Well facilitated group-work is absolutely essential to healthy communities and thriving social movements. To be good facilitators in our work as activists and campaigners rests on developing emotional resilience; facilitator and trainer Sarah Norton of the Groupwork Institute of Australia shares some valuable tips for budding and experienced facilitators alike.
How easily can you pick yourself up after a big emotional experience? How easy do you find it to have ‘challenging conversations’, especially when there is high risk involved? Do you manage to be true to yourself, your values, beliefs and needs? And say what you need to say or do what you need to do?
This is the essence of emotional resilience, to be courageous with compassion, both to ourselves and to others. So, sounds great right- but how do we get it? I’d like to share the Groupwork Institute of Australia’s 7 steps to Emotional Resilience:
Build your self awareness
The first and most vital step is to first manage thyself. Without this, we cannot progress to others. Self-awareness is not about navel gazing, but understanding ourselves, especially when we are ‘triggered’. Thus we can better make wise, conscious decisions about how we respond in any situation and not deny what is going on for us.
Have an awareness of others
To be able to hear what is going on for someone else without reacting unconsciously or unwisely, even when we perceive them as ‘behaving badly’ – we all do sometimes!
Hold generosity of spirit
To deeply know that none of us are perfect, and if I was in the other person’s position I may act or say the same as them! Tied in with this we need to have an assumption of best intent, that people generally are trying their best. Think about how this approach may affect their behaviour rather than us shaming or telling them off!
Have Courageous Conversations
To have these conversations with the people we need to speak to, not just tell our mates! To do it well, that’s the tricky bit – hearing what we need to hear, but also saying what we need to say in a way that is as hearable as possible for the other person.
Be aware of Power, Rank and Diversity
It’s everywhere and affects everything. We need an acute awareness of how we are being affected by it and how others are affected by it, especially when we have high rank and power!
We need to welcome diversity, and deeply believe that everyone has wisdom. Interestingly the more we do of this the more true it becomes!
See the big picture
We do not live in silos. That society, the larger organisation in which we work, our upbringing, our social demographic, all these things and more influence us.
To look after ourselves
To truly be there for others we need to first look after ourselves. Through healthy living, time to ourselves and with friends, having fun, reflection, relaxation, and having support to help us process unresolved stuff – we are all different and will know what works for us.
So, why do we put so much emphasis on emotional resilience in our training at the Groupwork Institute of Australia? Why not just teach processes, frameworks, workplace skills?
To be great contributors in our workplace, our community, and our networks we need to be fully present to what is going on for others, while also standing outside the unconscious dynamics. Only then can we truly connect to people and create a safe environment in which to do the work that needs to be done.
Given our training in facilitation and collaborative leadership, we particularly put a lot of emphasis on supporting facilitators and leaders to be fearless. This means that can they can hold a group which is experiencing high emotion like conflict or grief, can challenge with compassion, and can recover quickly when challenged or when a process doesn’t go so well. We often need to be able to pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off and get back into our facilitation or leadership role all within a few seconds.
I’m not saying it’s an easy journey, I’m not saying that you ever ‘arrive’, but I do know that it’s a fascinating trip! As Forrest Gump says ‘life was like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get’ … we don’t know, but things will go better if we can choose how we respond.
About the author
Sarah Norton has been a facilitator and trainer since 1988. Her work experience in the UK and Australia is extensive – and extends across corporate, government, education and community sectors. Sarah’s approach is lively, engaging and participatory. Her facilitation skills enable the creation of an environment where all participants feel heard – and views and concerns are discussed openly and productively. Sarah is a graduate of the Groupwork Institute of Australia’s Advanced Group Facilitation Diploma – and currently co-facilitates this Advanced Diploma Course.
For more wisdom from the Groupwork Institute of Australia (and the Commonground Cooperative), we recommend Glen Ochre’s book ‘Getting Our Act Together: How to Harness the Power Of Groups’ (2013), you can purchase it here.
This article was originally published in the Groupwork Institute of Australia newsletter. For regular updates about the organisation and other facilitation tips, sign up here.
Do you have tips for building emotional resilience as a facilitator or a participant of group-work? Share them here!