Process Leadership

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As facilitators, we support through process leadership both the group’s social and

cognitive processes while respecting the group’s need to understand and learn from

the problem-solving process (Schuman, 1996).When we actively listen, respect, and

value the group, our behavior serves as a model that we wish the group to emulate.

At the same time, facilitators must recognize that people communicate in a multiprocess

way verbally and nonverbally. Reading the subtext of these nonverbal

messages requires attention and knowledge. These nonverbal elements include gestures,

facial expressions, and defensive postures (Madonik, 2001; Nierenberg and

Calero, 2003). These nonverbal actions are meters of our states of mind and are

real-time perceptions of the status of the dialogue. Facilitators should be cognizant

of the importance of process leadership and develop competences for managing

process as well as understanding, analyzing, and using nonverbal communication,

including sensitivity to subtle messages.

Ground Rules

The use of ground rules, guidelines, or agreement assists the facilitator in keeping

a dialogue from becoming an adversarial debate. This approach also allows the introduction

of an agenda that enables the balancing time and content of the dialogue

while maintaining the energy of the group members. Establishing norms for

individual and group behavior supports maximum contributions and yields a receptive

and respectful dialogue. Positive relationships and information exchange

spring from a safe setting in which to explore difficult subjects and relationships

(Pyser and Figallo, 2004).

Effective Strategies for Designing and Facilitating Dialogue 215

Critical Thinking

A facilitator needs to search for understanding and formulate and ask interrelated

questions at fitting times. During dialogue, it is essential that the facilitator use

critical thinking skills to simultaneously evaluate, listen, and process the event.

“The ideal critical thinker is habitually inquisitive, well-informed, trustful of reason,

open-minded, flexible, fair-minded in evaluation, honest in facing personal

biases, prudent in making judgments, willing to reconsider, clear about issues, orderly

in complex matters, diligent in seeking relevant information, reasonable in

the selection of criteria, focused in inquiry, and persistent in seeing results which

are as precise as the subject and the circumstances of inquiry permit” (Aretz, Bolen,

and Devereux, 1997).

Framing and Asking Questions

The ability to frame and ask questions of participants is an essential facilitator skill

for beginning and sustaining a dialogue (see Exhibit 13.2).When properly phrased,

well-crafted questions can engage participants, stimulate thoughtful reflection, and

energize conversation through sharing of personal and valuable insights. Questions

are one of the essential elements of a productive and balanced dialogue.

Facilitators should continue to practice and hone the skill of developing and posing

questions. The quality and success of the dialogue will turn in large part on

this facilitator skill.

Exhibit 13.2

Framing and Asking Dialogue Questions

Effective Techniques Ineffective Techniques

Prepare and write out your questions. Trust fate, and fly by the seat of your

pants.

_

Know your identity and act with Pretend to be someone you are not

integrity to cultivate a “capacity to gain group approval or advantage

for connectedness” (Palmer, 1998, or to preordain a dialogue result.

p. 13).

Effective Strategies for Designing and Facilitating Dialogue 217

Effective Techniques Ineffective Techniques

Ask questions. Make statements; present solutions

or offer advice (“Why don’t you . . .”

or “My brother had this situation

once before, and he . . .”).

_

Who is in your group? Seek to Ask safe questions—those for which

invite participation. Prepare you know the expected response.

stimulating questions that people

can relate to, are important and

relevant to group, and attract

their attention.

_

Be brief with your question. Ask compound questions with multiple

subparts and choices.

_

Use exploratory questions that Use rhetorical questions that require

call for discussion. no answer.

_

Deliver questions in a tone that Mandate that participants respond.

invites contributions. Select a person to speak.

_

Customize questions that reveal Pose questions that might degrade,

motivations for points of view threaten, or marginalize participants

and perspectives. to create controversy.

_

Craft questions to reveal infor- Ask assumptive questions (a form of

mation, feelings and interests, leading question) where the quesopinions,

and personal experiences tion assumes a fact (“How much will

and insight. taxes go up next year?”).