How to gain confidence as a facilitator?

Learning the 1000 dances of facilitation is one thing. Tricks, tools, tried and true, yeah alright (<< blasé >>)!

But what happens then?

When you’re back from your facilitation training and you’re not sure how to apply what you’ve just learned?

When you are the only one that knows this new language, these concepts, approaches, tools etc.

When you’re up against a cynical crowd that doesn’t take a young, female, black facilitator (or any combination outside of the grey-haired white privileged man) seriously?

When you feel your reality is very far away from the unicorn universe of your facilitators’ bubble, full of happily hopping fluffy bunnies that experiment ad vitam eternam…

Indeed, where can you find the confidence to develop your plans A and B? (photo credit: Gerriet / FlickR)

Yeah, what then? What is some no-nonsense advice to build your confidence as an aspiring facilitator?

And before that: What happens when you lack self-confidence?

Well, you may fumble, flop, fail… that’s all part of the game, and that means that you’ve tried things out 🙂

What’s more problematic is when this lack of confidence means that others don’t take you seriously and don’t allow you to establish the most perfect setup for yourself to succeed. And if because of that you don’t stand for your principles, you let some foundations of your work go down the drain. The devil is in the detail and the colours and passion of your dance are revealed in these details that you bring to the mix. You need to keep these alive, and thus to be confident enough to stand your ground on what you know works and allows you to perform the best dance possible in service of another group.

Never let things slip away into someone else’s rabbit hole.

Of course, very often you need to compromise on your way of working with those of the client, but if you feel you’re no longer doing something you’re at least a little comfortable with, if it all feels like someone else’s dance, then you’ve lost that opportunity to make your colours come to life in service of others, and it’s time to change your game plan.

So what can we do to build that confidence?

We brushed on this important topic in a recent facilitation training course. And coming to think of it on the spot – I expect there will be more blogging matters emerging from this training by the way – it boils down to a few elements that almost mimic the project management cycle of Plan > Do > Observe > Analyse.

In this case it’s: Mindset > Practice > Individual and collective reflection > Mindset again.

Let’s dive into these options to build your confidence, which may happen at design (strategic facilitation) stage or at ‘tactical facilitation’ stage ie. in the room, whether real or virtual…

The mindset

Reflect on who you are, what you bring, what you believe your role is to be, what it entails and what not: The closer you are from your inner convictions, beliefs, values etc. the more confident you will be about your approach also

Embrace a ‘quick and dirty’ mindset: don’t strive for perfection, remember that it’s better to fail fast and to pick yourself up, and that perfection is usually unattainable. Instead, remember also that people see much less about the details than you yourself do (no reason to become complacent however). Agile is all about quick & dirty. Liberating Structures would suggest to “Fail forward”.

Confront your fears: What are the fears you have about yourself and about the situation in which you will land? Are your fears justified? Is there a chance that a ‘tiny demons‘ session might shake off your fears and help you see that you can tame them? Fear has as much hold on things as we give it. It may not be a luxury to focus on exorcising these fears first?

Start small: Develop your skillset in safe-fail environments. Try out your facilitative work with your immediate team, network etc. so you see what works and what not. They will be forgiving and you’ll get your work under your skin.

Bring ethics on your side: raise all the delicate questions about politics, participation, representation, diversity, power, decision-making, consequences, whose agenda, whose benefits, whose work etc. When you stand on the right and righteous side of things, very little stands across from you… But keep checking with others that you are not blind to certain issues (as Haemin Sumin would encourage us):

We must cultivate all three intelligences for our overall health: critical intelligence, emotional intelligence and spiritual intelligence. If one falls to the wayside, it slows the growth of the other two:

If you have developed critical intelligence but have neglected emotional intelligence, then you may not be sensitive to the suffering of others.

If you have developed emotional intelligence but have neglected spiritual intelligence, then you may lose hope after seeing the world’s suffering.

If you have developed spiritual intelligence but have neglected critical intelligence, then you may fall victim to the abuse of a cult.

Haemin Sunim

Jog through your plan mentally: Run things through your head, with some help (more about that below) and imagine how your game plan would feel like minute by minute for the people that are going to follow your inspiration – this will give you a reality check of how well-founded your hunch is.

Hypothesise: Always see your facilitation design as a set of assumptions, that you will be unravelling with the team that helps you organise the work – you will learn with them what works and what doesn’t, and this way, progressively you gain confidence in your toolbox, and more importantly, in your art of “supporting everyone to do their best thinking” (as my friends and mentors from Community At Work would say).

The practice

The most obvious answer to gaining confidence, really is: (mindful) practice, practice, practice. 10000 hours of practice (Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers‘ invitation).

Work with a team: This is anyway a great practice (and one of my ten commandments) to build confidence as a group and rely on each other’s complementary creativity, inspiration, energy etc.

In process design, keep being creative, adaptive, and twist things around. This experimentation is also at the source of embracing quick and dirty, failing fast. That creative practice and related mindset will bring you far in earning confidence because you no longer stick to the script but embed it in who you are. So go on, keep it playful. Keep bending new corners!

In the same vein, be the everyday facilitator, practice your facilitation skills and approaches etc. whenever and wherever you can, so you get them under your skin – another commandment of mine ha ha ha 😉 This means trying it out by yourself individually, with a teammate or partner, with your friends, with your family etc.

If the problem of confidence comes from hierarchy (perhaps another post about it later), give and take: give the people that want to see their chips honoured in an honorific position e.g. through a celebrity interview. There you attend to hierarchy and order and formality and convention. And at the same time, you also open the door to trying a bit more engagement etc. (because in this example, celebrity interview also requires engagement away from the formality of plenary sessions)…

My friend Nadia would add to that list: “do some improv theatre” as a great way to build your confidence…

The collective reflection

Keep learning and holding your assumptions in check – that’s the key to improving (and it’s also one of my facilitation commandments), so be humble, try and be a bit scientific about what went well and what not. That rigour in looking at your practice will also give you confidence.

Seek feedback from people you work with / for – find out what your blind spots are and what your unknown known strengths are…

Find a buddy or coach or mentor that can help you build your confidence, that is willing to support you, challenge you, relax you, encourage you, mirroring and explaining yourself to you, praise you etc. This is so so soooo valuable!!! We all rest on the shoulders of our respective giants. And if 15 years of knowledge management practice have taught me something, it is this: nothing beats apprenticeship and joint work to get better at what we do.

So let’s build that confidence then!

In my view, the question of confidence is 60% attitude and 40% practice (including reflection). But we have not much to lose in trying things out, so let’s keep building this. As I know – and here’s one more possible blog post for the future – the source of all ills in the world is lack of self-confidence, and it’s high time we shared our secrets to counter that and reveal our true selves!

What are your other secrets to build your confidence as a facilitator that designs and/or facilitates ‘in the moment’?

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