Tips, Videos, Handouts, and Other Stuff

Transparent Facilitation

Is it okay for a meeting facilitator to say “I don’t know what to do?”

In this video Craig says “Yes!” He also gives reasons why it’s good to do that and he provides three things likely to happen as a result of doing that; all good.


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.

Sometimes when you’re facilitating a meeting you don’t know what to do. Maybe there is a tension, disagreement, or overtime on the agenda, and it’s honestly not clear to me what we should do. In that situation I tend to default for something I call “facilitation transparency.” I kind of think out loud in front of the group.

I might say something like this: “Okay look everybody, I know that we are over-time on the agenda but it’s honestly not clear to me what we should do. Here’s what I’m thinking. I’m thinking that Ron’s point is really good and a lot of you agree with it and think that we should take time to figure that out. But I’m also seeing from the body language that a lot of you are not totally comfortable with moving forward with that idea. And I can’t figure out whether we should continue to spend time on this or not so I don’t know what could we do. Maybe…..well one thing we could do is we could extend the length of the meeting. We could all agree that this is worth spending time on….let’s spend more time on it. We could send this to a committee and ask them to think about this idea and maybe come back. We could take a little anonymous poll here. I could pass out some index cards and I could ask you all to give your opinions, hand them in to me, we’ll take a break, and then I’ll come back with a recommendation to the group on what we should do based on what you told me anonymously. I don’t know. Those are just three ideas to proceed.”

Look, here’s what I find. If I do like I just did in a meeting — make myself a little vulnerable, just think out loud — for one thing it gives me time to think about what to do. And secondly, it invites everyone into a group perspective. I’m bringing everyone along with me and thinking about how to best serve the group. Thirdly, it gives each of them time to think about what could be best.

And more often than not, resolution emerges. It usually happens of one of three ways. Usually the most common thing is that as I’m doing my thinking out loud on the spot, I’m able to assess the body language or the facial expressions of the people around the table — we can all do that — and the right thing to do becomes self-evident. That happens 80% of the time! A second thing that might happen is somebody — one of them — might have, like, a perfect solution that none of us has thought about. A third thing is that it might become clear to me what to do in that situation.

I know that there is a resistance to admitting that you don’t know what to do. When you’re the guy or the gal at the front of the room leading the group you don’t want to say, “I don’t know what to do here.” However as facilitators I believe it’s our job to reflect the group. And you know what? If I don’t know what to do here and if I’m being the true neutral facilitator, the group probably doesn’t know what to do here and it is perfectly appropriate for me to reflect that to the group.

The other thing I’ve learned is that if I pretend to know more than I really do — if I am not genuine and transparent as a facilitator — that is not going to serve the group well. And I’m probably not going to get invited back.

So I am making an appeal for facilitator vulnerability, for facilitators to reflect the group, for facilitation transparency.

Thanks for listening everybody.

Please make a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *