How to be a Reflective Facilitator: Three Tips for Success


A professional facilitator has many roles, but the core of facilitation is about helping people and groups think together so they can decide together. Engage Delaney is a group of certified professional facilitators (CPF) that takes our role as neutral facilitators very seriously. Part of being a facilitator is reflecting on your own strengths and weaknesses and what you bring personally and professionally to an engagement. Personal reflection is key to continuous improvement. Here are three common approaches we apply to our practice:

1) What’s your trigger?

We all have triggers. Those things, sayings, attitudes or actions that move us out of a place of conscious listening to a place of unconscious listening, or worse, defensive responses. For me personally, one of my triggers is when I feel that someone is so entrenched in their position that they are not listening. When you are aware of your triggers as a facilitator, you can actively work to mitigate them. So when someone is going on (and on) about their position, I actively engage my mitigation strategy, which is to say, I will listen and then pose the question: “That’s your position, but what’s the most important thing in what you’ve said?” … or we will simply move on.

2) What’s your bias?

Humans are, by their very nature, emotional beings and so complete neutrality is almost impossible to achieve. We carry our experiences, values, and cultural context with us, which frames how we see the world. Being a neutral facilitator means putting your interests and position aside and being driven at a values level instead. For example, when facilitating a community meeting, my position on whether the development proposal is good or bad is irrelevant; my interest in the public realm or public art is not important. The thing I need to bring as a facilitator is my value of fairness and the belief that everyone has a right to be heard in the process. Know your bias and put it in a box when you are acting as a facilitator.

3) Journaling the good and the bad.

Most facilitation projects work out very well, and for me this means the energy in the room is excellent and people are engaged and participating. Results are achieved and people are connected to each other, the project, and the space for that moment in time. It’s energizing for a facilitator, and the work and results flow. Of course, these kinds of facilitation projects don’t just happen; it’s a result of much planning. There are other facilitation projects (they are the minority) where the energy is flat, people seem distracted or unengaged and the results are less than inspired. In both cases, it’s important to make note of why something worked well and why something else didn’t. At D+A, we regularly debrief with our colleagues, we make notes about what worked and what didn’t, and we share these regularly so that we learn from each other, from participants, and through our own reflection.

Being a facilitator is not about being at the centre of the action. Rather, it’s about creating a physical, emotional and intellectual space where people can come together so they can think and decide together. It’s not about us, but instead the results that our neutral guidance can provide.