Challenges of Facilitating in a Group Setting
Reflections on Barksy’s “Conflict Resolution for The Helping Professions”
Facilitating in the group setting is quite different than dealing with clients one-on-one or with the two parties together. While some of the principles remain the same, getting the parties to work together towards a common goal or solution, group facilitation poses some difficult challenges.
According to Barsky there are 10 basic challenges facilitators face when working with a group of people, regardless of if the group shares the same sentiment or if they are at odds with each other. To loosely paraphrase Barsky’s ideas of conflict resolution, the challenges include:
· Different agendas
· Lack of focus
· Dominant personalities
· Lack of vocal participation
· Lost attention, miscommunication
· Lack of transparency
· Confusion about the decision
One of the more important challenges in the group setting can result from a lack of focus, such as when there is not defined agenda or a specific enough timeline for the meeting. As Barsky suggested, the “punctuation” tool sets the tone for the meeting, and lets group members know what to expect, and what not to expect for the group meeting. Setting clear-cut goals helps limit hijacked discussions, because people know that their concern will be addressed at some point in time, if not necessarily this point in time.
When working with a smaller group or even an outspoken group, you may need to empower group members to have some ownership over the topics or agenda. Help group members stay focused by passing out, or displaying a copy of the agenda for the day’s meeting. Clearly emphasizing the separate issues helps keep people focused on the topic on hand. While planning the timeline or schedule before the meeting begins will be more up-front work, the time you invest may eventually save you time and headaches later in the process.
Another problem with group meetings is that people can’t express themselves as easily in smaller settings, due to the number of people in the room and the number of people wanting to get their turn to speak. While a lack of communication or silence is a major issue, lack of transparency — or not saying what one really thinks — is even more an issue. Barsky noes that some “people may self-censor themselves in order to avert conflict, fit in, or look good. This may be because they are conflict avoiders, conflict accommodators, or naturally shy”. I propose that not saying what someone really thinks may also have to do with the entire decision-making process. Some people may take longer to reach conclusions, or feel like they do not have enough information to commit themselves one way or another. Rather than being the only person to not have a “yea” or “nea” answer, one might side with the majority just to make things simpler for the entire process. Facilitators in the group setting can help ensure everyone’s opinion is heard by encouraging open communication with respectfulness for everyone involved. Establishing a rule on respect is key to this issue; if someone knows he will be treated with respect, he is more likely to offer his opinions and thoughts on important issues.
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