The Art of Shutting Up

Earlier in my life, I had the great fortune to work with a charismatic Colombian who was a master facilitator. Beyond the ability to conceive and lead creative activities for personal growth, he had that pied piper effect. Groups would follow him to the edge of chaos where they would hang on his every word of wisdom so as to not fall over. The metaphors they walked away with seemed divine and were adopted in practice for years. To this day, people still ask me if I know where he is or what he is doing. I often tell them that he is exploring far reaches of the globe just to sustain his mystique…for them and for me.

I once asked him about the charm he seemed to cast over people. What was it that had people flocking to him? His response has stayed with me some 20 years later.

I really don’t care if they like me.

Here is the beauty and wisdom in that simple response. He never saw the role of facilitator as being about him. Of course he cared if people liked him. But, he was there to offer an experience…to expose people to new ways to consider their everyday lives. If they had faith, they were rewarded. If they were resistant, it was their loss. Most people had faith.

Today, I firmly believe this is a fatal flaw among many facilitators. They simply don’t realize that the program is not about them. They get too attached to the “dynamic agenda” they have crafted and care more about seeing it come to life. They seek acknowledgement…being center stage for curing some organizational ill. 

I was reminded of this lesson a few weeks ago when called to facilitate a session in New York. Many hours were spent planning an agenda that I felt would lead to the authentic discourse that appeared to be necessary. A mere 30-minutes in and we all knew the agenda was wrong. The group didn’t need exercises to prompt dialogue. They didn’t need ice breakers to build rapport. They needed to be left alone. A few simple parameters and a periodic check-in for understanding enabled the conversation to progress forward. Basically, I needed to just shut up and get out of the way. 

I left wondering if anyone had found value in my presence. A sincere thank you came the next day via email. Sometimes, the best facilitation involves just being present and providing comfort that someone is watching if things go astray. It’s not about having to prove worth through repetitive summations that you hope make you look smart. Not caring if they like you (and, thus, will “buy” more of you) is sometimes the best for the group.

Chris @ sr4