The new Slovenian centre-to-left government recently invited NGOs for another one in a series of dialogues; a rare and refreshing incentive to talk across sectors in the 30 years since Slovenia’s secession from communist/socialist Yugoslavia. When I saw the photos from this event, my facilitator's heart sank.
The way the room is set up sends a powerful message that speaks louder than the intended purpose.
Neutral to the outcome content? Sure, this is why they hire you – to guide the process so that the participants can focus on the content. (Knowing that the process design, and the interventions, do impact content creation.)
Neutral to what people say? Theoretically, this is essential so that participants feel encouraged to bring their truths to the table, without being judged by the facilitator - the person who often holds the most power in an event/gathering.
Practically, it may be unrealistic
When I was recently facilitating a gathering of neighbours on co-shaping public spaces in our capital’s (Ljubljana’s) new park, in one of the subgroups, the park designers wanted to hear participants' ideas for types of experiences they wished their children or grandchildren would have in the playgrounds they within the public park.
My heart burst with joy when I overheard an elderly neighbour say, in a constructive yet firm manner, that his generation would enjoy some play space too.
»What do I do when somebody tells me something so shocking that I'm at a loss for words?« In the past, my answer would have been a long excursion into the inner worlds and empathy…. But now that such situations pop up all the time (think of conspiracy theories, political polarisation, climate paradoxes …), people need simple tools that effectively re-connect rather than further divide.
Here are my three favourites from +15 years of facilitating dialogue in intense situations – applicable to all kinds of situations with fellow human beings.
Cataclysmic events (death, sickness, divorce, job loss, even menopause) often do away with the clutter in life. In one big sweep, they create a void that calls for a big reset in life.
When several such events occurred simultaneously in my life a few years ago, I – literally on my knees – heard a question whispered to my ear: “What are you no longer willing to apologise for?”
I wish I had asked myself this question earlier, and often.
Just before a recent complex participatory event officially began, the client kept coming to the external facilitation team lead, asking for extra info about the process we were about to facilitate.
It took me a while to realise what was going on. Is the client a control freak? It didn’t really look like micromanagement; it rather seemed as if they had been seeking shelter before the storm hit. Then it dawned on me: the client – a powerful man – was coming to the lead facilitator for a series of ‘grandma hugs’.
Staying at home, we get to talk with ourselves more than ever. The bigger the crisis, the more toxic our self-talk may get; affecting not just the current well-being, but also our future options. What to do?
My promise here: no affirmations, or fake positivity. I’ll talk about authenticity that reconnects rather than alienates.
How to make the most out of your solo walks in this intense time? What if the walks can be nourishing well beyond the physical level – to offer answers to our deepest inquiries? What if outer nature can help us reconnect with our inner nature ...?
The implications of the coronavirus for our personal lives and social systems are so complex that they are impossible to comprehend with the rational mind. We need conceret practices to help us host big questions that are emerging now; to be in the unknown, and yet find some pillars on which to build the futures we desire.
In south-east Europe, where passions run high about almost anything, intensity in a multi-stakeholder strategic dialogue can be huge. So is reliance on a father figure to show direction, provide answers, and intervene in conflicts.
When one of the participants expresses a strong negative judgment about the topic, the others, or the process, electric tension lands in the group, and SOS glances are sent to the facilitator: ‘What are you going to do about it!?’
In a recent multi-stakeholder reflection workshop over a ‘failed’ project, a participant in the final check-out circle said: ‘I am still in almost a shock, and relieved at the same time, that we did not fight today – as we’ve done so many times in the past, over what happened.’
Hearing this, I was reminded again that the work of us process facilitators who work in intense environments is ultimately not about transforming conflicts into more harmony. It’s about re-claiming hope, and even joy, for calling in (tough) conversations.
Years ago, I applied for the IAF Certified Professional Facilitator assessment. The procedure was a very Western one: written record of facilitation cases; client references; live facilitation simulation with assessors as clients and participants; interview before and after the facilitation gig. In this process, a moment of magic happened that woke me to the potential of elders’ blessings in our professional communities. Here’s the story.
I walked into the ki aikido dojo (martial arts training place) that Stane Kirbiš led in Ljubljana, Slovenia, two years ago; not knowing anyone, and in a very difficult period in my life during which I forgot how to laugh.
Soon I realised that the dojo that Stane had created was a place of deep embodied joy – as well as unexpected learnings for life.
Here are some of the lessons that I learned from Stane. Conveyed in my own words, they probably reflect more of what I heard rather than what was exactly said. Written within days after his untimely death, I hope they carry Stane’s spirit that will keep feeding us all.
‘Be authentic!’ is a buzzword in these chaotic times. But what does it actually mean?
In my experience, there are at least three layers of authenticity; each with implications for the quality of connection, relationship, and collaboration.
During the appreciation circle that the organising team held after closing a 170-participant, multigenerational, week-long European Nonviolent Communication Festival, a long-time colleague said to me: “Your large group facilitation was beyond mastery; it had magical qualities.” My inner response: “Well, of course it’s magic – I cannot possibly facilitate such a large group on my own!”
I did not say anything loud at the time though. Later I realised that we rarely (if ever!) speak about the invisible realms of facilitating groups in complex contexts.
In a recent Clearness Committee process I facilitated – in which the committee members are invited to only ask widely open questions, without offering the slightest advice to the focus person in the centre -the focus person shared a challenge she was facing connected to a business project she helped develop.
At some point during the circle process it dawned on me: it’s time for the ‘David Whyte question’: ‘How are you making this project too small for you?’
An old friend of mine recently asked me why do I do what do. This gift of a question opened an inquiry for me that led me to the depths of my soul, my shadow, and ultimately my mission in life.
At an international conference in 2005, there was an offer of experiencing a “dialogue process” as one of the conference tracks. I just knew I had to be there.
This is a story about one courageous individual who almost incidentally landed in Slovenia back in 1989, and touched lives of many. It’s a story of how one humble person can make a difference not only to persons s/he meets, but to a whole system.