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דף בית רשימת הזנות הפרשנות של לארד על קהילה וקונסנסוס

רשימת הזנות

Laird's Commentary on Community and Consensus
For 25+ years I’ve been a community networker & group process consultant. I believe that people today are starved for community—for a greater sense of belonging and connection—and I’ve dedicated my life to making available as widely as possible the tools and inspiration of cooperative living. I’m on the road half the time teaching groups consensus, meeting facilitation, and how to work with conflict. This blog is a collection of my observations and musings along the way.

  • Key Facilitative Skills: Semipermeable Membranes

    As a professional facilitator for more than three decades, I've had ample opportunity to observe which skills make the most difference. As a facilitation trainer the past 15 years, I've collected plenty of data about which lessons have been the most challenging for students to digest.

    Taken all together, I've decided to assemble a series of blog posts on the facilitation skills I consider to be both the hardest to master and the most potent for producing productive meetings. They will all bear the header Key Facilitation Skills and it's a distillation of where I believe the heavy lifting is done.

    Here are the headlines of what I'll cover in this series:

    I. Riding Two Horses: Content and Energy
    II. Working Constructively with Emotions 
    III. Managing the Obstreperous
    IV. Developing Range: Holding the Reins Only as Tightly as the Horses Require
    V. Semipermeable Membranes: Welcoming Passion While Limiting Aggression
    VI. Creating Durable Containers for Hard Conversations
    VII. Walking the Feedback Talk
    VIII. Sis Boom Bang
    IX. Projecting Curiosity in the Presence of Disagreement
    X. Distinguishing Weird (But Benign) from Seductive (Yet Dangerous)
    XI. Eliciting Proposals that Sing
    XII. Becoming Multi-tongued
    XIII. Not Leaving Product on the Table
    XIV. Sequencing Issues Productively
    XV. Trusting the Force 

    • • •
    Semipermeable Membranes: Welcoming Passion While Limiting Aggression 
    Because groups are composed of humans, there is always an emotional component present at meetings. It may not be ascendant at any given moment and may not need attention, but there will invariably be times when it will. Amazingly enough, most groups never talk about how they want those moments to go. They just hope to survive them.

    I think we can do better.

    How did we get in this mess? It's not hard to understand. Unless you purposefully stop and think about, meetings in cooperative groups are fairly likely to unconsciously mirror the meeting culture we all grew up with, which is that business will be wholly conducted in the rational realm. 

    While there is unquestionably a smattering of exceptions, the predominant way we run meetings in the US is to have everyone offer their best thinking—and if a response originates as a feeling, as a queasy stomach, or as a krick in the back of the neck, the person is expected to politely translate that into ideation before sharing with the group. In actuality, humans absorb information, process it, and "know" things in a complex variety of ways, only one of which is rational thought.

    Unstoppering the Emotional Bottle
    There is also emotional knowing, intuition, spiritual, and kinestethic. While it's rare that all of these are in play at the same time, why is it smart to force everything into a single language? I believe a better strategy is to widen the playing field and work in the original tongue. In this essay I want to focus on just one of these neglected languages: feelings.

    What if groups expressly welcomed members' emotional input? I believe this change has the potential to substantially alter meeting culture for the better. In groups that lack an agreement about handling strong feelings, the most common response is shut down. Work on issues tends to come to a screaming halt in the presence of screaming. For many of us, the emergence of strong feelings is accompanied by aggression and damage to relationship. As no one wants to be the target of someone else's scathing comments, there is often an overwhelming urge to put a lid on it before someone gets hurt. 

    While that urge is understandable, I don't think it's the best response. For one thing, it's unsatisfying. For another, it's expensive. You don't make progress on the topic (which is hostage to the distress), you have surfaced strain in the group which has deleterious consequences on trust and relationship if allowed to stand unaddressed, you have missed an opportunity to harness the energy that fuels the upset, and you have missed the chance at the information that undergirds the feelings (they didn't occur in a vacuum). That's a large downside.

    If the group gets paralyzed in the presence of strong feelings, it starts to shift a lot of things. Not only does it stall things out in the moment, but people learn to be cautious about what they say if they think it may trigger reactivity. Thus, it distorts the conversation even before reactivity emerges, which impedes progress and contributes to meeting fatigue. Inefficient meetings paired with occasional unproductive outbursts are enough to discourage attendance, which further degrades the ability of plenaries to get the work done (it's damn hard to build solid agreements with voices missing). So not being able to deal authentically with fulminating upset is expensive. I'm not saying it's easy—only that it's costly if you don't.

    A Better Idea
    Given that emotional responses are normal and relatively common, I believe groups function better if they can treat reactivity as a normal occurrence—rather than as a moment to be feared. I believe you can ask participants to limit emotional expressions in two important ways:

    a) It should be related to the topic at hand—the same standard you'd have for any contribution to the conversation; and

    b) It's OK to express your feelings, but you should check aggression at the door. That is, no attacks. No negative judgments. Thus, there is a significant difference between these two statements of the same event:

    Statement 1: "I'm furious that you walked out of the common house kitchen while you were frying bacon and a grease fire broke out."

    Statement 2: "You fucking idiot! How stupid do you have to be to leave the kitchen unattended with bacon frying on the stove? You could have burned down the entire common house!"

    Both statements make clear that the speaker is seriously upset with the cook's neglect, but only the second one goes into attack mode, dumping on the cook. While many people my "hear" the judgment of the second statement when only the first is said (feeling the attack implied by tone), the truth is that the first statement is clean, by which I mean the person is owning their feelings and making no demands. It allows room for movement.

    This is what I mean by a "semipermeable membrane," allowing a free and full statement of feelings, while objecting to aggression. This is important because the way through this is by starting with a validation of the feelings, and that task is made much more complicated if you first have to navigate an attack, which is likely to generate more reactivity and heighten volatility. This can get very messy in a blink.

    Distress as Virtual Earwax
    The person in distress often feels isolated and suspects that people may not want to hear what they have to say. Often their heart is racing and their attention is distracted by a busy internal dialog. I think of this as virtual earwax. In the extreme, a person can be so consumed with their distress that no outside information gets through—they hear nothing that others say and are therefore unavailable to collaborate in building workable solutions. And even if their ears are not completely clogged, partial plugging can still result in serious distortion.

    In this condition, it is essential that you connect with the person in distress, showing that you want to know what they're feeling and what it means. When done well this is always deescalating, and serves to clean the ears out. Note that this is not a promise that you're taking their position; it's a good faith effort to understand their position. Others may hold similar views, or maybe not. Facilitating an upset person means being their ally to get accurately heard; it does not mean that anyone will agree with them or that they will get their way. That will depend on what others do with the information. By not overreacting to distress it undercuts the tendency to give upset people additional influence on what happens (in the mistaken belief that placating them will create safety—if people get what they want they'll be less likely to lash out). When groups respond this way they encourage people to go into distress as a strategy to control outcomes. It's not pretty.

    In the model I've laid out, you connect with the person in distress for the purpose of understanding what the reaction is and how it relates to the topic. Once you've achieved that to the person's satisfaction, you continue the examination of the issue. As I see it, on-topic upset is not a distraction, it's just another way to enrich the conversation. 

    The corner you're trying to turn here is accepting the normalcy of reactivity and getting the group to not react to reactivity—to receive it as just another form of input, to be weighed on merit, rather than on decibel level or the amount of tears shed. Those aspects are part of the input and taken into account, but they are not determinant (prove that you love me by giving me what I want). In any event, you certainly don't want to abruptly terminate the discussion just because someone is in reaction. You want the emergence of distress to be a time to lean in, not to shut down.

  • Dia de los Muertos 2018
    In the spirit of the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos I am taking time today to reflect on two souls that touched my life and passed from this vale of tears in the last 12 months:

    Chad Knepp (Oct 21)
    Chad died of cancer of the gall bladder. It was discovered last April and did not respond well to treatment.

    Our paths first crossed when he visited Sandhill Farm as a prospective member back in the late '90s. We got along well and he joined the community, but it wasn't long before he grew restless. While he liked what Sanhill has doing, he wanted the freedom to develop homesteading initiatives outside of central planning—because Sandhill was small, about eight adults at the time, our habit was to get full group approval before launching any project, especially if it entailed land use or building construction. Chad had lots of ideas about sustainability that he wanted to try out, and he chafed at being constrained by the need to get group approval every step of the way.

    When we talked (at length) about allowing members more freedom to pursue dreams on community property, his request encountered push back from another member who wanted equality of opportunity. They were reluctant to extend to Chad the independence he requested, in part, because they didn't have the same homesteading skills. If they were not be able to make the same use of such freedom, then they didn't feel good about Chad having it—if all couldn't have it, then none of us should have it. Ouch. While I experienced this as the weaponization of equality, and left me both sad and disturbed, Chad's request was turned down.

    To his credit, Chad knew better than to push, so he bided his time until he was able to join forces with Alyson Ewald and others to create Red Earth Farms in 2005, which was a community of homesteads, located on 76 acres adjacent to Dancing Rabbit—about three miles from Sandhill. At Red Earth, Chad could get most of what he wanted, experimenting with sustainable agriculture and permaculture systems on his own leasehold, with wide latitude to do things his way, so long as he operated within broadly defined ecological parameters. Even better, Red Earth had much lower expectations about the frequency of group meetings, and that matched well with Chad's predilection. He wanted to do, much more than to talk about doing. As frosting on the cake, Red Earth was close enough to Sandhill to maintain personal ties there.

    The thing about Chad that I found most attractive was his creative, entrepreneurial energy. He stirred the pot. While this proved to be too much for the risk averse elements of my community, and thus Sandhill was ultimately not a good fit for him, we did not let that get in the way of enjoying each others' company.

    Chad had a strong connection to family—both the one he was born into and the one he developed at Red Earth. One of my fondest memories is a time about 10-12 years back when Chad needed a last-minute ride to Iowa City, in order to rendezvous with a brother to drive to Michigan for a family health emergency. I volunteered to drive him, which meant a six-hour round trip starting at 10 pm and ending at 4 am. Uffda. While the drive home was brutal, it was worth it for the drive up—a rare chance for three hours of wide-ranging conversation with my neighbor. It was an uninterrupted chance to catch each other up on our disparate lives, which intersected in our deep connection to sustainable living.

    There weren't that many of those long conversations, but the ones we had were precious.

    I'll miss him.

    Zeus (Nov 17)
    Zeus was my son Ceilee's faithful dog, and a canine I bonded with inordinately. Ceilee carefully selected him from a litter after being impressed by the even temperament of his father, who lived next to him in Columbia MO. That was back in 2006.

    Zeus was a pit bull/boxer mix, and Ceilee put in the hours to train him as a puppy—an investment that paid off in 12 years of faithful behavior.

    Special memories:
    o  I recall visiting Ceilee at his house in Columbia one morning. I'd arrived before he'd gotten up, and when he opened his bedroom door, Zeus boiled out and raced down the hall to where I was standing. I had just enough time to brace my footing before 60 lbs of enthusiastic puppy barreled into me and started licking my face. Good morning!

    o  When Ceilee and Tosca moved to Las Vegas in 2007, they first lived in an apartment, and there were slobber marks all along the street-facing window in back of the couch in the living room, because Zeus would sit there all day, patiently watching to see when "Daddy" would come home.

    o  Early in their tenure in Las Vegas, Ceilee and Tosca took Zeus with them on a visit to Tosca's grandparents (Juanita and Bob), for a party they were hosting at their well-appointed home in Henderson (a Vegas suburb). As the weather outside was hard on Zeus, Ceilee asked if the dog could sit quietly on the welcome mat inside the door, in the same room with the party. Juanita was skeptical about how that was going to work out but gave it a chance. When Zeus sat patiently for 60 minutes without moving—because Ceilee had not released him—Juanita went up to Ceilee and told him Zeus was welcome in her house any time. She'd never seen a dog with that degree of self-control.

    o  One day Ceilee and Zeus visited Sandhill and we were eating lunch on the front porch. Ceilee gave Zeus a cow thigh bone to chew on while we ate. At the end of the meal we discovered that Zeus had systematically devoured the entire bone, even as we humans demolished our sandwiches. When I contemplated the power in his jaw muscles to accomplish that it occurred to me how easily Zeus could take off someone's finger—which he never did. He was always in control, and had an incredibly soft mouth. When children poked his face, he just backed away. He was never aggressive. I'm not sure I know any humans with that degree of self control.

    For the last dozen years it had been a special ritual for me to greet Zeus as the first thing whenever I visited Ceilee, and we spent untold hours huddled together on the couch awaiting Ceilee's return at the end of his work day.

    My life is a little emptier without Zeus, and his unconditional love.

  • Where the Rain Falls in Spain
    Susan and I are now back from our Iberian adventure, and it seems appropriate to post a postmortem on our trip...

    Having Fun Weather or Not
    It's the start of the rainy season in Spain (hence the lower prices on accommodations), and that meant we were glad we brought raincoats—the very last thing we crammed into our suitcases. In eight days we donned them thrice, mostly in Madrid, which, as George Bernard Shaw (via the voice of Henry Higgins) has already informed us is susceptible to being located on the plain. Though to be fair, we also caught some raindrops in Barcelona, which is a port and in no way a plain city.

    American Incursions 
    As you may recall from my previous post, our tour was focused on four cities: Madrid, Toledo, Valencia, and Barcelona. Wherever we went, North American chain restauranteurs had gotten there before us. It was somewhat jarring and dismaying to see billboards for these establishments liberally sprinkled along the highways, followed by the storefronts themselves shoehorned into historical districts and close by ancient churches and other architectural splendors. Sigh. You can run but you can't hide from American enterprise. Though we never patronized any of these shops (I'd have to wear a paper bag over my head), we had our choice of:
    Dunkin' Donuts
    Steak and Shake
    TGI Fridays
    Burger King
    Tony Roma's
    Tim Horton's

    Bed and Breakfast
    It's is apparently normal in Spain for a complimentary breakfast to be included in hotel accommodations. Because Susan and I had bought a Gate 1 t our package covering the first six days, breakfast was always in the hotel the next day, where there was an ample buffet spread for all guests. While the fresh squeezed orange juice was to die for, and the spread of options was always impressive, it turned out, ironically, that our favorite breakfast was the simple one we enjoyed our last full day in Barcelona, eating in a patisserie around the corner from our Airbnb digs at the end of our trip. Going native we enjoyed:
    two cafe con leche
    two fresh croissants (the best we'd had in years)
    two shots of complimentary fresh squeezed tart orange juice
    a bowl of creamy yogurt with granola and fresh fruit

    More on Meals 
    While Spain is the land of tapas and we were pumped up about the food we'd experience, I was mostly disappointed that it wasn't better. The one standout exception to that generalization was the paella, which was terrific both times I had it (and I think I can prepare it myself now—the key is cooking the rice al dente, a la pasta).

    Paella is always made fresh and you must allow 20-25 minutes for that if ordered in a restaurant. While most of us know this as a saffron-infused seafood dish, the traditional recipe is made with rabbit and/or chicken, and there is considerable latitude on what vegetables you include. Some use none. In Valencia (home base for this dish) we enjoyed a version with broad beans, lima beans, and artichoke hearts. It was eye opening for me that you cook a delicious rice medley without onions. Who knew?

    While Spaniards tend to eat late (typically lunch starts at 2:30; dinner at 9:30 pm) it was never a problem finding restaurants open. This was good because we walked a lot (often three miles or more daily) and worked up an appetite after digesting our sumptuous breakfasts. It was amusing to realize that I was getting more exercise in Spain than in Duluth, yet satisfying to see that I was able to keep up the pace, which included a fair amount of up and down at churches and on the hilly streets of Toledo.
    The Last Supper
    We enjoyed this with our new best friends, Libby and Dan, fellow tour group members from Berkeley, who, like Susan and me, lingered for two extra days in Barcelona. We took the advice of our Airbnb hosts to eat at a local place only a five-minute walk from where we were staying.

    Though we were way early for dinner at 6 pm (we had the place more or less to ourselves at that hour), there was a good side to that. Our waitress was not busy and took the time to chat with us. When I ordered a Negroni for a before dinner cocktail, it was obvious she'd never heard of it, but she was game. I explained that it was equal parts of Campari, gin, and sweet vermouth (rioja in the vernacular). She memorized that and went back to the bar. Five minutes later she came back with three bottles, just to make sure she had the rights ones (she did), and let me pour the drink. While it was garnished with a lemon wedge instead of an orange peel or maraschino cherry, it was still one of the best Negroni I'd ever had. We were off to a great start.

    The entrées were fabulous as well, and we even had room to share a creme brûlée to top it off. A satisfying last supper. By then it was after 8 pm and the restaurant was starting to fill. It was time for us to head back to our rooms to pack for early morning departures.
    General Observations
    —Spain was clean. The streets, the sidewalks, the sites—even the subways. Why can't we achieve public sanitation like that in the US?

    —Public smoking is still part of the culture here, though markedly less so than it was 11 years ago, the last time I was in Europe. Some restaurants have banned smoking inside; some haven't. So if that matters, you have to pay attention. The good news is that nonsmokers now have more options.

    —No one in our tour group (or 40) had their pockets picked, despite multiple warnings that it was a possibility, especially in Barcelona. Maybe everyone was simply too diligent, or maybe there is an off-season for pickpockets as well. Anyway, that was one travel complication that thankfully didn't materialize (knock on wood).

    —Being tourists, we naturally visited many tourist attractions, and everywhere we went the people (including Susan and me) sorted into more or less equal numbers of those who interacted solely with their eyes (that would be me) and those who interacted largely through their phones (where it as one photo op after another), which category Susan was in. I don't know that one is any more legitimate than the other, but they're different.

    —Everywhere we went locals spoke better English than we spoke Spanish. Of course, we were only in cities or tourist-oriented places, where there was bound to be a steady flow of Americans and Brits. Yet it was sobering to speculate on how much trouble a Spanish-speaking person might encounter as a tourist in the US if they were weak in English—even though there are more Spanish speaking people in the world than English speaking. Money talks.
    Other Random Highlights 
    • Our tour guide's overview of the complex history of Toledo and his concise presentation of art interpreation during a two-hour guided tour of the Prado Museum in Madrid.

    • Learning the secrets of cooking paellla in Valencia.

    • Getting the hang of the Barcelona subway system.

    • Experiencing Gaudi's incredible masterpiece: the Sagrada Familia, an architectural tour de force that has to be seen to be believed. And you must go inside. As amazing as the outside is, it gives no hint to what you'll experience inside. This is organic architecture at its finest and on a scale that is hard to fathom.

    Gaudi spent the last 43 years of his life working on this church before he was killed in a tram accident in 1926. Still under construction, they are hoping to complete the project by 2026, for the centennial of his death. Here is a photo view of one of the four facades, taken last year:


  • Olé
    In a few hours, Susan and I will depart Duluth for the start of a 10-day adventure on the Iberian peninsula, and we're psyched.

    This is a vacation we've been pointing toward for two years, ever since I started recovering from my stem cell transplant for treating multiple myeloma, and it looked like I'd have some extended play after experiencing very dodgy health the front half of 2016.

    Being near death helps bring life sharply into focus. Upon reflection, I liked most of what I'd been doing before cancer revealed itself in my bone marrow, but there were nonetheless a few adjustments I was determined to make, principal of which was more time spent enjoying relationships. (I also read more and am less reactive, but in this essay I want to stick with the main line: placing relationships more squarely in the center.)

    Some of that is friendships and some of that is family, both of which are scattered all over North America—after nearly 40 years of community networking and process consulting, and the diaspora pattern that characterizes the typical modern family. Thus, when I travel for work (continuing my career as an itinerant process consultant) I try to take the time to visit area friends along the edges of my time with clients—which process is made easier by having a number of clients as friends—double dipping, as it were. And now, after nearly three years in Duluth, I'm developing local relationships as well, notably in the Chester Park neighborhood where we live and among the players at the duplicate bridge club in town. 

    Yet foremost among my important relationships is the partnership I'm forging with Susan. That's the one I really want to focus on. She was there for me immediately when I stumbled sick into her home at New Year's of 2016, and almost didn't have the energy or wisdom to make it to St Luke's emergency room at the end of January, where I finally discovered how sick I was.

    For the first few months it was nip and tuck whether her relationship to me would more accurately be portrayed as hospice nurse than partner, but now that I've come back from that precipice, we have a chance to create a relationship with room to breathe and laugh and play. For two years now we have been holding onto our upcoming trip to Spain as a marker for where we wanted out relationship to go: I worked on recovering my energy and containing my cancer, and she got ready to retire as the church lady at St Paul's Episcopal, where she had been running the office since 2010.

    With both of those objectives accomplished here we are—finally ready for our first major trip together, where we both have the time and energy to enjoy it. To help contain expenses, we're participating in a loosely organized tour through Gate 1 Travel, that provides air transportation, rooms each night, breakfast each morning, a few dinners, and a few tours (think Prado, Escorial, and Gaudi architecture). The rest is free time as we explore Madrid, Toledo, Valencia, and Barcelona. We're thinking about tapas, riojas, and seafood, as well as off-season Mediterranean vistas. Yum.

    And this adventure, we hope, is just the start. We also have designs on trips to other places as energy, enthusiasm, and money intersect—Mesa Verde, Quebec, Iceland, New Orleans, and Argentina are at the top of the list. 

    It's great to be alive, and have one's consciousness focused on the wonder of it.

  • Key Facilitative Skills: Developing Range
    As a professional facilitator for more than three decades, I've had ample opportunity to observe which skills make the most difference. As a facilitation trainer the past 15 years, I've collected plenty of data about which lessons have been the most challenging for students to digest.

    Taken all together, I've decided to assemble a series of blog posts on the facilitation skills I consider to be both the hardest to master and the most potent for producing productive meetings. They will all bear the header Key Facilitation Skills and it's a distillation of where I believe the heavy lifting is done.

    Here are the headlines of what I'll cover in this series:

    I. Riding Two Horses: Content and Energy
    II. Working Constructively with Emotions 
    III. Managing the Obstreperous
    IV. Developing Range: Holding the Reins Only as Tightly as the Horses Require
    V. Semipermeable Membranes: Welcoming Passion While Limiting Aggression
    VI. Creating Durable Containers for Hard Conversations
    VII. Walking the Feedback Talk
    VIII. Sis Boom Bang
    IX. Projecting Curiosity in the Presence of Disagreement
    X. Distinguishing Weird (But Benign) from Seductive (Yet Dangerous)
    XI. Eliciting Proposals that Sing
    XII. Becoming Multi-tongued
    XIII. Not Leaving Product on the Table
    XIV. Sequencing Issues Productively
    XV. Trusting the Force 

    • • •
    Developing Range: Holding the Reins Only as Tightly as the Horses Require
    The basic theme of this essay is that group members can exhibit a rather wide range of meeting behavior and the facilitator, in the ideal, needs a range that's appropriate to span the entire gamut. Thus, when the group is operating smoothly (is engaged, listening well, and staying on topic), the facilitator can sit back and stay out of the way. Alternately, when the group is misbehaving, the facilitator needs to step in and redirect—sometimes firmly.

    Ground Rules
    This is the facilitator's license to act, and should be explicitly established at the front end of a meeting.

    Lacking authority to run the meeting, the facilitator may not be able (or even allowed) to redirect  inappropriate comments. In groups where this happens the facilitator devolves into someone whose role is diminished to deciding who will talk next—which is just a shell of what it should be.

    This is the list I usually work with when hired as an outside facilitator:

    • Emotional expression is OK; aggression is not
    • If confused about what's happening, ask
    • Raise your hand to speak
    • I'll try to call on people in the order in which they raise their hands, but may alter that based on who has not spoken recently or to follow a thread
    • Silence means assent (at least on procedural matters)
    • If the group is undecided about what to do, the facilitator will make the call
    • I'm here for everyone
    • I’ll interrupt perceived repetition

    • I'll keep people on topic
    • I'm agreement oriented
    • Assume good intent
    • Please silence all electronic devices (we don't want to be interrupted by the clever jingle on your cell phone)

    While these can be phrased differently and additional ground rules can be added (don't be shy), this set has served me well.

    From this list, I want to shine the spotlight on three in particular:

    Emotional expression is OK; aggression is not
    This is a fork in the road. Many groups never even have a conversation about what to do with emotions, much less what permission they give the facilitator to work with them. For the most part, the default position of most groups is to discourage people from expressing their feelings (treating it as a loss of control), and then hoping for the best.

    Better, I think, is anticipating that feelings are going to be in the room (whether they're expressly welcome or not), and that you're ahead of the curve to anticipate those moments. Necessarily, that means authorizing the facilitator to recognize and engage with feelings, which means, at a minimum, connecting with the person who is triggered. 

    Thus, facilitators need to be able to work accurately at an energetic level (trust me, people who are upset will be able to tell in a blink whether they are being heard or managed, and bullshit won't cut it) and that's a question of range.

    I’ll interrupt perceived repetition
    While it's usually not that hard to tell when someone is going around the mulberry bush for the second or third time, it can take some courage to interrupt the speaker to point that out. While the recipient of this feedback may be gracious about it (whew); they may instead be outraged to have been called out. (I've had plenty of unpleasant moments when the speaker did not appreciate my cutting short their repetition.) So it calls for range to be the traffic cop, knowing that you might be the object of some icy stares or barbed retorts for pulling someone over for driving too slow and holding up traffic.

    I'll keep people on topic
    This one can be tough to discern. When a speaker has an unusual way of organizing their thoughts it isn't always obvious whether they're getting to their point by first circling Pluto (in which case you need to throw them some more line) or whether Pluto is their point (in which case you need to redirect). To be sure, this is basically another version of traffic cop, writing people up for leaving the scheduled route without permission. 

    When you're aware of tendencies in the group to indulge in indiscretions, sometimes the facilitator operates with a tight rein—so there is minimal room to misbehave. In the extreme, I've seen facilitators take up half the air time, offering up a more or less constant stream of guidance about where the group stands and what kind of comments are welcome. That's going too far in the other direction.

    Taking on the persona of traffic cop (essentially being a disciplinarian) does not necessarily come easily to every facilitator and thus is another example of range.

    When things are going well, the facilitator needs neither a loud voice nor a big stick. Unfortunately, meetings don't always proceed in laminar flow, and there may be moments when you need to project firmness in order to maintain or reestablish control.

    Alternately, there may be times when you need to get softer to sustain a container suitable for tenderness and vulnerability. 

    Taken together, you need range to handle both.

    In addition to volume and demeanor, it's an advantage to be aware of pace and how adjustments to it can impact the group. In general, there will be variety among group members as to the time it takes them to  absorb information, to process it, and to organize their response. (Caution: there is no correlation between how quickly a person processes and the quality of their contributions.) 

    While it's probably not a good idea to always go slowly—at the pace preferred by the slowest thinker in the group (bo-o-oring!), you also need to be mindful of the dangers of leaving people behind at the ticket window when the train pulls out of the station (Oops!). One strategy for handling this is to work complex topics in discrete chunks, which allow the folks who need more time the chance to complete chewing and swallowing all the food in their mouth before more is offered. Meanwhile, those who don't need the extra time can be doing something else.

    Further, certain kinds of engagement predictably benefit from a slower pace. For example, you'd ordinarily run a brainstorm at much faster pace than a grieving circle. A good facilitator will understand that and have the range to set a pace appropriate to the need.

    Formats and Learning Styles
    It's useful to take into account that people have decided preferences in how information is presented. Generally speaking, there are three primary styles: aural, visual, and kinesthetic. In a typical group of 20+ people all three will be present.

    For the aural, meetings comprised of folks just sitting round talking works just fine, so long as they can hear. However, if you're primary intake is visual, then it helps considerably to have key points scribed on an easel or whiteboard, or to have graphics that illuminate concepts. The style that tends to be least well served is the kinesthetic learners. Sitting for long stretches can be hard for them and thus, formats that include physical movement can make a big difference in engaging this group.

    If you want to be an inclusive facilitator your repertoire of needs to include a range of presentation and engagement styles that services all three learning types.

    Road Mapping 
    A good facilitator always knows where we are in the conversation and where we're headed (not the outcome; but the sequence by which we'll get there). The better you can see around the curve, the more productively you can align the work in the present moment to serve where you expect to go.

    Standing or Sitting
    How the facilitator positions themselves in relation to the group impacts proceedings as well as their words. Understanding the language of positioning is yet another example of range. When sitting, the facilitator is either holding the reins loosely or reinforcing a request for a slower pace (perhaps for doing heart work). When standing, the facilitator has a stronger presence and tends to command greater respect. 

    Thus, standing up will get everyone's attention—highly useful when the group needs to be reined in. Sitting down indicates that all is well, or it's time to drop down into a softer, more reflective space. Walking toward a speaker sends the wordless message that it's time to wrap up, or they otherwise have the facilitator's undivided attention—perhaps because they're in distress; perhaps because they haven't responded to a more gentle attempt at redirection.
     • • •
    Every facilitator will have a natural style—the way they'll conduct business unconsciously. The main point of this essay is that there's considerable potential for enhancing your effectiveness if you consciously develop your understanding of how adjustments to style will impact proceedings and your ability to alter your style to fit the moment.