What do you do, as facilitator, when you are ‘clearly confused’ (and expected to be the one adding clarity ðŸ˜œ)?

So there you go: apparently facilitators cannot be confused… ?? That’s what my compadriña Nadia von Holzen found out when we were brainstorming to design a session about being confused as facilitators…

Confused? (photo credit: Matthew Kang / FlickR)

Of course our experience tells us otherwise. We are confused, we have been confused… When I had to think about when I get or got confused while facilitating, a few moments came to mind:

  • When I had to work with clients that were both really ambitious about how far they wanted to get, and quite demanding in this respect, but had no clue whatsoever how to get there. I found myself having to negotiate what that path looked like as we went along and it was stressful to feel that the whole group seemed to be my sole responsibility…
  • When I found myself facilitating workshops on a topic that I really knew nothing about and I occasionally realised that everyone understood the conversation around me but I – and seemingly only I – didn’t. It was both liberating and extremely confusing to have no grip on the conversation, having to lean in on the group to actually facilitate their facilitator ha ha ha. But that was mostly fun!
  • When in process design conversations, teasing out what the group is trying to achieve, and I got regularly confused as to what exactly was at stake because that ‘why are we gathering’ wasn’t really clear and was being cleared out as we went along…
  • And then my “imposter moment” of finding out that I need to really think on my feet and quickly come up with a better plan and I feel like I’ll run short of options (when in practice it’s not really the case)…

I find that on those moments, I tend to be a bit stunned, possibly nervous or stressed because I don’t know what comes next and I feel the sense of responsibility for the experience that everyone’s going through and for the personal time they put into this.

Then my brain kicks in quite quickly and starts rationalising what’s going on so I find some grounding. So perhaps not as much letting go as I’d like to…

But then perhaps it’s also because I don’t hold a lot of things as very firm either, and so at a micro-scale, confusion, doubt, curiosity, open-ness is there at every corner. I can go with the flow. I just sense that if in case I wanted that, I might not be the best one to conjure up a very powerful counter-flow… Going with the flow suits me better in that sense too…

Confusion might be a dance – where do you begin it, where do I end it? (photo credit: Tall Chris / FlickR)

In any case, on those moments when I experienced confusion as a facilitator, my reptilian brain kicked in. As I was so much in the moment and dealing with the ‘crisis’ at hand, I was oblivious to what was going on at the meta level of what I was doing. It’s when you realise that facilitating means often operating from that meta level, so much so that living experiences firsthand does not always come so naturally.

On those moments, it would have helped to be more aware of how I was reacting, to find some support in my friends and other contributors, to realise there were quite a few options to deal with that confusion. But hey, we learn one thing at a time…

So anyway, how do we deal with confusion as facilitators?

  • Do we know what it looks like, feels like, taste like?
  • Do we even realise what confusion really means or represents to us?
  • Do we know what elements rattle us most and cause us to get confused?
  • When it happens, do we fight, freeze or flee?
  • How do we connect with the acticipants (all the people around us in that gathering) on those moments? Do we bring them along in our confusion, do we seek advice, do we let them know how we feel?
  • How does the confusion dance unfold?
  • How do we process confusion afterwards? How do we deal with the traces it might leave behind?
  • Do we try to anticipate confusion, cope with it as it comes, accept it or even embrace it – much like the ‘groan zone’ that means we are onto something alive and full of energy?

Together with Nadia we will be unravelling all these questions and more in a forthcoming session at the Testival organised by the Never Done Before community on 23-24 June. Hopefully we can then understand better what it means for us, we can get to remember and even inhabit our confusion so we can recognise its symptoms, we can laugh it off also, and hear other stories of confusion and how our peers have dealt with it, to find out what shades of response might suit us best, going forward. We can tap into the wisdom of the group and the generous care of its individuals to help us inhabit the most confusiastic version of ourselves.

Just speaking about it I look forward to it already!!!

And I think you might too…