Leadership is for Introverts, Too

Hesitant to attend an activist organizing workshop, I left with confidence we should all learn facilitation skills

In consensus group meetings and decision making (see On Conflict and Consensus) one of the number one rules is making sure all voices feel heard. It helps to rotate the facilitation role so that all parties in the audience know what goes into it, and so that facilitation cannot be held exclusively by dominating personalities.

Maximizing participation is a key goal for facilitators- making sure everyone stays engaged and feels heard. One way to do this is by creating a safe space (a place where people feel free to be themselves and not be attacked). A good facilitator can help to set up a safe space by clearly stating the values of the group at the beginning of each meeting. When heated debates come up, the facilitator can again step in and remind the group of their shared goals (i.e. respect, understanding).

If you have a large group, creating space for smaller group discussions provides a space for people to feel heard in an efficient way, without needing to give everyone in a packed room a microphone. Forming committees to tackle issues that are taking up longer than desired is also a tactic that the facilitator can offer in the moment. Another tool the facilitator can use is the weighted stack or progressive stack- to help allow for equal representation of voices. If the facilitator is to use this tool, they should make this transparent to the group.

The point of the facilitator is not to be a dictator and decide things, but to be able to step in and offer neutral suggestions to the group so it can progress in a productive manner. Roles of a facilitator include creating a positive environment for group dialogue, and making sure all people feel heard. This includes encouraging quiet people to speak up, and louder people to hold back a bit. A good facilitator will be monitoring the group for body language, and taking note of reactions to help steer the group in a productive direction, while also asking for help if they are unsure how to proceed as a facilitator. At the end of the meeting, the facilitator should ask for feedback about the meeting from the group, and continue to learn for future facilitation experiences.

The workshop I went to recommended reading the Five Fold Path by an activist named Starhawk, which can be found here. The Five Fold Path goes into more details about productive facilitation of meetings for those who want to continue exploring the role and expanding their knowledge on it for future use.

Special thanks to Syracuse CNY Solidarity Coalition for the facilitation workshop!

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