Developing high quality facilitation skills – a deep dive with the Groupwork Institute.

by Dec 15, 2017

Reflection by Angela Moran – WDP Victoria Central Hub Member

On Saturday 9th December 2017 I was lucky enough, along with several other WDP volunteers, to participate in another wonderful professional development workshop thanks to Joining The Dots. The aim of the training was to help us reflect on, innovate and improve our facilitation skills in the context of Welcome Dinners.

At the helm was the amazing Nancy Nuñez from the Groupwork Institute who first guided us through a cute ice breaker involving beanie bears (proving our inner children are still alive and kicking!) before diving deep into work-shopping our skills.

Nancy started by asking us for some key values we would ascribe to WDP. We came up with Generosity, Inclusiveness, Kindness and Community to name a few. We then paired off to explore what putting a certain value into practice at a dinner would look like, and also what it wouldn’t look like. This was really useful in grounding us early on in the workshop, getting us back to basics in thinking about what values we should be keeping in line with during our facilitation work.

We then moved on to exploring some important facilitation “micro-skills” that can be used at dinners to calm tense or delicate situations, and foster relaxed, friendly environments. Examples of these were Validating, or verbalising that the other person has been ‘heard’ and that their opinion/feeling is worthy, Normalising, or saying “that is a common experience” to affirm that a person is not alone, and Wondering out loud, a way of making suggestions in a gentle way so as not to seem pushy or de-validate someone else’s input. As a group we found we were using a few of these skills already, and it was really interesting to explore the psychology behind why they are so useful. There were also a few skills that were new to some of us, such as Sitting With Hot Spots (riding out the conflict) and Naming Ghosts (to clear the air).

We then got into groups for some role play of potential Welcome Dinner situations. A lot of us found this to be a very intense experience as we danced with different micro-skills to try to defuse conflicts and address awkward topics. I enjoyed using my very amateur acting skills to the entertainment of my group members.

A particularly useful take-home point for me was the need to keep refocusing on our purpose. During the workshop if we were struggling with a decision in a dinner role play, Nancy would remind us to ask ourselves what our purpose in having the dinner was, and to make sure our actions and words helped us fulfill our purpose. Throughout all we do as an organisation we should be asking “what is our purpose, and does this decision/action/attitude fit with that purpose?”. This should be an obvious action, but in life it’s often the most simple, logical things that get forgotten in the rush.

Another core component of the Groupwork Institute’s training is Self-Awareness. Nancy stressed to us that you can’t facilitate a group until you can facilitate yourself. Personally, I found this section of the training the most enlightening, and it seemed a few of the others felt the same.

We were introduced to a concept called The Community of Selves that proposes that we all have many different selves, the majority of which we try to keep under wraps as they are seen as not helpful ie. The Child (but I don’t WANT to!), The Smug One, The Vengeful One etc. Nancy told us we all have a “Wise One” self that represents our inner knowledge, wisdom and logic and that we need to be aware of which Self is “driving the bus”, or is in control of our thoughts, and thus emotions, at any one time. She illustrated this in a really fun way with several teddy bears representing the different Selves, and a toy owl to represent The Wise One in the driver’s seat. When a teddy bear, or Self, got out of its seat to hassle The Wise One with worries, anger, or fear, the owl would validate and normalise the Self’s feelings, use wisdom and logic to calm it down and coax the Self back to its passenger seat.

Nancy ended the day with a group huddle where she expressed her admiration of the work we do at WDP and her gratitude at being able to help us in our quest to strengthen the sense of community in our society. At this point I think a few of us felt a bit teary, touched by Nancy’s sincerity and with an added sense of importance of the work we do.

I want to thank all involved once again for the opportunity to grow my skills not only as a group facilitator, but a self-facilitator.

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