The aim of facilitated discussions is to create participatory groups: one where the goal is cooperative rather than competitive decision-making. All members should have equal input in the process, and equal opportunity to voice opposition to an idea or conclusion. In this post, we will briefly discuss the key facilitation skills needed to build consensus.
Consensus is more likely to happen if members feel encouraged to contribute. The following are some of the ways a facilitator can encourage participation in small groups:
Provide preparation guidelines in the meeting agenda. Participants are more likely to contribute, if they feel confident that they have something to add to the discussion. It’s helpful then to send out a meeting invitation with guidelines what to review and study in preparation for the meeting. It is also better if you can also send out guide questions ahead of time.
Before starting a group meeting, check on everyone’s comfort level. Some people are at ease being in meetings; others have difficulty. There are also situational factors, such as an uncomfortable seat or a poorly ventilated room, which can hamper group participation. Inquiring if group members are comfortable before starting a meeting can help a facilitator establish rapport with the group, and address hindrances to group participation.
State at the start of the meeting that members’ participation is not just welcome, but is integral to the process. Sometimes, all it takes is for the facilitator to explicitly say that members are allowed and encouraged to participate for the discussion to be a lively one. These guidelines can be made part of the orientation process.
Acknowledge responses. Show that you have heard and understood a contribution. You can do this in non-verbal and verbal ways. Non-verbal ways include eye contact, nodding, and leaning forward towards the speaker. Verbal ways include praising (“I’m glad you brought that up.”, “That’s a good point.”), clarifying (If I may reiterate what you just said, you suggested that, is this correct?), and requesting for more information (“Tell us more.”, “Please go on.”).
Avoid discounting responses. Similar, make sure that you’re careful not to give a response that might be interpreted as devaluing a contribution, or even ignoring it. Examples of discounting responses are “That was said already.”, “That’s irrelevant.”, “That’s it?, Is there anything else?”
Solicit group members’ responses. You can encourage participation by directly asking everyone their opinion on a subject matter. Example: “Can I get everyone’s opinion about this proposal?” or “Let’s share all our ideas. We won’t react until we’ve heard them all.”
Build on responses. A good way to encourage participation is to integrate each member’s response with that of other members or with the whole group. Similarities and differences are surfaced, and the way each point relates to another is verbalized. This way, the discussion is moving and the individual contributions are seen as relevant to the whole.
This post is from November’s topic on “Facilitation Skills“, which is also a full course on our MBA Certificate program, available online from Harvard Square. To build a strong foundation in leadership and business administration, this 100% online 6-month program is scheduled to start on the 1st of every month.