Assume Good Intentions

When troubles arise, it’s easy to jump into judgment, to suspect that someone is deliberately being disruptive, manipulative, or difficult. But in that own person’s mind, they are a good person, their cause is just, and they are just trying to find a way to get their needs or the group’s needs met. While you have no way to objectively determine whether or not someone is acting in good faith,if you cultivate an inner attitude of assuming that they are, the conversation – and if a group, the facilitation process – goes much better  Choose to assume positive intent, because on a practical level it works.

Listen closely for the “piece of the truth” in each person’s expression.

If one or two people hold a minority position on an issue, they will typically feel a lot of pressure from the rest of the group, whether overtly or unintentionally. There is almost always an important piece of truth in every person’s expression. If you trust that that’s present, you’ll be a lot more likely to find it. Treat differing opinions as a resource rather than a problem: What’s to be learned from them? Diversity is good—if you can learn to hold the ambiguity for a while, the resulting decision will probably be the stronger for it in the end.

Parts adapted from Tree Breeson’s Group Facilitation Primer

Ask Questions

Its all too easy to get drawn into an argument,  The most effective approach to challenging remarks and tactics is to ask the person questions from a genuine stance of curiosity.  Rather that seeing the person as someone who opposes you or some to convince, see them as someone to understand.

Download slides here: Dealing with challenging situations D&I: The art of asking questions

Invite the Person to Help Solve the Problem

Create the expectation that people will be actively engaged in helping solve the problem, rather than just announcing their position, distress or upset and stopping there.  In the slides above you will find several questions that can help get them involved in thinking about actions and consequences,

Specific Challenges in Groups



Carrying on a Side Conversation
  • Don’t assume the talkers are being disrespectful; depersonalize the behavior by thinking : “Maybe they are unclear about a point in the material, or the material is not relevant to their needs.”
  •  Ask the talkers if they don’t understand something.
  •  Walk toward the talkers as you continue to make your point; this stops many conversations dead in their tracks.
Monopolizing the Discussion
  • Some participants tend to take over the conversation; while the enthusiasm is great, you don’t want to leave other learners out.
  • Tell the monopolizer that her comments are valuable and interesting and that you would like to open up the discussion to others in the group. Then call on another person by nam e.
  • Enlist the monopolizer to help you by being a gatekeeper and ensuring that no one monopolizes the conversation.
  • Don’t assume someone who complains doesn’t have a valid reason to do so.
  • Ask the rest of the group if they feel the same way. If they do, try to address the issue as appropriate. If they don’t, talk to the individual in the hallway during the break.
Challenging Your Knowledge
  • Determine if this person really knows more than you do, or is just trying to act as though he does.
  • If he does know more, try to enlist his help in the training. If he doesn’t, ask him to provide expertise, and he will usually realize he can’t and back down.
  • Use the person’s name in an example to get her attention.
  • Switch to something more active.
  • If behavior affects more than just one person, try to find out if something work related is causing it and have a brief discussion about it.
  • Don’t get upset or start volleying remarks.
  • Try giving the person learning-oriented attention: “John, you clearly have some background in this area; would you care to share your thoughts with the rest of the group?”
  • Get the attention off you by switching to a group-oriented activity.
Clowning Around
  • Give the person attention in a learning-oriented way by calling on her to answer a question or be a team leader.
  • If a joke is intended to relieve tension in the room and others seem to be experiencing it, deal with the tension head on by bringing it up.
  • If it is just a joke, and it’s funny and appropriate, laugh!

from McCain’s second edition of Facilitation Basics, 2015