Saturday, 21 November 2009

What is appropriate?

I have had an interesting week! Unusually for me, I have been back in that place of delivery to slightly grudging groups of people who were "told" to be there, rather than participating from their own free will. The project-related delivery content was also quite cognitive, procedural and task focused in nature, designed to be delivered in just one half-day. 

Because of the situation and their initial state, I was treated to a fair selection of unconscious and some (I suspect) conscious defensive behaviours - including all the usual favourites - cynicism, yawning, over-talking, aggressive challenging, negativity, victim status, sniding, silence, in-jokes, hooking, wooden-legging, frustration - a rich mixture indeed!

With only half a day and a set agenda to deliver, it meant embarking on the content and making specific choices in the moment in order to keep on track - and not let my self concept issues around my own sense of significance, competence and likability get in the way. My defenses colliding with theirs at any point would have resulted in a horrible mess.

During the sessions, I was constantly reminded of my precious facilitator cube, based on the work of John Heron and developed by Pat Young at Learning Edge. I have written about the first two faces of the cube in earlier blogs, (see blog of the 22nd Sept) but realise that I have not yet completed the remaining four. This week has provided me with a perfect opportunity:

Face 3) Foundation - Awareness, Intention and Contract.
This face provides the solid foundation from which all facilitation actions emerge. The remaining faces are a menu led selection according to the moment - but this face requires all three to operate simultaneously. My contract involves my agreement with the client (of course) and considers what I have contracted to deliver for a fee. However, it is deeper than that, forming at least a three-cornered contract between me, my client and the group. The best explanation for the three-cornered contract that I have read is in Julie Hay's marvellous "Transactional Analysis for Trainers".

With my contract firmly in mind, awareness of the here and now will assist me in honouring it in the moment and my intention flows from my awareness. If my intention, through awareness, is to maintain a clear and balanced space in order to honour my contract, then my management of myself in the face of defensive behaviour from the group members becomes clearer and cleaner.

Face 4) Focus - Individual, Procedural, Group
This face is invaluable in managing the group process and dynamic. With defensive behaviour and a degree of acting out in evidence in my groups this week, I was finding myself using these almost like gear levers to move us on to another place when appropriate - or necessary. Because of the time limits and the nature of the session, the laddering up and down of the different foci was a conscious choice that I made numerours times during the single mornings and afternoons recently.

Face 5) Depth - Task / Content, Relationship, Source
This is the depth-gauge for all facilitation work - and a vital judgement according to the contract. What depth is appropriate? is a key question to keep asking on a continuous basis in all facilitation situations. The task/content deals with the cognitive level. The relationship level gets into affective learning and feelings, emotions about myself and others in relation to me and me in relation to them. The source level begins to take the lid off "why" - where in my self-concept, hidden self is the reason why and the source?  It's that murky area where coaching nudges up to psychotherapy, where inept or unskillful facilitation can do the most, deepest and long-term damage.

Face 6) Ability / Skill - Perverted, Degenerate, Appropriate
Linked to the above - although they are all linked in a brilliant web of client-centred concern - is the question of awareness of my own ability and skill levels and the constant brush with my own self concept and underlying values. If I stay awake, aware and present, then my conscious choices will be more likely to be appropriate.

Interventions risk degenerating if  I lose awareness, if I am not awake enought to be fully present or if I choose to work with material beyond my competence level.

A perverted intervention may arise from any situation in which I allow myself to willfully or consciously make a decision to do something devious or contra to my values or integrity. That split-second moment of departure from myself, the urge to score a point over someone else, to get irritated, to brag about something that I don't really know that much about, to bulls*t, to pretend or to do something in order to be liked or feed my ego with a soothing spoonful of competence or significance. Faced with a group of defensive and disaffected individuals this week, I was very mindful of the pull to jump in to the warm seductiveness of the perversion pool - and the value of this work in providing me witt the awareness not to do so.
With all the faces of the cube, it is important to remember that there is not a "right" or "wrong" place to be - but there is ALWAYS an appropriate place to be and to be serially inappropriate is just inept.

Elegant and effective facilitation of any situation is driven by self-awareness and sense of value - for myself, for my client and for the individual and collective members of any group. Even if they don't know the difference - I can't escape from the fact that, thanks to Pat Young, I do!

What is "appropriate" for you right now?

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