Out there, there are shiploads of ideas, opinions and practices about being Emotionally Intelligent at everything. Here’s hoping that what I say stands out and answers the needs of trainers and learning facilitators like myself.
Scores of times, I have seen trainers and speakers turn red in embarrassment or anger when faced with tricky interactions during training or facilitating a class. My most painful memory was that of sitting in the back of class where a young lady trainer, with deep knowledge about the subject matter and great presentation skills was head-locked into a semantic argument with an elderly gentleman over the English language.
The young lady was my friend and protégé. During her anguish her eyes connected with mine looking for compassion, strength and support. For a minute I was tempted to respond to the appeal for help in her eyes but I stood my ground. Seeing her anxious my heart was pounding but I had faith in her good intentions and her abilities. Soon, she was able to pacify the man and continue creating value for the rest of the class.
We never spoke about the incident but every time we meet the story resurfaces in our eyes.
Now for myself and for scores of trainer-speaker, facilitators like me here are a few ideas and insights on how to be emotionally intelligent about facilitating high-intensity, purpose-driven conversations.
Know Yourself Well
Oh, you’ve heard this a thousand times! It’s also the very first paragraph in my first book, the HeART of Public Speaking. Plato, Shakespeare and even Johnny Carson might have said it many more creative ways.
Know what you value. Know what is important to you. Know what your task objectives are. Know your audience-learner needs are. Know your subject and strategies to facilitate.Yet, be open and flexible. A learning interaction or facilitating group think is a co-creation and a co-production. The bottom line is that the Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal (BHAG) of the interaction must be easily and harmoniously met. All players must walk away happy, healthy after digesting a hearty feast of new principles and practices.
Assess Others, Not Judge Them
Never address them as “the trouble-making elderly gentleman,” as I have done above. Stephen Covey said it rightly, “seek to understand, before beating them down to prove yourself right!” Well, that’s not exactly what he said but it just sounds so much better this way.
Assess them. That is after you observe, listen, observe, feel then you must ask and explore them with caution and care to understand. Being emotionally intelligent is being able to see their world from their viewpoint and then, if necessary, with compassion show them a different view. If you get hard about your opinion of them then you will not be able to help, teach, train, lead or let them evolve.
Manage Your State and Stress Levels Smartly
Working a room drains the brain like very few other activities. Talking, teasing and then training a large group is like doing a triathlon, Zumba and meditation at the same time. It is very fulfilling and, yet, very exhausting. For decades now, and I can’t change this, after every focused group discussion, every workshop and every speaking engagement I need to rest and recover. The ratio of work to rest is usually 1:1.
So while in a learning session know that your state needs to cool, calm and collected. You need to manage and be selective about what your brain processes throughout the day. Tiny hindrances like an “elderly man not agreeing with you,” needs to be gotten over and trashed from your mind right away.
Your breathing, your heart rate and your body temperature always reflect how much stress you are building up. If you feel your pulse picking up then it is time for 10-15 minute break and get back to optimum performance levels.
Just because you are center stage does not mean that the show has to be a one-woman show. The burden rests on you but you don’t have to carry it all and, especially not carry it while puffed with self-importance. There are millions of trainers, speakers and facilitators doing almost the very same thing that you might be doing then. You are not alone.
So, take it easy. Good facilitation skills are quite like good sportsmanship skills. Pass the ball! Make it a team thing to carry the ball, the burden or the BHAG, as we call it.
What you do and what you create is important but that must not stuff you with self-importance. So lower those mustaches and let down your long hair a bit. Have fun. Laugh. Laugh, mostly, at yourself and you will find that the learning audience will help you at fulfilling the meeting objectives and also laughing at yourself. That is the HeART of HUMOR in communications.
Morph your Thoughts Correctly and Creatively
Beyond managing your attitude and behavior there, usually, comes a time where you need to speak up. You will need to air your ideas opinions, either in alignment with what is on the table or against what is being offered.
It is time to choose your words well. It is time to dissect the objective from the personal and then state it in the best possible way.
So think through what you have to say not just once but, maybe twice or thrice. A wise old tailor that I grew up with used to say, “Son, measure twice and cut once!” I have never been more thankful to Dad for sewing that up in my neural pathways for life.
Say what you say to say in the shortest, sweetest and the simplest possible way and then let it play out as it will.
Say what you Must, Assertively
I was partly playing with you when I said that you don’t have to carry the ball all the way to the basket yourself. You may not carry the ball physically and, even, mentally but you must carry the ball and the whole team spiritually.
Thus, there will come times when if not an elderly gentleman but a wayward teeny-bopper, or a teeny-bopper minded person may constantly be disrupting the procedures. That is the time to flex your muscles and use the “I” word and the use “I think,” or “I feel,” and “I prefer” words. Yes, asserting yourself is about expressing what you think is right. It is in very rare cases, during facilitating, that you need stand on a firm, chosen ground.
When you assert yourself with firm words and preference, make sure to keep you voice warm and supportive. As a facilitator, small assertions can be made about achieving process objectives and playing by agreed rules of engagement. Warmth and compassion are, usually, about keeping the team together towards the bigger objectives.
Seek Acknowledgement of Understanding / Repeat Creatively
Oh, this doesn’t mean, “I hope you got it, nitwit!”
Instead, say, “I hope that answers your need.”
Say, “Those are my thoughts and I am open to hear yours.”
Say, “Is there any part that I need to elaborate?”
If such probing doesn’t get you what you want or doesn’t get you any confirmation, it is okay to repeat the point, differently, a few more times through the process.
The best way of course is to cite an example or tell a story. My bias is to tell a story. Read, the HeART of STORY.”
It is Okay to be Angry
Learning, training and facilitating a group discussion are all processes and processes fail or do not meet the mark. Sometimes, if our efforts or our participative work doesn’t meet the mark and if that annoys or upsets you, that is okay.
We are humans, flesh and blood, before we are teachers, trainers or facilitators. Acknowledging this fact and then recognizing what is irking is the first giant steps towards growing into being an emancipated facilitator.
Being angry and being stressed about the fact that we are angry is a double disaster. Acknowledge annoyance, locate cause, check your perspective, express your views and then change your view. “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change,” said the late Dr. Wayne Dyer.
Anger is okay. It means you are involved, you have a stake in the process and you care.
Learn to Let Go!
Okay, I am sure you’ve heard this one many times too. It’s been said by great personalities like Plato, Shakespeare and Elsa from the movie, Frozen. It is also the core idea in my book, the HeART of HUMOR.
Success at a project and failure of a process are both events. They are the two sides of a coin called life. The work we do is part abstract and part dynamic and there are no guarantees. “If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster” said Clint Eastwood once.
If your efforts at driving learning and creating value for others don’t succeed by your measures then recognize and appreciate the fact that you had good intentions, you made all the efforts, people turned up and probably took away something from the efforts made and from coming together as a group.
Most all the pioneers and leaders of the world go through multiple failures but they keep coming back, again and again. The world, the marketplace and the training room appreciate their dedication and perseverance towards creating value and, overtime, value does get created.
To Let Go is to recognize the power lies in churning up a storm, seeking synergies and being surprised with the results. Storming, forming, norming and acceptance are the essentials of life and learning.
Thus to be an emotionally intelligent facilitator-leader know yourself, appreciate others, acknowledge your feelings, express yourself, measure results objectively and learn to live with failure and celebrate all successes.
Oh, and yes, have fun! Read again!
On March my friends Elizabeth Hoban and Judith Claridades are running a seminar on Emotional Intelligence for Facilitators. They are both a lot of fun and will create a lot of value for the newbie and the experienced facilitator. Sign up here.