone, even though I was trying to give other people a chance to talk.

In that situation I believe that I was justified in forcing the group to go to the small discussion format. And here’s why: because as facilitators, I think we have a responsibility to make sure that everybody has a voice. And when I have to shut somebody down, it’s not about shutting him or her down, it’s about making room for others to speak up.

Now, I feel sorry for that guy. My actions are not about him, not against him, and had nothing to do with what he said or who he was. I know that he had a lot of energy and passion around this issue but no matter how much energy and passion somebody has, that is not a justifiable reason for making it so others cannot express their energy and passion around an issue.

We need to try and make room for everybody’s passion and energy to be heard in the room, and sometimes that requires shutting someone down.

At least that’s how I see it. And I hope that how I see it, helps you make good group decisions.

Thanks for listening everybody.

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