The discipline and reward of giving space

I spent the past day and a half being an observer in a new leadership workshop we are starting to deliver around the world. Meaning I have to keep my thoughts to myself and listen furiously and observe intently with a view to give feedback to the central design team for tweaks that might be needed.

If you know me well, this is HUGELY difficult. As an extroverted facilitator who always has a point of view, thinks she totally knows what she is doing when it comes to facilitating workshops and who is passionate about leadership development, this was going to be a serious practice of holding back and giving space while suspending judgement. One of my best girl friends once told me a few years ago that I can be a bit of an opinionated facilitator when I get too comfortable in my area of expertise and that I might need to take a large dose of humility in order to be more effective in enabling others (Ouch! Talk about TOUGH love! We are still great friends by the way).

So in the spirit of growth mindset, I spent the whole of yesterday trying to keep my hand(s) down (think Hermione Granger from Harry Potter) and my mouth shut (which was helped somewhat by growing up in the Singapore school system where you don’t open your mouth until your teacher calls on you to speak when he/she acknowledges your enthusiastically waving arm).

While I managed to quieten my physical self, I found it much harder to quieten my mental self, suspend judgement and eliminate my personal facilitation biases and preferences in observing how the training was going. The day was draining and I was more task focused on the observer’s brief. I was quietly critical (probably a little passive-aggressive!) and less reflective. I did learnt a few new things but gained no insights nor deepened my self-awareness (my loss) and probably didn’t make a deep connection with the facilitator of the workshop (my opinionated facilitator self was probably leeching out). This did not sit well with me but I could not quite figure out why.

With the dawn of a new day, I got a second chance as the new day presented me with a reset opportunity. Really trying harder to suspend, my eyes were opened to what can be. I noticed how I was still wanting to jump into the discussion and push it one way or another in the way I would see the discussion topic. BUT NOW, with a self-controlled grace of letting that take a backseat, I was able to listen to what the participants were saying and how their discussion was evolving without input from me (and for that matter without much input from the facilitator). It was not my words that they used as a platform and I was okay with that. The participants got to where they needed on their own, without my framing and guidance (which would be my answer and not theirs anyway). And that is learning truly at its best.

So I am going to keep practicing this new muscle I have discovered – to keep quiet for a lot longer as a facilitator to allow the space for the participants to make their own discoveries and to be comfortable and respect their source of truth as a much more powerful driver of change than my source of truth would be for them.

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