Facilitation Best Practices

Embrace uncomfortable silence.

It is okay to have silence in the room to allow participants to think about their responses. When teachers wait at least three to five seconds after a question, they allow time for greater engagement and achievement. Unfortunately, teachers behaving “normally” only tend to wait about one second (Tobin, 1987).

Encourage participation from everyone.

Watch the room and look for balance: there may be some voices that try to speak frequently, leaving others little space to share their own thoughts.

  • One protocol that can be helpful is to set as a ground rule that you will go around the room and allow everyone to make a comment at some point, possibly the very end. 
  • Don’t let one person dominate the conversation. This can be done in a non-threatening way by saying something like, “This is an interesting point and I would like to also hear from some of the people we have not heard from yet.”

Acknowledge power and privilege in the room.

Assume power dynamics are present in any group. When you develop guidelines for discussions for the group, encourage participants to think of norms that will foster “shared power.”

  • Encourage everyone to participate, focusing in particular on individuals who have less power in the lab either because of role, positional status, age, race, gender, or other factors. Encourage people with traditional forms of formal power to do more listening than speaking.

As the lab head, you will likely have the most power in the room. Acknowledge this fact. It is important that you don’t do most of the talking or correct others when they have shared their perspective. Stay as impartial as possible and open to different perspectives.

Respect different opinions.

Model acceptance of a range of opinions, ideas/thoughts, and also show that you can all disagree–and sometimes should. If everyone agrees on every point, there’s really no discussion at all. 

  • Have a set of personal scripts for modeling how to react to disagree with a statement: things like “What you just said doesn’t align with my experience because ____” rather than “Wow, you’re so dumb for thinking that.” or “That doesn’t make any sense.” 
  • Be prepared with personal scripts for those rare circumstances where someone says something offensive to you or any other participants. 
  • While you may need to point out ideas that are disrespectful of others, don’t impose your views on the group, and try to keep others from doing the same.
  • Use ‘both/and’ thinking. Practice replacing “but” with “and” when speaking.

Own your perspective/experience.

Use “I” statements when sharing your ideas and encourage participants to do the same. Your perspectives may not be the same as others, so the use of “I” statements takes away the generalization. Example: instead of “People in this department are not very friendly and they make many people feel excluded.” Try saying “I often feel excluded and that I don’t belong in this department.” No one can argue with your perspective. Facilitators should encourage the participant to take responsibility for his/her own experience rather than projecting it onto fellow participants.

Be willing to discuss feelings and emotions.

It can be tempting for lab members to stick to the content and tools and not acknowledge feelings and emotions that are coming up in the discussion. Although it may be uncomfortable for you to talk about feelings, try to sit with that discomfort.
Develop discussion guidelines that everyone can agree on. 

When you want folks to feel invested in following the rules and feel a sense of belonging in the group, the best way to go is to have the group develop them as one of the first steps in the process. Spend at least 10 minutes at the start of the first discussion session to come up with a list of discussion guidelines that everyone agrees to and review the guidelines periodically. Often people may have different ideas of the meaning of particular words (e.g. respect, inclusive, etc.), so it may be useful to explore those words in more depth. When a discussion starts to go off track or get contentious, pull up the discussion norms to remind everyone of what they agreed to.

Examples of discussion norms:

  • One person speaks at a time
  • Listen to what other people are saying
  • No mocking or attacking other people’s ideas
  • Respect each other
  • No raising of your voice
  • Be fully engaged
  • No eye-rolling or heaving sighs
  • Take responsibility for your words
  • Respect confidentiality. What is said here stays here.
  • Raising your hands to speak.
  • Minimize use of technology (checking emails, texts), except for emergencies.
Watch your biases. 
  • Don’t ever call on someone from a particular culture, race, or background to speak for everyone else from that background.
    • If you slip up and do that, acknowledge your mistake.