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The Art of Facilitation Newsletter, Intro

Leading with Spirit

Facilitating Meetings

Waldorf schools, like many modern organizations, have a culture of collaboration in which much of the work, decision making and planning happens in meetings. How these meetings are planned, prepared for, conducted and followed are essential to the ability of the coworkers to get things done, learn as they go and build strong relationships – all of which are essential to the health of the organization. Meetings may take many forms, and may be more formal and structured or more informal and fluid. Regardless of the meeting style, form or culture of the organization, the understanding and skills of the coworkers to shape and conduct meetings and the overall strength of the relationships between coworkers, there are a few fundamental principles and practices that contribute to healthy meetings.

Overall, in meetings, a few higher goals include to:

  • Create an environment for effective communication (the achievement of mutual understanding)
  • Keep discussion focused
  • Keep people engaged.
  • Advance and deepen discussions.
  • Provide an opportunity for all voices to be heard.
  • Create an environment of trust and support so disagreement and understanding can surface.
  • Leave participants challenged and willing to engage in follow-up conversations.

There are many good resources available to help one understand, plan, conduct and follow up on healthy meetings.

The Art of Planning and Preparing for Meetings is a newsletter at www.leadtogther.org with the following articles:

The Art of Planning and Preparing for Meetings

The Art of Creating an Agenda

Working Together, by Chris Schaefer

The Artistic Meeting: More Space for Spirit, by Holly Koteen Soule

Other related articles: Creating Board Agendas, Planning for Meetings,

Below is a Facilitation Guide developed st Stanford that is a good summary of many aspects of meetings.

 

 

 

 

Stanford Facilitation Guide

Preparation

  • Decide who should facilitate the discussion. Consider who knows the topic, can assume an "objective" role, will be accepted by the group and has group experience. Consider what you know about the topic, whether your views are known to students, and whether that makes your role as a facilitator too difficult.
  • Consider co-facilitating with another person. Whenever possible, use co-facilitators who represent different gender, racial or cultural backgrounds, especially when discussing personal or emotional issues.
  • Know yourself before you begin as a facilitator. Consider:
    • What are my personal beliefs, values and stereotypes about the issue?
    • Can I assume an objective role in the discussion?
    • What role should I assume as a facilitator?
    • How do I establish trust and openness among the group?
    • How do I show respect for the opinions of others?
    • How do I tactfully mediate conflict?
    • How do I keep discussion flowing smoothly?
    • How do I encourage the participation of everyone and avoid domination by a few?
    • How do I deal with someone showing disrespect for another?
    • What should I do when I don't know how to respond to a comment or question?
    • Will I feel comfortable facilitating a group discussion on this issue?
  • Identify the goals of the session. What are you trying to accomplish?
  • Plan the format of the discussion. Will it be a small group? a large group? a group of people who know each other well? only somewhat? not at all? Will it be formal (see the suggested discussion models attached in Appendix B) or informal?
  • Schedule tentative time blocks, so that the introduction and key points will be covered before the end of the discussion.
  • Plan the physical environment so that participants can talk to each other (not just to you) without visual or height barriers. Hint: people sitting in circles tend to talk more with each other, rather than focus on the facilitation.
  • Be prepared with some interesting/challenging questions to get discussion started and to keep moving.
  • Plan for any materials or help you will need. Will you need a writing surface such as a blackboard, or newsprint and marker pens. If it is an event where you will be writing down information, ideas, choose someone else to be the recorder. Hint: It is very hard to facilitate a discussion and be the one doing the recording.

Starting Off

  • Introduce the purpose of the discussion and ensure that the participants have the same understanding.
  • Explain the organization and structure (including the time line) of the discussion, when it will end, and whether or not there are formal follow-up plans. ("We'll speak in small groups for an hour then spend a half-hour in general discussion. We will end at 9 p.m. and anyone who wants to continue the discussion can stay in the lounge. Depending on interest we will have a follow-up discussion on Thursday night.")
  • Explain your role as facilitator - a person whose role it is to remain neutral or objective, to keep the discussion focused and energized and to create an environment for all to have a chance to participate. This does not mean that you are neutral and have no opinions, but as a facilitator you need to play an objective role.
  • Set the appropriate tone. Show your comfort with the topic so that others feel comfortable. Create a safe and open environment so that the participants will feel comfortable and share their views openly and honestly.
  • Do introductions. How you do the introductions will help set the tone for the discussion--the amount of information and the degree of self-disclosure that will occur.
  • Establish ground rules for the discussion so that the participants feel the environment is safe to speak about their ideas and feelings. Ground rules should be explicit. You need to take a little time to discuss the cultural relativity of these ground rules. Ground rules may not fit everyone because we have different cultural backgrounds. Ask the group if these rules make sense and if everyone can honor them. The following are some suggestions (add your own):
    • We ask that you speak from your own perspective; personal "I" statements are useful ways for keeping your view points personalized, and keep you from generalizing about what others think or feel
    • We ask that you respect the viewpoints of others--that you listen respectfully and attentively, and that you withhold judgment about other's views. Our goal here is not to persuade each other of our ideas, but to get ideas out on the table so people can make their own decision.
    • We ask that you maintain confidentiality about what is said in the room during this discussion--that you don't talk about what others say here to others who are not part of this discussion.
    • To show your respect for others in the room, we ask that you stay focused on the discussion and avoid side conversations. We ask that you make a conscious effort to listen actively to hear what is being said.
    • We expect that everyone here will try to make this experience a good one; that we are all responsible for how this discussion goes.
    • We ask that you be willing to voice disagreements, but we ask that if you disagree with someone's idea that you criticize the idea, not the person. With sensitive issues, people make take things personally. Please try to be sensitive to each other's needs and concerns. Try to speak up if you feel hurt in anyway. Avoid derogatory or sarcastic comments at the expense of others.
    • We ask that you don't interrupt each other.
    • All questions are good ones. We encourage you to ask questions of each other no matter how simplistic you might think they are. Chances are there are others who have the same question. The goal of the discussion is to learn and explore.
    • We ask that you limit your exchanges with one person to no more than 3 exchanges. If it goes beyond three then others need the chance to express their opinion.
    • We ask that you don't make assumptions about what others think or mean. Remember that others will not always attach the same meanings to words that you do or perceive the world the same way you do.
    • (A useful ground rule for managing hurt) We will establish an "ouch" list as we go along. We ask that you write down any statements that hurt you and post them on the wall. We will agree to discuss the "ouches" at some point in the discussion.
  • Find out if some people are leaving early or coming late and decide how you want to deal with that.

Getting the Discussion Started

  • Pose an interesting question or set of questions. Remember to come to the discussion with some prepared questions.
  • Open questions requiring more than a "yes" or "no" response (as opposed to closed questions which lead to a one word response) generate discussion and stimulate thinking. (keywords: "how", "why", "what", "what if", "tell us about")

"How do you feel about the points made in the presentation?"

"What in your experience has led you to the view that you just expressed?"

  • Group oriented questions encourage group participation and tend to stimulate everyone's thinking. (keywords: "who", "anyone")

"Would anyone be willing to share their reactions to the program?"

"Does anyone have any ideas about how we should start this discussion?"

"Does anyone have an issue or concern that they would like to raise to get us started?"

"What experiences have any of you had with this issue?"

  • Individual oriented questions encourage individual response (but may put people on the spot) and can tap known resources of a "expert" in the group:

"Tom, what do you think about the issues raised in the article?"

"Allison, how do you feel about what is happening in the dorm now, on the topic of X?"

" Eric, you have done a lot of reading in this area, how do you see the issue?"

  • Factual questions seek information. (keywords: "what", "which", "how much")

"What are some of the major pros and cons from your perspective?"

"What statements did you actually hear made during the presentation that made you upset?"

"Who on campus is best suited to talk further about this issue?"

 

During the Discussion

Checking Yourself

  • Remain neutral (objective and open). This does not mean that you don't have opinions, but facilitators usually do not offer their own views; they help group members share theirs. Your role is to facilitate the group's discussion. If you have valuable ideas or opinions that are essential to what is being discussed, put your facilitator role aside and ask someone else to act as facilitator while you give your input

"How do some of the rest of you feel about that?"

"That may be your experience, but others may see things differently. Do any of you have a counter example or opinion.?"

"I have an opinion I would like to share, so I am taking my facilitator hat off for a comment."

  • Stay off the soapbox. Successful facilitators listen rather than talk. Watch for danger signals:

- Talking too much

- Feeling the need to address all questions

- Talking more than your co-facilitator(s)

- Seeing the group interacting more with you rather than with each other

- Engaging in dialogue with individual members of the group

  • Avoid being put in the position of the "expert". Some may look to you to provide the answers to challenging questions or situations. Refrain from immediately providing "your answer" to the issue at hand. Turn the situation back to the questioner or ask the question of the whole group. If you are stuck or lost, admit it honestly to the group; someone is almost always likely to come to your rescue.

" How would you handle that?"

  • Stay aware of your own "hot buttons". Know where you stand on the issues, where your own prejudices/biases lie and where you are in your own personal discovery. If you feel you won't shut down discussion you could own up to them at the very beginning of the discussion and say that although you have deep feelings about the issue, you are committed to creating an environment where all feelings can be heard and respected.

Gatekeeping

  • Acknowledge contributions, validate people's ideas, and give credit where credit is due.

"Thanks for saying that Linda. No one had mentioned that before."

"Thanks for that helpful contribution. It is not easy to share such a personal experience. That was very courageous."

"Dave, I appreciate your offering a different view."

"You made a strong general statement, Mary. Is that what you think (or feel)?"

"Could you restate your point using 'I' instead of 'we' or 'you' or 'people think'?

  • Keep the focus on ideas not individuals. Some ways to do this are:

- Ask the group to brainstorm ideas - Ask the group to identify pros and cons of a position rather than having individuals explain or defend a position

- Divide the group in half, being sure each half includes representatives of different viewpoints and ask each group to develop one side of the argument

- Go around the circle asking everyone to say something about the topic and indicate in what ways he or she agree with previous speakers. Then ask a recorder to summarize the primary feelings expressed by the group

- Create small groups, each with a reporter who will bring ideas of the small group back to the whole group

- Redirect people who make personal comments about others.

  • Try to keep the discussion concrete rather than abstract. People tend to talk abstractly especially when dealing with uncomfortable topics. Suggesting that people share real experiences can be effective.

"Can you give an example of what you are talking about from your own experience?"

  • Keep the focus on the subject without restraining free expression of ideas.

"You have made an interesting point, but how would you say that relates to X (the topic under discussion)?"

"It seems that we have started another topic without finishing the first. Should we return to the issue we were discussing before going on?"

  • Get participants to "own" their comments rather than speaking in generalizations about what others think.
  • Summarize or synthesize statements as a way of keeping track and bringing focus on where the discussion is going/has gone.

"Some of the main points I have heard are..."

"What were some of the main themes here tonight?"

"Can someone give a brief distillation of the discussion that we just had?"

  • Be patient with silences. Don't jump to fill in silence. Silence can be an important time for some and may spur others to talk.
  • Know and emphasize the importance of pause time. Encourage each person to be aware of his or her own pause time before jumping in. As a facilitator don't jump in too quickly.
  • Read non-verbal cues. Are a few people dominating the discussion? Are there many interruptions? Observe who is participating and who is not? Are people looking bored? Angry? Impatient? What is the level of energy in the discussion?

"People seem a little restless, why don't we take a break."

"It looks as if people are uncomfortable with what we have just been discussing."

"The energy of this discussion seems low, should we wind this up for now?"

  • Pose disagreement constructively. If there is disagreement and the discussion is stuck, have the participants agree to disagree and move on to another subject.

"Can we explore each of the viewpoints as a group and try to understand them rather than having one or to persons defend each view."

"It's clear that there is not agreement on this issue which is perfectly fine. Can we all agree not to be in agreement on this and move on to consider another facet of this issue.."

  • Minimize attacks. Protect individuals and their ideas from attack by other members of the group.

"Let's remember our ground rule about not attacking each other."

  • Minimize disruptions such as inappropriate humor, people walking in and out, private/side conversations, etc. Confront other problem behaviors that interfere with the progress of the discussion. (See Troubleshooting below)

"It is really hard to focus on what is being said here. There are so many side conversations."

Encouraging Participation

  • Create (and recreate) a safe and trusting environment. Monitor excessive talkers (see Troubleshooting below) and prompt the quieter members. - Consider breaking up into smaller groups or pairs(dyads) or trios for mini-discussions as a way to involve the quieter people

"We hope that you will say what is on your mind. What we say here today is for the group and will not go beyond the group."

  • Set and reinforce a pattern for participants to talk to each other, not to you. Keep reminding the group that this is conversation/questioning focuses on you.
  • Notice silences. Who is talking a lot, who is not talking? Is there any pattern?

"The men in the group have been pretty quiet. We'd be interested in what you think."

"I have noticed that some of you have not said what you think. I hope you will find a way to let us hear from you at some point" (be careful of this kind of statement; it may put people on the spot)."

" I have noticed that some of you haven't said anything. Please feel free to jump in at any point."

"John, you made some good points; let's hear from someone else."

  • Acknowledge the feelings of people in the group.

"Sam, I can see how upset you are. what would you like to hear from the group?"

"I bet you are not the only one here who has that reaction. Has anyone else ever felt the same way?"

  • Ask individuals and the group how to respond to expressions of emotions.

"It seems to me that the discussion has brought up painful feelings for several people. What shall we do at this point? Would you like to talk about feelings that have been expressed? do you want to keep going? Shall we take a break?"

"This seems to be where a lot of discussions on this issue break down--how can we keep going and get past this point?"

"When I see people angry it is hard for me to listen because I am worried about people getting (emotionally/physically) hurt. Could we just take a minute here to breathe, and make sure we can talk about this respectfully"

  • Reaffirm that the group is trying to deal with emotionally difficult issues.

"People are expressing many different and deep emotions here which may feel hard and uncomfortable, but that is the reason we are all here, to try to come to grips with emotionally difficult issues."

"It's not easy to share such a deeply held beliefs"

Advancing and Deepening the Discussion

  • Invite amplification of new points. Encourage the contributors to explain the background behind their ideas/opinions. o Help "fact spouters" get more personal.

"What is your opinion, given the facts as you have said them?"

"When I here those facts, it makes me feel like.....?"

"These are interesting facts; would you like to share how you feel about them?."

  • Encourage people to take risks

- Take some risks yourself, including admitting your mistakes

- Take a risk yourself and be vulnerable by sharing a personal experience or risky feeling

  • Ask open-ended questions. (What?, How?, Why?)
  • Ask follow-up and/or probing questions (if others don't).

"Can you say a little more about that?"

"What do you mean by that?" "Can you give us an example?"

"How did you come to this view?."

"What convinced you of your opinion?"

  • Paraphrase (or getting others to paraphrase) what people say; paraphrasing can help legitimize people's views, and is especially useful in legitimizing an unpopular or risky opinion/idea.

"As I understand what you are saying, ..."

"Let me see if I understand what you are saying, ..."

  • Clarify, without interpreting.

"Can you clarify that last comment, I am not sure that I understood what you were saying."

"Can I try to clarify what I think you just said."

"Can you restate that in a different way?"

"What do you mean by that?"

  • Call attention to alternative viewpoints. Beware of "group think" Sometimes a group will discuss a topic without awareness of a different approach to the same problem.
  • Encourage feelings as well as ideas. Remember that "I feel like..." and "I feel that ..." are not statements of feelings. Feelings are expressions of emotions -- anger, frustration, joy, happiness, etc.

Troubleshooting During the Discussion

  • No one responds.

- Ask for any comments

- Suggest an answer and ask for agreement or disagreement

  • Someone who doesn't take the discussion seriously or gives silly comments.

- Find something in their answer that is close to a serious answer and in a serious tone repeat it to the group.

- Ask them if they can think of another answer

- Compliment them when they give a serious answer

"I think most people are here because they think the topic is a valuable one. Does anyone feel differently about this?"

"Please try to respect other people's feelings here; this is a serious issue."

"I know that laughter can mean that people are nervous or feeling uncomfortable. Does anyone have any special concerns?"

  • People monopolize the discussion.

- Say, "I'd like to hear what the rest of the group has to say."

- Ask another person a question just as soon as they pause.

- Ask for agreement or disagreement from others.

- Explain that you appreciate his or her comments, but it is important for everyone to have a chance to talk.

- Establish ground rules at the beginning (or mid-stream) that one of the goals is to provide everyone an opportunity to share.

  • Someone keeps changing the subject or goes on tangents.

-Say, "That is very interesting but how do you feel about .....?"

-Refocus their attention by saying "I know you are enjoying sharing your experience with each other, but there are some issues I would like to share with you now."

- Say, "In order to accomplish our goal today, we really need to move on. Perhaps we can go back to this topic later."

  • People keep interrupting.

"Could we remember just to have one person talk at a time and let people finish their statements."

"Okay. First Sarah, then Randy, then Marie."

"Jim, you have got a lot of god point, but it is important to let Renee finish, and then I know that Tom is dying to say something as well."

  • Hostile or belligerent group members

-Keep your cool. Try to incorporate negative comments in a positive way. "That's an (interesting, unique, different) way to look at this situation. I appreciate your contributing that different point of view."

-If it continues, try to meet with the person at a break and confront them on their behavior. If it is really disruptive, tell them that if they choose to stay, you would like their cooperation. o Someone puts another person down.

-Remind the group that there are no wrong answers. Everyone has the right to his/her opinion.

  • The group gets stuck (lacks sufficient information to go on) Refer to resources. Suggest the need for further information if you or someone else in the discussion does not know the answer.
  • Inappropriate humor

- Don't let inappropriate humor go by.

" I realize that you may not have intended it, but this is a pretty sensitive topic, and that kind of humor makes a lot of people very uncomfortable."

"I don't find that remark very funny personally. Were you aware that some people might find that remark offensive?"

  • You are running out of time.

- Don't panic or start rushing. Get as far as you can. - Prioritize questions/points. Try to address the important ones

- Decide on a time for a follow-up session o Someone challenges your role as group leader.

- Don't become defensive. Let the group air their dissatisfactions. Express your feelings after they have cooled off. Discuss solutions with the group.

  • People keep addressing their questions to you.

- Redirect the question to the group

- If no one in the group has a response, defer the question by having someone in the group come back with pertinent information at a later time.

  • Conflict occurs

- Don't take sides

- Remind people of the areas of agreement - Ask people in conflict to agree to restate what they heard before they state their arguments.

- Remind people that they are not there to judge others or to persuade others of their views, but to further mutual understanding.

- Summarize the conflict and ask for ideas from the whole group as to how to proceed.

- Acknowledge the disagreement and agree to move on. Tell the group that conflict is a healthy part of group dynamics, and can enhance learning.

- Try to put yourself in each person's position and try to understand the emotional impact that the situation is creating for them. Empathize verbally with each side.

- Acknowledge each persons concerns and needs.

- Try to elicit where each persons ideas may have come from in their experience.

 

  • Inability to move to another topic because people are overly engaged in a lively discussion

- Try to be flexible about time. If something good is happening, assess the value of leaving that discussion in favor of completing an agenda. Get the group to help make this decision.

- Give a two-minute warning or some other transition time to prepare the group to change direction.

- Acknowledge at the beginning of the session that time will be a factor and that some issues may not be discussed.

- Acknowledge the difficulty of leaving a good discussion and get the group to decide how to proceed, or set up another time to finish the agenda.

  • Something inappropriate is stated, i.e., something offensive, misinformation

- Legitimize dissenting opinions/ideas. Don't let misinformation stand. It implies that you agree with it. Ask for other opinions/ideas ("Are there other views?" "Does everyone agree?"

- Agree to disagree to give people space to object without destroying the discussion.

- Acknowledge discomfort over a comment...but own it as your discomfort. Don't speak for the group.

 

Wrapping Up

  • Keep to the committed ending time, unless you ask the group if they would like to continue for a specified period of time. (Remember, ending a little too soon is better than discussing a topic to death. Ending on a high note will encourage the discussion to continue at a later time.) Indicate that you will stay around for a while if anyone else wishes to continue the discussion.
  • Summarize (or have a participant summarize) the major thrust of the discussion.

- The major points of agreement and disagreement, if appropriate.

- Issues that were discussed but not resolved

- Where action has been agreed on, the decision should be stated and the next steps and person responsible should be identified.

  • Comment on (or have the group comment on) how the discussion went

- How do participants feel about their own participation? - What was good about the discussion and what could have been better?

- Did people feel free to express their opinions?

- Do they have suggestions for better facilitation?

- Did people feel free to express their opinions?

  • If appropriate, help the group decide what the next steps should be if any. Decide if people want to continue the discussion at a later time. Determine a starting point for the next discussion. Decide if people who did not attend the first discussion should attend the second.
  • Emphasize the commitment to confidentiality and sensitivity to the comments shared by members of the group.
  • Indicate that you (and other residence staff members) will also be available to discuss related issues at another time, especially if this discussion has brought up difficult or painful experiences.
  • Thank everyone for the discussion...for their honest participation, etc.

Post Discussion Review

After the discussion is over, take a few minutes (with your co-facilitator) to reflect on the content and process of the discussion; a few written notes for future reference might be helpful. Consider:

  • How well did the group stay focused on the topic? What contributed to this?
  • How did the structure and timing contribute to the discussion? What changes, if any, would you make?
  • How involved were individuals in the discussion? Were there any individuals noticeably silent, angry or upset? Usually, it is best to avoid questioning or confronting the behavior afterwards, but it may be important to keep your eye on the individual. Sometime the behavior you observed in the discussion might indicate serious personal difficulties. If in doubt what to do consult with your RF or RD.

Seek feedback from others (other staff members present or participants). You will learn much from seeking feedback from others, especially from your co-facilitator or other staff members. Ask what you did that went well (what you did to keep the discussion moving, motivate others to take risks and set the appropriate tone., etc.) and what improvements they would recommend.

 

Healthy Communications in a Young School

Conversation Guidelines

These are the guidelines one school works with to create healthy conversations. When things are not going well, emotions are high, and so on, it is likely that one or more of the fol- lowing is not occurring.

1. Speak from your experience only, therefore the “I.” Be clear whether you are speaking about actual occurrences or things you have made up, conjectured or projected.

2. Connect your comment with those of the previous speakers, thereby building a cohesive conversation.

3. Paraphrase the previous speaker’s comments, if there is unclarity or when the con- nection is not obvious.

4. Address your comment to a specific person in the circle.

5. Leave pauses between comments.

6. Make one point only, thereby allowing others to contribute to the conversation.

7. It is the aim for all people in the circle to contribute to the conversation.

My commitment to the group:

• I will speak to what is important to me (thoughts, feelings, observations) in a timely manner and in a non-accusatory or non-judgmental way.

• I will be direct and specific in all my communications by using recent examples based on my experience.

• I will speak from my experience only, (not from hearsay or interpretation) and therefore speak from the “I.”

• I will paraphrase the main point of the previous speaker, especially when there is emotional content, or when I seek further clarity, or when I intend to change the subject.

• I will not interrupt when others speak.

• I will only ask questions for clarification or when I need more information.

• I will use appropriate self-disclosure to share my feelings and thoughts.

• Whenever possible, I will disclose the assumptions and motivations that underlie my ideas, comments, and actions.

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• I will actively and in a timely manner solicit feedback from others on my behavior, comments and ideas.

• I will only provide feedback after given permission from the intended recipient.

• I will honor each member of the group, and leave that person free to accept or reject any or all aspects of the feedback.

• I will honor confidential information.

• I will be punctual and honor the meeting times.

Conceptual Guidelines on Healthy Written Communication

• All communication (facsimile, telephone, written, e-mail and oral)
shall be direct, factual and honest, timely, helpful and kind. It is
the responsibility of both parties to insist that the information pass these simple guidelines. It is also the responsibility of both parties to keep the content clear of the third person, i.e., he said, she said.

• If someone has a complaint with someone and does not get satisfaction from an interaction directly with that person, he is encouraged to get mediation help from the office or another party. If that does not satisfy both parties, there are three people to call: College Chair, Faculty Chair and Board President.

• Communication coming to the office will be given directly and only to the one to whom it was intended.

• Information with third party concerns shall not be disseminated from the office. There will be no memo gossip.

These helpful guidelines are from the Young Schools Guide by AWSNA which can be found in the Resource Section of the LeadTogether site and at the Online Waldorf Library.

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Healthy Conversation, Communication and Agreements

We just finished our second week of school. It is a mystery that even if everything is the same as the year before, the new year unfolds differently, usually in unexpected ways. It is an equal mystery that when one new person enters the organization or school, the whole school is changed. We all know this if we have children. When a child enters our life, our life is changed. It is not a matter of fitting the child in to our existing life, or the new person into the community or organization but of accommodating the way that our life has changed as a result of the presence of a child or new person in it.

During the first week of school it was clear how much joy people experienced in reconnecting with each other. There was also a palpable sense of anticipation around what was going to be new and unique to the coming year.

The presence of newness requires us to change, to be more conscious and to take renewed interest in the ways we interact in the community. A new year, or a new beginning is an opportunity to be present and to take a renewed interest in those around us, to further develop our skills at dialog and communication and to renew our agreements.

This month’s newsletter focuses on these three essential aspects of the social life in an organization: practicing healthy communication, forming and following agreements and meeting one another with interest.

The Art of Community Building by Marjorie Spock was written in 1983 as a guide to conversation and community building. Marjorie Spock was a eurythmist, Waldorf teacher, biodynamic farmer, writer and environmentalist who was a devoted student of Rudolf Steiner’s social ideas.

Personal Readiness for Communication, from Building Regenerative Communities, by Mary Christenson and Marianne Fieber is a checklist that provides a tool to assess one’s listening and communication skills in our preparation to be more effective in our group or organization.

 The Art of the Perfect Apology is taken from the website and is a wonderful exploration of the role and practice of the apology in work, organization and professional settings. It provides a simple guide to a somewhat overlooked aspect of our work together. It goes along closely with the four basics of social grace: assume positive intent, ask questions before forming judgments, apologize honestly when you make a mistake and forgive others when they do.

The Art of Feedback is a short description by the Center for Creative Leadership of an approach to giving healthy, meaningful, supportive, judgment free feedback that leaves you and the one you are giving feedback to free and safe. It is a simple and widely used approach that is effective and that builds strength is everyone involved.

 -Michael Soule

Group Moral Artistry, The Art of Goethean Conversation

Group Moral Artistry II
THE ART OF GOETHEAN CONVERSATION
by Marjorie Spock

PART 1

Conversing, as Goethe conceived it, is the art of arts. The very place in his works where the subject finds mention lets us glimpse its singular rank in his esteem. This is in a key scene of his fairy tale, The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily. There, the four kings enthroned in the subterranean mystery temple are roused to the dawning of a new Age of Man when the serpent, made luminous by the gold she had swallowed, penetrates with her light into their dark sanctuary, and the following dialogue takes place:

“Whence came you hither?” asked the golden king.

“Out of the clefts where gold dwells,” replied the serpent.

“What is more glorious than gold?”

“Light!”

“What is more quickening than Light?”

“Conversation!”

Unless one understands what Goethe meant one can feel disappointed at the serpent's answer, which scarcely seems the revelation one expected. For is conversation as we know it in the Twentieth Century really more glorious than gold, more quickening than light? Hardly! We attach the term to every casual exchange, to the most idle, inconsequential chit-chat. Surely, we feel, the term must have come down in the world since Goethe's day, suffering severest diminution in its slide.

That this is indeed the case becomes apparent when we recall the salons of earlier centuries where great minds came together for significant talk. These occasions were of a wholly different order from our social happenings. They were disciplined, where ours are chaotic, built around a common purpose, mutually enriching rather than depleting. It is impossible to picture the participants in a salon all talking at once, babbling away on as many subjects as there were pairs of conversationalists present. No! The star of a theme hung over the assemblage as over a pool studded with crystals, and the responsively scintillating crystal intellects took turns voicing the reflections awakened in them.

But Goethean conversations differ at least as much again from those of the salon as did the salon from today's cocktail party. Their purpose is to call forth a fullness of spiritual life, not to stage displays of intellectual fireworks. They have nothing in common with the salon's formal play of light-points sparkling in cold starlit glitter. Instead, they strive to enter the sun-warm realm of living thoughts where a thinker uses all himself as a tool of knowledge, where – in the manner of his thinking – he takes part as a creative spirit in the ongoing creative process of the cosmos.

But this is to say that a true Goethean conversation takes place across the threshold, in the etheric world, where thoughts are intuitions (cf. Rudolf Steiner's Philosophy of Freedom), -- that it breaks through into the realm of First Causes.

Lesser types of interchange never do this; they remain mere mentalizing, speculation, argument, a recounting of experience, an offering of opinion, a reporting. At their best they are nothing more than disciplined discussion, at their worst a mindless associative rambling.

While most of these lesser forms of exchange can be made to serve useful purposes, the fact that they remain on this side of the threshold condemns them to spiritual barrenness; they leave earth and those who take part in them unfulfilled. They cannot overcome the isolation with which every man born since Adam feels afflicted.

But true conversations have that power. As the participants strive to enter the world of living thought together, each attunes his intuitive perception to the theme. And he does so in the special atmosphere engendered by approaching the threshold of the spiritual world: a mood of supernaturally attentive listening, of the most receptive openness to the life of thought into which he and his companions are now entering. In such an attitude the consciousness of all who share it shapes itself into a single chalice to contain that life. And partaking of that divine nutriment they partake also of communion, of fellowship; they live the Grail experience of modern man.

PART II

We have found Goethe depicting conversation as the art of arts. If it is indeed such, and we aspire to it, what does its practice require of us? Surely no amount of inspired groping will suffice; techniques of a very special order must be cultivated.

Perhaps the first pre-requisite is to be aware that the spiritual world beyond the threshold wishes every bit as keenly to be known to us as we wish to know it. It does not have to be taken by assault; it comes gladly to meet us, much as a wise and loving teacher responds to the warmth of a student's interest. And no one genuinely eager to approach such a teacher with the proper reverence fails to elicit his responses. The spiritual world is no less eager to meet our interest. We recall Christ’s assurance of this: “Seek, and ye shall find. Knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”

The seeker's attitude thus proves a magically evoking wand that, like the rod of Moses, unlocks a flow of spiritual life. One must know this to be a fact, both in one's own and others' cases. Then the group’s consciousness becomes indeed a common vessel in which to receive such illumination as the world beyond the threshold may, on each given occasion, find it suitable to offer.

But one cannot step with a single stride from ordinary thought and chatter into Goethean conversation. The latter requires the most loving preparation. Thoughts must first be conceived like children, and then brooded out in the spirits of the thinkers. To this end the theme of a meeting is set in advance. Each member of the group lives with it as a developing concern in his meditation. As the day of foregathering draws near he begins to anticipate coming together as a festival of light which, if he and his fellows have done their work well, will lead to their illumination by the spiritual world.

What, specifically, is meant by work here? Certainly not the production of any finished concepts, the amassing of quotes from authoritative sources, the getting up of a resume of reading done. Thinking and study engaged in prior to a meeting rather serve the purpose of rousing the soul to maximum activity so that it may come into the presence of the spirit all perception. Work of this sort is a warming up, a brightening of consciousness to render the soul a dwelling place hospitable to insight. One must be willing to sacrifice previous thinking, as one does in the second stage of meditation, in order to clear the scene for fresh illumination.

The principle here is the same as that advanced by Rudolf Steiner when he advised teachers to prepare their lessons painstakingly and then be ready to sacrifice the prepared plan at the dictate of circumstances which may point to an entirely fresh approach to their material If one is well prepared, he said, one will find the inspiration needed. Indeed, the principle is common to all esoteric striving. Invite the spirit by becoming spiritually active, and then hold yourself open to its visitation.

Those who come to the meeting place thus prepared will not bring the street in with them in the form of all sorts of distracting chatter. One does not, after all, approach the threshold in an ordinary mood; and where an approach is prepared, the scene in which the encounter takes place becomes a mystery temple setting. What is spoken there should harmonize with a temple atmosphere. Conventional courtesies to the person in the next chair, comments on the weather, the transacting of a bit of business, are all completely out of tune and keeping.

To abstain from chatter means learning to live without any sense of discomfort in poised quiet. But then, a very special regard for and tolerance of silence is a sine qua non of esoteric life, under which heading conversations too belong. This means an about-face from accustomed ways. In ordinary social intercourse words must flow, or there is no proof of relating; silences signal breakdowns in communication. But as one grows in awareness of the threshold, words for words' sake come to seem disturbers of the peace. Unnecessary utterance intrudes upon and destroys the concentrated inner quiet that serves as a matrix for the unfolding life of intuition.

Conversations, then, rest as much on being able to preserve silence as on speaking. And when it comes to the latter, one can find no better guide to the ideal than is offered in another piece of Goethean insight. The poet saw necessity as art's criterion (“Here is necessity; here is art.”). And one can sharpen one's sense of the necessary to the point where a conversation develops like a living organism, every part essential and in balance, each contributor taking pains to lift and hold himself above the level of unshaped outpourings. To achieve true conversations one must, in short, build with the material of intuition. And to reach this height everything of a personal, sentient nature must be sacrificed. Only then can a conversation find its way to necessity.

When it does so, it becomes a conversation with the spiritual world as well as with one's fellow earthlings.

PART III

Though groups vary greatly, a good deal of practice is usually needed to grow into a capacity for Goethean converse. Most individuals today are so habituated to discussion that they can hardly conceive higher levels of exchange. We are conditioned to earth; the etheric realm has become a stranger to us.

Several means exist to school oneself in etheric thinking. A prime one is, of course, meditation as Anthroposophy teaches it. Another is an ever repeated study of Rudolf Steiner's Philosophy of Freedom, carried on with special attention to the way this book, which starts out on the customary ground of philosophic-intellectual argument, suddenly deserts it to lift, winged, into realms where every thought quickens and is free creative deed. Simply to follow that metamorphosis is to receive an infusion of etheric forces whereby one's own thinking is enlivened and one's mind tuned to intuitive perception.

A like transformation is brought about by steeping oneself in fairy tales and great poetry. For rhythms and images teem with spiritual life, and as one absorbs them one can feel one's own life being magically quickened.

It is wholly contrary to a truly modern community building concept to lean on leaders in a conversation. Rather does the creation of a Grail Cup consciousness require an intact circle of fully active, responsible individuals whose only leader is the spiritual world. If, before coming together, every such individual brings the theme of the meeting alive in himself and then, having arrived there, suppresses the thoughts he has had, while offering the life they have engendered to the spirit, the spirit will not fail to bestow fresh insight on a gathering prepared to receive it. This can be experienced again and again. One has only to be active and keep the way clear, knowing that “where two or more are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of you.”

The hope of that Presence can be strengthened by learning to listen to one's fellowmen in exactly the way one would listen to the spiritual world: evocatively, with reverence, refraining from any trace of reaction, making one's own soul a seedbed for others' germinal ideas.

This is not to imply that the listener surrenders the least measure of discrimination. He weighs what he hears. But he does so in a novel manner by cleansing himself of sympathy and antipathy in order to serve as an objective sounding board against which the words of the speaker ring true or false.

Thus the speaker is brought to hear himself and weigh his own utterances. Correction – in the sense of an awakening – is there without others sitting in judgment on him.

Nor is this all. Listening evocatively is a sun like deed. It rays the warmth and light of interest into the thought-life quickening in the circle and encourages it to a veritable burgeoning.

A question often asked by those who become interested in exploring conversations is: How does one go about choosing themes?

Certainly not in the usual arbitrary manner. One cannot, as perhaps happened in the salon, seek out the intellectually most appealing theme, nor, like today's discussion group, run one's finger down a list of Timely Topics trying to light on the timeliest. Instead, burning questions that have been harbored in the souls of the participants will seek the light, -- questions that have sprung from a heart's concern with matters of the spirit and are therefore already full of life, and fire and rooted in something deeper than the intellect. Of their own vitality these will burst out to claim the attention of the meeting.

Often a theme teems with such fullness of life that it goes through a long series of metamorphoses requiring many meetings for its exploration. Themes of this kind are especially valuable, for they tend to become lifelong spiritual concerns of all the members, and it is easy to see how indissolubly conversations about such matters link the participants in the conversation.

PART IV

For a conversation to become a work of art, its life must be given form within a framework. Otherwise it would straggle on amorphously.

The framework that keeps conversations shaped is built in part of temporal elements, in part of a very simple ritual. Thus it will be found desirable to fix the exact time of both beginning and ending meetings, and to keep punctually to it, while everyone who intends to be present understands that he should arrive well beforehand to prepare himself to help launch the evening's activity in a gathered mood. These are invariable rules of esoteric practice. The ritual consists of rising and speaking together a line or more chosen for its spiritually-orienting content, -- for example “Ex deo nascimur (Of God we are born);” “In Christo morimur (In Christ we die);” “Per spiritum sanctum reviviscimus (Through the Holy Spirit we shall live again).” The same or another meditation may be spoken to end the meeting, again exactly at a pre-determined hour.

It may be feared that rigid time-limits inhibit the free unfolding of a conversation. This fear proves ungrounded. A painter's inspiration is not limited by the size of his canvas. Rather do limits serve in every art form as awakeners, sharpening awareness of what can be accomplished, and composition always adapts itself intuitively to the given space.

To make a composition all of one piece as it must be if it is to rank as art, the conversing circle needs to take unusual measures to preserve unity. Here again, there is a vast difference between a discussion and a conversation. In the former, few feel the least compunction about engaging in asides. Disruptive and rude though these are, and betraying conceit in their implication that what one is muttering to one's neighbor is of course of far more interest than what the man who has the floor is saying, they are not as final a disaster as when they take place in a conversation. For discussions base themselves on intellect, and intellectual thinking tends naturally to separateness. But conversations are of an order of thought in which illumined hearts serve as the organs of intelligence, and the tendency of hearts is to union. The conversation group must make itself a magic circle; the least break in its Grail-Cup wholeness would let precious light-substance generated by the meeting drain away. Sensitive participants will feel asides and interruptions to be nothing less than a cutting off of the meeting from the spiritual world.

Many individuals feel that no conversation could ever match the inspiration of a top-flight lecture. Hence, they tend to think conversing is a waste of time much better spent reading lectures or listening to them.

No doubt lectures do serve important functions. Painstakingly prepared, they convey concentrations of spiritual substance to listeners, who sit down as it were to a meal someone else has placed before them. But to continue the analogy, dyed-in-the-wool lecture-goers do all their eating at restaurants, never learning the lovely art of home-making.

There is something woefully one-sided in such a way of life. Not only does it avoid responsibility and neglect opportunities for creative growth: it means remaining childishly dependent in the most important phase of human evolution, when one should be progressing from having truth revealed to discovering truth by one's own activity.

Rudolf Steiner was no friend of dependency in any form. He seldom told people the solution to a problem, and the only when exceptional pressures of time required it. Rather did he show the way to solving problems for oneself. And that is what the times demand of us: that we become spiritually self-active, learning to draw sustenance from the spiritual world for earth's renewal.

Goethean conversations will be found an ideal schooling for this task of foremost importance.

Feedback that Works

A Feedback Model that Works
Knowing how to create and deliver effective feedback is a key leadership skill. Effective feedback motivates the receiver to begin, continue or stop behaviors that affect performance. In addition to accomplishing its direct purpose, an effective feedback message is a self-development tool for the receiver, and it often has benefits for other members of the team.
Not knowing how to give feedback can result in messages that are hurtful, confusing, and counter-productive. Many feedback messages leave the receiver unsure of what to do with the information. "You are good as a leader" or "you could be more strategic" gives the receiver an idea of how he or she is seen by the sender, but such a message doesn't tell the receiver what behavior to repeat if he wants to continue being a good leader or what to do or what action to avoid in order to be more strategic.
• Effective feedback is based on observed behavior and tells the receiver the impact of a specific behavior on you.
• Ineffective feedback often is vague, indirect, and exaggerated with generalities. Ineffective feedback often judges the person rather than his or her actions.
A valuable resource to illustrate this skill and provide a three-step technique is the guidebook Feedback That Works: How to Build and Deliver Your Message by Sloan Weitzel (available for purchase from the Center for Creative Leadership online at www.ccl.org.
Weitzel's feedback technique is called SBI (shorthand for Situation-Behavior-Impact). Following these steps can help the receiver more easily see what actions he or she can take to continue or improve performance or to change behavior that is ineffective or even an obstacle to performance. An effective feedback message tells the receiver the impact of a specific behavior on the sender. Here is an example of how to use the three-step model:
Step 1: Capture the Situation
("Yesterday morning in staff meeting,...")
Step 2: Describe the Behavior
("you had a number of side conversations and at times were joking during my presentation.")
Step 3: Deliver the Impact
("When you were talking to others while I was speaking, it was very disruptive to what I was trying to accomplish. I felt frustrated and annoyed by it.")
The recipient of well-intended and well-delivered feedback receives a two-fold gift. First, there is the almost immediate benefit of hearing what others think. Second, there is the afterlife of feedback. We often replay in our mind what we've heard, review written feedback privately at a later date, and check out perceptions with family and others we trust. Often we'll make some changes immediately and then make more significant changes with deeper reflection and consideration.
Constructive feedback is a most valuable tool — useful to repair a poor working relationship, improve a team's productivity, help a co-worker be more successful in his or her career, and demonstrate your own growing abilities as an effective leader. Yet, it is a skill many managers regard as underdeveloped. A recent CCL survey of managers showed that only 5 percent reported they were very effective in providing feedback; and 98 percent said they considered strong skills in providing feedback important or very important. More than half said they had the most difficulty giving feedback to bosses. Nearly 30 percent indicated that they find it most difficult to give feedback to peers.
Ask yourself if you consider yourself very effective in providing feedback. Next, consider if strong skills in providing feedback are important or very important to you. If you fall in the majority of managers who view effective feedback as important and regard their own skill level as needing improvement, put a higher priority on developing this essential leadership skill.
Working Dynamics™
Providing coaching, support and assessment tools related to conflict for leaders
http://www.workdyn.com/index.html

Speaking, Listening and Understanding by Heinz Zimmerman

A review and introduction to the book

All human activity, whatever the size of the community-whether in business, the family, schools, or politics-is group activity. Such group activity depends upon the ability of human beings to work together consciously in language. Speaking, Listening, Understanding is a book about group conversations, especially those intended to arrive at decisions and/or insights. Various types of conversations are described. In the process, we learn how individual participants, context, and mood can affect the overall process, Exercises, both group and individual, are provided for different kinds of conversations. Rather than the dynamics of group psychology, however, the author starts from the artistic aspects of conversation: namely, language and consciousness. Using examples and anecdotes drawn from many years of work with groups, Zimmermann shows in a straightforward way what can go wrong and why. Then, through a step-by-step articulation of the processes involved in conversation-speaking, listening, and understanding-he shows what kinds of awareness an practices can strengthen the group processes that facilitate creative conversation. This is a valuable resource for any group or community, and it is directed especially toward Waldorf school communities.

Here is a chapter from the book exploring the stages of conversation

Stages of Conversation Speaking, Listening Understanding, Zimmerman CH 4

New Meeting Forms: LeadTogether Highlight #3 9-1-2014

Dear Colleagues,

In our latest newsletter we explore ways to plan and prepare for meetings. But are there different ways to meet that facilitate maximum involvement and exchange of ideas? World Café and Open Space are two relatively new ways of meeting that can do this . Here is a description of both of the meeting formats and some tips on how to make them a successful part of your organization meeting life. These and other ideas about successful meetings found in our resource library are from a new booklet, Building Regenerative Communities, compiled by Mary Christenson and Marianne Fieber. This helpful new booklet is available free in our resource section, thanks to the authors and the Mid States Shared Gifting Group. (click here for the article)

Keep in touch.

Michael Soule

LeadTogether

New Meeting Forms: Open Space and World Cafe

Excerpt from Building Regenerative Communities: Open Space and World Café. (download the whole booklet here)

Open Space This is an open form of meeting where passion and responsibility are combined to empower participants by allowing agenda topics to arise from the group. A facilitator is only visible when the meeting needs re-opening. There are a series of laws or principles to consider with an “open space” meeting. Two of these are:  The law of two feet: If you find yourself in a situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, move somewhere where you can. This is a law like the law of gravity. You can choose to notice it or not, but it's safer just to notice it.  The four principles: Whoever comes are the right people; whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened; when it starts is the right time; and when it’s over, it's over. These aren't prescriptive—they are the results of thousands of little experiments. The link below will take you to further explanations about Open Space. http://www.openspaceworld.org/cgi/wiki.cgi?OpenSpaceExplanations ~Marianne Fieber

The World Café Using seven design principles and a simple method, the World Café is a powerful social technology for engaging people in conversations that matter, offering an effective antidote to the fast-paced fragmentation and lack of connection in today's world. This approach to conversation creates several smaller, intimate groups within a larger group to discuss one question, thereby giving more people an opportunity to dialogue. Based on the understanding that conversation is the core process that drives personal, business, and organizational life, the World Café is more than a method, process or technique. It's a way of thinking and being together sourced in a philosophy of conversational leadership. http://www.theworldcafe.com/tools.html