Removing barriers and addressing tough issues in a group

After last night’s class discussion on addressing the pink elephant in the room, I thought about any barriers I’d be willing to remove to address the tough issues. Generally, I feel like an open book – sometimes too open in a group setting. I have left many group discussions where I think I may have been too personal and revealed too much about myself. I’m quick to discuss my thoughts, feelings, opinions openly in a group setting, especially if it’s among people I know and trust. Even if it’s on a subject that I know may be sensitive or perceived as sensitive, I am still apt to bring up the issue because I know the negative impacts that can occur if one avoids conflict and difficult issues. I often find that it’s when dealing with “real” conflictual issues that meaningful conversation can come about. For example, when my in-laws come in from out of town, I am typically bored in a family setting talking about surface issues like the weather, who won last night’s basketball game, etc. I love family conversations when we’re talking about deeper issues. From a work perspective, I head a committee that selects advising award recipients. I have a member who often plays “devils advocate” and I openly applaud her for her questions. I like it when she disagrees with the rest of the group because it forces us thoroughly examine and provide reasoning behind our choices. Are there times when I sometimes wish she would stop talking for us to be able to move on? Absolutely. However, it’s this program that has helped me focus on the importance of group process and not let my own personal objectives get in the way.

From a facilitator perspective, I help students explore, learn, and meet certain performance objectives to get into the School of Business. I consider myself a facilitator because I’m a third party representative from outside the School of Business that helps prepare students for entering the school. I’m ultimately not the decision-maker and my students consider me someone who they can trust and depend on to help them achieve their goals. If things go wrong, though (which often happens), I hope I have created a safe environment for my students to be able address tough, uncomfortable issues. If you think about it – being a good facilitator is all about good relationship skills. If you’ve developed a healthy relationship with an individual or group, he or she is likely to feel comfortable saying more personal or challenging things in a meeting. At the same time though, I have to respect my students’ right to not engage in a risky conversation that involves their academic future. I try not to judge my students when they don’t come into to see me. I try to see any type of action or nonaction as an opportunity to better understand them while keeping my own emotions in check. It’s empathetic behavior that increases the likelihood that a risky or challenging conversation may happen in the future (The Skilled Facilitator Fieldbook, 2005, pg. 253).

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2 thoughts on “Removing barriers and addressing tough issues in a group

  1. Mary, you are obviously well “evolved” in the mutual learning/skilled facilitator models! Your comments on how you yourself are candid and honest bring me back to one of our earliest lessons in class about how assertiveness fosters assertiveness. By your being so open and candid with both your team and your advisees, I fully believe you are encouraging them to do the same. Keep up the great work!

  2. I definitely understand the boredom that can come with “small talk” kind of conversations. I wish I had your comfort level when it comes to feeling like an open book! While I enjoy having deeper conversations with family and friends that I trust, I find it much more difficult to have those conversations and express myself when around people that I don’t know very well. I think a lot of that is due to a lack of trust in those people. I don’t trust them not to judge or think poorly of me if we disagree. Intellectually I know that anyone who would think poorly of me for expressing my views is probably not someone I want to interact with in the long run. However, it often takes conscious thought on my part to not…seek approval, for lack of better phrasing. So, kudos to you for tackling tough issues!

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