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Facilitating Groups

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:20)

Once understood and put into practice, facilitation is useful to any priest, ministry head or Orthodox organization executive director. The number of meetings generated by collaborations, committees, task forces, groups, counseling sessions, boards and parish councils is vast. An effective facilitator will assist those in the meeting to find their own best answers and produce results through conclusions, agreements and defined actions.

Facilitation is a goal-orientated dynamic process in which participants work together in an atmosphere of genuine mutual respect in order to learn through critical reflection. To achieve genuine mutual respect, facilitators must create an open learning climate in which participants are able to share their thoughts and feelings. The partnership in learning involves the facilitator as a co-learner. The facilitator may take or delegate leadership, but responsibility is shared through a process of negotiation. Select the PDF link below to read the interesting and informative 18 page document on this subject.

Once understood and put into practice, facilitation is useful to any priest, ministry head or organization executive. The number of meetings generated by collaborations, committees, task forces, groups, counseling sessions, boards and parish councils is vast. An effective facilitator will assist those in the meeting to find their own best answers and produce results through conclusions, agreements and defined actions.


Facilitation is a goal-orientated dynamic process in which participants work together in an atmosphere of genuine mutual respect in order to learn through critical reflection.

To achieve genuine mutual respect, facilitators must create an open learning climate in which participants are able to share their thoughts and feelings. The partnership in learning involves the facilitator as a co-learner. The facilitator may take or delegate leadership, but responsibility is shared through a process of negotiation.

Importance of Facilitation

One of the most important tasks for which facilitators are responsible is not leading activities, but rather facilitating goal achievement. Facilitators should concentrate more on assisting group members to discuss their concerns and to reflect on their experiences than on leading experiences.

Facilitation involves:

  • Assisting with goal identification and achievement.

  • Encouraging investigation.

  • Giving meaning to activities.

  • Indicating appropriate resources.

  • Encouraging participants to process their learning.

Facilitators should promote strategies of questioning, probing and debating, so that with increasing experience and confidence, learners are able to question their own and other’s assumptions, thoughts and attitudes.

Ground Rules

Ground rules help focus discussions, ensure that everyone is treated fairly and is allowed to participate. In a group experience, a few individuals should not be allowed to dominate the discussion or experience, and while it is okay to disagree, disagreement must be done so respectfully. If problems arise, remember to attack the problem, not the person.

At the beginning of any meeting, it is a good idea to have your group suggest ground rules. Make sure that everyone agrees on each ground rule and that everyone has had a chance to participate. Here are some examples of ground rules and why they are effective.

1. Explain reasons for statements, questions and actions.

  • Have everyone explain their interests, not just their positions.

  • Explaining interests is the only way to get to the root of problems.

2. Feel free to disagree with others, but do so respectfully.

  • Not respecting others deflates self-esteem.

  • Disrespect discourages group participation.

3. Keep discussions focused.

  • Keep everyone on track.

  • Tangents, though frequently funny, are usually not helpful.

4. Make sure that everyone participates.

  • Everyone should feel like a part of the experience.

  • No one should be left out!

5. Make decisions by consensus.

  • Consensus decision-making takes time, but makes the decisions stick.

  • Collaboration, not compromise, should be the goal.

Listening Skills

Effective facilitation in any context is dependent upon good interpersonal skills. One skill to use throughout your group discussions and meetings is active listening. Active listening entails a pattern of behavior that demonstrates that you are interested in what others are saying and that you empathize with them. Active listening is beneficial to normal meeting conversations, and is particularly useful in resolving difficult interpersonal situations.

Listening is more than hearing. You must interpret and understand the significance of what you are hearing. There are three clusters of listening skills:

  • Attending skills

  • Following skills

  • Reflecting skills


Attending involves giving your physical attention to someone. This is a nonverbal communication, or posture of involvement, that indicates you are paying careful attention to the person talking. This shows the other person that you are interested in them and in what they have to say. Remember that body language often speaks louder than words.

Communication tends to be fostered when the listener:

  • Demonstrates a relaxed alertness with the body leaning slightly forward.

  • Faces the other squarely.

  • Maintains an open body position.

  • Places himself at an appropriate distance from the speaker.

The good listener communicates attentiveness through the relaxed alertness of his body during the conversation. However, do not get too close to the speaker (closer than 3 feet for an extended period of time). This causes increased anxiety. Leaning slightly forward shows your interest in the speaker.

Listeners whose bodies are rigid and unmoving tend to be seen as reserved and cold. Allow your body to move in tune with the speaker, but avoid distracting motions and gestures. Do not move your body in response to stimuli that are unrelated to the speaker.

Use effective eye contact when listening to the speaker. This shows them that you are interested in what they have to say. Focus your eyes softly on the speaker, but do not stare or look blankly at them. To avoid staring, shift your gaze from their face to other parts of their body, but do not look away every time the speaker looks at you. In certain cultures, there are different standards for what is appropriate eye contact. For example, in the American Indian population, looking someone directly in the eye is considered rude.

When you meet with someone, make sure that you meet in a non-distracting, inviting environment. Attempt to cut environmental distractions to a minimum so that you to give the speaker your undivided attention. Remove sizable physical barriers, such as desks, to encourage better communication and observation of the speaker’s body language. Try to schedule meetings in quiet rooms with adequate lighting and temperature control.


Average listeners tend to interrupt and divert speakers by asking too many questions, making too many statements or bringing up their own topics. Never dominate the conversation when you are the listener! Stay out of the speaker’s way so that you can discover how they view their situation. You can show the speaker that you are following the conversation by using ‘door openers’, ‘minimal encourages’, infrequent questions and attentive silence.

You can use ‘door openers’ to non-coercively invite the speaker to talk. These may not be necessary if the speaker dives right into the conversation, however, some speakers need encouragement to talk, sometimes even in the middle of a conversation. Do not judge, reassure, or give advice here!

‘Door openers’ have 4 elements:

1) A description of the speaker’s nonverbal communication. 2) An invitation to talk. 3) Silence. 4) Attending.

For example: “You look very nervous. Would you like to talk about what is making you nervous?” Now pause and listen.

‘Minimal encourages’ are simple responses that encourage the speaker to continue with the conversation. They are brief indicators to the speaker that you are following and understanding what they have said. These brief phrases can include: “mm-hmm,” “I see,” or “Really?” They do not imply either agreement or disagreement and do not disrupt or derail the conversation.

Questions can be a barrier to communication when they focus on the listener rather than on the speaker. To avoid directing the speaker into your ideas about the conversation, ask open-ended questions so that they can explore their thoughts. Only ask only one question at a time to avoid disrupting the flow of conversation.

Most listeners talk too much by using too many questions, statements or observations. Learn to be comfortable with silence so that you may give the speaker time to think about what they are going to say. Silence and attentive listening can provide a gentle nudge for the speaker to continue while continuing to allow them to proceed at their own pace. As did the facilitator in the introduction, never demean your speaker for being quite. Doing so will only make them more reserved. Learn to use silences!


Reflecting involves restating the feelings and content of what the speaker has said in a way that shows you understand and accept them. This can be accomplished through paraphrasing, reflecting feelings, reflecting meanings and summative reflections.

Paraphrasing is a concise summary of what the speaker has said given in your own words. Repeating the speaker’s words may stifle conversation, but paraphrasing can contribute greatly by showing that you understand.

Reflecting feelings involves succinct statements of the emotions that the speaker communicates. Try not to miss the emotional parts of a conversation because you are only paying attention to the content. The speaker’s personal reactions to the events they are describing are an important part of the conversation. Reflecting the feelings of the speaker helps them to understand their emotions and solve their own problems.

Reflecting meanings ties feelings to content. This is the most effective listening in which you can engage. Reflecting meanings can be accomplished using the following formula:

“You feel [insert the feeling word] because [insert the event or other content that is associated with the feeling.]”

For example: “You feel happy because you facilitated the meeting well.” The reflection of meaning is usually best when stated in one succinct sentence.

Summative reflections are a brief restatement of the main themes and feelings of the conversation. Summaries state themes that have been repeated or used with the most emphasis. When part of a conversation has ended, a summary of what was said can bring about a conclusion or provide a nice segue to the next topic. Summarizing what the speaker has said can also provide a check to make sure that you have understood the conversation.

Communication Skills


Certain ways of communicating have high risks of putting a damper on the conversation, being harmful to the relationship, or causing feelings of inadequacy, anger, or dependency. The other person may become submissive, resistant, or argumentative, which may also diminish the other’s self-esteem and motivation to continue the conversation. During any type of facilitation, facilitators must encourage communication and discourage communication roadblocks so that the group remains open to the learning experience and goals to be accomplished.

These ways of responding tend to block conversation and problem-solving efficiency while increasing emotional distance:

  • Judging.

  • Sending solutions.

  • Avoiding the other’s concerns.


Judging involves approving or disapproving of another’s statements. Judging is likely to occur during group meetings, so facilitators must be aware of this likelihood and set ground rules for appropriate conversation and commentary. We are judging when we non-constructively criticize, name-call, diagnose or hastily praise.

Many people believe that to help others improve, we should give them criticism. Unfortunately, non- constructive criticism often takes the form of advice which does not facilitate the person’s understanding of their experience. Constructive criticism helps the people come to a realization of their shortcomings on their own.

Name-calling and labeling are types of negative stereotypes that prevent us from getting to know others and ourselves. When labeling, we tend to attach a stigma to that person instead of seeing them for the unique individual that they are.

During conversations, some people are solely interested in getting at the speaker’s hidden motives or psychological concerns instead of listening to the content of what the person is saying. Remember to listen to your speaker! Diagnosing and labeling someone as defensive, angry or insensitive can disrupt the conversation and tell the speaker that you are not listening to what they are saying.

Most people believe that praise is helpful and desirable. However, positive evaluations can have negative results if used as a type of manipulation. While giving others hasty praise can be detrimental, not all forms of encouragement, such as expressing positive feelings toward someone, should be avoided.

Sending Solutions

Sending solutions involves ordering, threatening, moralizing, excessive questioning and advising. These types of solutions do not usually solve the original problem. Instead, sending solutions often worsens the problem or creates new problems. This is because solutions can create barriers that keep the other person from achieving personal development and growth. Letting the other person find the solution to their problem gives them responsibility for the solution and pride in finding the answer.

Orders are typically coercive and communicate to people that their judgment is unsound. By questioning someone’s judgment, you also damage his or her self-esteem. When orders are given, people often become resistant and resentful.

Threatening is a solution often sent insinuating punishment if the solution is not used. Similar to orders, threats damage self-esteem and lead people to resist whatever solution is given. It also prevents them from openly and honestly communicating any problems or concerns they might be experiencing.

Moralizing attempts to justify a solution on the basis of social or moral reasoning. These solutions often include the words “should” or “ought,” for example, “You really should go to class instead of sleeping in.” Like the other unilaterally offered solutions described in this section, moralizing typically arouses anxiety and resentment and discourages honest self-expression.

Infrequent and appropriate questions are a great way to let the speaker know that you are following the conversation. Extensive and inappropriate questioning, on the other hand, usually disrupts a conversation. Such questions are often used to try to bring the conversation to an end quickly. Facilitators should not use questions that are incomplete, indirect, or impersonal because they tend to result in defensive reactions and resistance.

Facilitators should never give advice to group members. Giving advice can imply that the person cannot understand and cope with his or her own problems. Nonchalant advising communicates that if you can determine a solution to their problem, then they must have been too dense to see the solution for themselves. The fact is that as a facilitator you may seldom understand the whole of the problem well enough to offer a truly viable solution. Remember, your job is to help participants develop their own solutions. This is best accomplished using active listening skills.


Avoiding others’ concerns by using diversions, logical arguments or reassurance tends to get conversations off-track. As a facilitator, you must encourage conversation from group members because their concerns are of utmost importance.

One of the easiest and most common ways of derailing a conversation is to divert it to another topic. Listeners use diversions when they are uncomfortable with the way a conversation is progressing. They are not really listening. Try to avoid the phrase “Speaking of…,” as this is often a sign that you may be diverting the conversation.

Using logical argument is another way of avoiding difficult conversation. When we are communicating with someone, we need to understand both the feelings and the facts. This is best accomplished through active listening. When we use logic, we typically focus on facts while leaving out the feelings. This can leave speakers alienated and at an emotional distance. Often the emotional part is most important, and using logical arguments tells the person that their feelings are unimportant.

Reassurance can be helpful by providing a comfortable facilitation environment, but can also encourage emotional distance. When we reassure someone, we are often trying to comfort them. However, reassurance is often used by people who try to be helpful yet want to avoid any emotional demands. Facilitators should reassure participants by allowing them the freedom to express their concerns in an open environment.

Handling Challenge

Along with listening and communication skills, other interpersonal skills are very important in the facilitation process. Facilitators may occasionally find themselves in situations where group members disagree to the point where the decision-making process becomes impossible. Impasses to making decisions must be overcome if the group’s goal is to be accomplished. While these situations are most common in group meeting and problem-solving contexts, all facilitators should understand the cause of any group conflict.

This section will cover:

  • Handling conflict.

  • Mediating.

  • Asserting.

Handling Conflict

Conflict is unavoidable. We experience conflict almost every day – in the news, in our relationships, and at church. Conflict can be good or bad. Bad conflict destroys relationships while good conflict results in productive change. To avoid unproductive conflict, follow these 7 rules:

1) Use fewer roadblocks and more reflective listening. 2) Use assertion skills. 3) Identify and clear up any misinformation or lack of information. 4) Enforce clearly stated ground rules. 5) Do not throw your tension onto others. 6) Have a low level of defensiveness and be supportive. 7) Encourage participants to cooperate to achieve goals.

There are very specific actions you can take when conflict arises during a group discussion or meeting. To successfully manage conflict:

  • Request that all arguments, personal attacks, sarcasm or bickering end.

  • Remind the group about the purpose and objectives of the meeting.

  • Encourage individuals to be passionate, and remind them to be compassionate.

  • Remind the group about the ground rules and how it agreed to handle conflict.

  • Focus on the merits of an argument, rather than on personal characteristics.

  • Be positive and encourage the group members to be positive.

  • Ask individuals on opposing sides to ‘switch sides’ and continue to argue.

  • Do not allow the group to evaluate ideas too soon.

  • Use probing questions to help group members uncover underlying issues.

  • Reframe (paraphrase) key points for the group members

Remind people in your group to deal with strong feelings before problem solving. When feelings are strong, it is usually a good idea to deal with the emotional aspects of conflict first. Substantive issues (conflicting needs, disagreements over policies, differing ideas of roles, etc.) can be handled more constructively once the emotions have subsided.


As a facilitator, you may find yourself in some tense situations. Some group members may have differing ideas that lead to impasses in decision-making. It is the facilitator’s role to help the group accomplish their goals, which may make mediation necessary.

Mediating is a process of resolving disputes through collaboration. With the aid of a neutral third party, disputants voluntarily work out their own agreement in an informal setting. The mediator does not impose or suggest a settlement. Instead, the mediator guides disputants through a communication process by opening the lines of communication and examining the underlying causes of the dispute. In the end, disputants will reach a settlement that is a mutually acceptable resolution that preserves the dignity of each disputant.

Mediators use active listening behaviors and restate what the speaker has said to make sure that their positions and interests are understood. This may result in the speaker changing or softening their position when the summary does not capture what they meant to say. Other times, disputants may realize that they have been so wrapped up in the argument, they were actually arguing for the same side. Because people tend to be defensive and block out what another disputant has to say, having an impartial person state each disputant’s point of view allows each person to hear the other side.

Use reframing to state the person’s positive intent while continuing to affirm their strong emotions. Try to emphasize common ground. When reframing a disputant’s point of view, state the desired behavior and its importance to the disputant in a nonjudgmental manner. For example: “She is so inconsiderate. She schedules whatever events she wants without consulting with me first.” Reframe this statement with: “So being informed of the event scheduling is important to you, and it sounds like the two of you have different understandings on how to best work together.”

Positions and Interests

In disputes, there are positions and there are interests. It is important to understand the difference between these two concepts because failing to uncover interests will impede the collaboration process. A position is what a person says they want. This may be in the form of an ultimatum or demand, for example: “You will not invite that speaker.” The more one clarifies one’s position and defends against attack, the more committed one becomes to it.

An interest is the person’s underlying concerns, needs, or fears. For example: “I need to spend less money on a speaker so that there will be enough left over to put toward food for the reception.” By understanding the person’s needs, you are in a better position to fulfill them. Solutions where each side wins are possible if you discuss the interests.

Assertion Skills

Group members are likely to have many differing and conflicting opinions. As a facilitator, you should encourage group members to assert themselves so that disagreement remains respectful and constructive. There are three parts of productive assertion messages:

1) A nonjudgmental description of the unwanted behavior. 2) A statement of the asserter’s feelings. 3) A clarification of the tangible effects of the behavior on the asserter.

The formula for creating productive assertion messages is:

“When you [state the behavior in a non-judgmental way]], I feel [state your feelings] because [clarify the effect on you]”

For example: “When you plan events without consulting with me, I feel frustrated because it creates more work for me.”

Notice that there is not a solution part because it is up to the other person to figure out how they can best solve the problem. The recipient of these messages can usually figure out a solution to the problem that preserves their dignity and meets the asserter’s needs.

Consensus Decisions

Making consensus decisions can also be a challenging situation. However, in order to spend more time on this important topic, an entire section has been allotted to consensus decisions. Making consensus decisions is more often encountered in group meeting contexts instead of group learning contexts. If you are solely interested in facilitating group learning experiences, you may skip this section. If you will be facilitating group meetings, however, this section is of utmost importance.

Decision-making is distinct from problem-solving. This section discusses how to problem-solve as well as how to make decisions through consensus. While it may not be appropriate to make decisions by consensus in every occasion (e.g. when you know ahead of time that one person in the group will try to block the decision), this approach is typically the most beneficial, and may be most useful for your facilitation opportunities. Below, several types of decision-making approaches are discussed from which you may choose. In any case, the decision-making method your group will use to make the final decision should be specified before the problem-solving process begins.

Facilitator’s should encourage their group to use collaboration when making decisions. As you can see in the diagram, collaboration is not the same as compromise! Compromising looks for efficient solutions that are acceptable to all parties, but may require that some requests only be partially satisfied. For this reason, people seeking compromise may initially ask for more than they actually want or need. As discussed in the Win/Win section, collaboration seeks to understand each party’s interests and, therefore, find a solution that maximizes each party’s concerns.

If you are facilitating a particularly large discussion group, it may be helpful to identify people with certain areas of expertise or interest who can form subgroups. These subgroups can be used to make the final decision for the entire group. In the subgroup, however, it will still be important that the decision be made through consensus.

Decision Methods

There are three different methods used to arrive at decisions. These methods differ in regard to degrees of collaboration.

Win/Win Methods

Consensus represents the highest degree of collaboration. Consensus building does not involve compromising, but attempts to satisfy our own concerns and needs as well as the concerns and needs of others. It involves understanding the other person’s view and being clearly understood by the other person. This approach takes time and effort, but produces win/win outcomes that will genuinely end the conflict.

In order to have collaboration, define the problem in terms of needs, not solutions. Remember to uncover interests, not just positions, and to have a concise statement of the problem. Most of the time people think about problems in terms of conflicting solutions. If the perception of the problem is changed in the beginning from a win/lose orientation to a win/win perspective, the chances for a mutually beneficial outcome are greatly increased.

Win/Lose Methods

Win/lose methods are prevalent in decision-making situations. The common outcome across these methods is that there is a winner and a loser. The winner is satisfied with the result and the loser is prone to feel excluded and less willing to contribute to the implementation of the solution. Win/Lose solutions occur when one party eventually accommodates the desires of the competing party.

  • Executive decision is the most common decision-making technique in business organizations, but individuals are more likely to make mistakes than are groups.

  • Majority vote is a democratic procedure that is better than executive decision, but still polarizes group members into winners and losers.

  • Minority Control involves a small group exerting their power over the majority to coerce a decision in their favor.

Lose/Lose Methods

Most lose/lose methods such as strikes and riots are unlikely to occur in the context of a meeting. However, a common lose/lose method is called decision-by-default. This occurs when the group fails to make a decision, often exacerbating the problem. This method is called decision-by-default because by the time the group decides to act, it is too late and the opportunity to make an intentional difference is lost. Other times, both parties avoid negotiations, and so the result is a solution that does not fit either of their needs.

A diagram representing win and lose situations is presented below:

Facilitator’s should encourage their group to only use collaboration when making decisions. As you can see in the diagram, collaboration is not the same as compromise! Compromising looks for efficient solutions that are acceptable to all parties, but may require that some requests only be partially satisfied. For this reason, people seeking compromise may initially ask for more than they actually want or need. As discussed in the Win/Win section, collaboration seeks to understand each party’s interests and, therefore, find a solution that maximizes each party’s concerns.


Problem-solving is a lengthy, but necessary process to complete before implementing any solution. Problem-solving includes identifying and analyzing the problem and who is affected by it. It entails generating criteria for the final solution as well as alternate solutions and then evaluating each solution in light of the desired criteria.

Identify the Problem

Because different individuals have different perceptions, it is critical in any group problem-solving activity to develop a common understanding of the problem. The group should agree about what the problem is, and what it is not. The problem should have identifiable boundaries that consider the views of different stakeholders. Problem definitions should be specific.

Identify Who is Affected by the Problem

By identifying those who have a stake in the solution, the different viewpoints that are involved are made clearer to the problem-solvers.

Identify Who is Responsible for the Problem

This step does not involve assigning blame for a problem, but rather, assigning responsibility for generating a solution to it. In general, all stakeholders should understand their role in the problem and be responsible for generating a solution to it together.

Analyze the Problem

Learning more about the problem is the key to this step. The problem should be broken down into smaller pieces and put back together again. This stage does not often receive the attention it deserves. The more you understand the problem, the better the solution will be that you generate to solve it.

Generate Criteria for the Problem Solution

Before you generate solutions to the problem, you should agree on the characteristics of a good solution. Each solution should have an effect, but what effect would be minimally acceptable and what effect would be ideal? What would a solution not do?

Generate Alternative Solutions

There are many methods that can be used to generate potential solutions to a problem. Regardless of the method you choose, getting contributions from all of your meeting participants will result in the best outcome. Brainstorming is a popular method in which everyone contributes as many ideas as possible prior to evaluating the merit of each solution. Experts, case studies, or other research materials can also be consulted to determine what others have done with similar problems.

Evaluate Solutions

The next step involves applying the criteria that were developed previously to each solution that was generated. You can use many methods to apply the criteria, including:

  • Rating each solution based on the criteria.

  • Creating a list of critical criteria and then vote to identify the best solutions.

  • Asking the group to discuss the solutions in light of the criteria.

  • Listing the advantages and disadvantages of the solutions.

  • Asking the group to state what they do and do not like about each solution.

Implement the Solution

After the group has chosen the solution, it must be implemented successfully. Please refer tothe Managing Projects item in the Stewardship Advocates Library for training on how to create and implement plans necessary in decision-making.

It is critical that the group determine how they will measure the success of their problem-solving process and the solution they implemented. The group may decide how best to do this as part of the implementation plan. If the project is fundraising, they may compare the money generated by the campaign they implemented to that of past campaigns.

Effective Facilitation

Effective facilitation involves the coordination of all the interpersonal skills. During meetings or group learning experiences, it is the facilitator’s job to make sure that the goals of the group are achieved.

When facilitating learning experiences, such as those encountered in a building or technical project, facilitation follows a three-stage process. As a facilitator, you will need to make sure that your group passes through each stage. There is no time limit for each stage, simply go to the next stage when you feel like the previous one is well-covered. Expect to take the most time in the last stage. The three stages to effective facilitation are:

  • Debriefing.

  • Processing.

  • Transfer.


When debriefing an activity you are encouraging participants to come to a common understanding of all that happened. After an exciting experience, participants usually want to talk about what happened, so let them. Do not tell them what happened, but let them come to it naturally.

Some typical questions for the debriefing stage would be:

  • “What are some of the ways people noticed the group trying to solve this problem?”

  • “What steps did we use to reach success?”


After debriefing, reflect on cause and effect relationships. Ask participants to reflect on their motivations during the activity and to examine the group processes they used. What got them to do what they did? How did they use the other group members to accomplish the goal? Allow them time to process what happened. Was what happened consistent with their attitudes and beliefs? If it was not, what will they do about it?

Some typical questions for the processing stage after a group has worked together to solve a problem would include:

  • “Why did we listen to Jim’s ideas, and not Jane’s?”

  • “You said that communication was important to you in this activity. Why?”


Transfer is the connection between the participants’ experience and their “real” environment. This is the most important stage! If participants fail to connect what they learned through a facilitated meeting to their everyday life, then the lessons learned from the experience are quickly forgotten. Discuss why the activity was important and what sort of effects will it have on them at church, at work or at home.

For effective transfer, you need fairly extensive knowledge of the participants’ environment. Only by understanding where the participants are coming from can you ask appropriate transfer questions and play devil’s advocate with their responses. As a facilitator, you will need to know:

  • Demographic information.

  • Logistics information (group size, time available, type of group).

  • Goals (the big picture and specific goals).

  • Physical readiness of each group member.

  • Other issues (resistance, interaction characteristics).

Transfer activities often strive to develop commitment to action in the participants. For this reason, resistance is common!

Some typical questions for the transfer stage include:

  • “How does this activity relate to our day-to-day environment?”

  • “What does this tell us about what we can do differently at home? At church?”

Stimulating Discussion

In both the meeting context and the learning experience context, stimulating discussion is important for goal achievement. Like the facilitators in the introduction, you may find the discussion in your group stalling. Do not get frustrated! During the setting of the ground rules, you should have asked for the active participation of all participants. This is a good first step toward active discussion among the group members, and is easily referenced in case discussion stops. During the discussion time, there are additional behaviors that you can do to stimulate active discussion.

  • Use active listening techniques.

  • Monitor your own participation and ensure you are not dominating the conversation.

  • Encourage shy or quiet people to contribute.

  • Use encouraging verbal and body language when others contribute.

  • Protect against criticism and domination by group members.

  • Highlight consensus in the group.

  • Make sure that everyone who wants to contribute has the opportunity to do so.

Even engaging in all of the behaviors described above will not guarantee that the group discussion will continue smoothly without your intervention. There are many reasons why a group discussion may stall. Several interventions may be required to help get the group discussion started again if discussion stops:

  • Let the group be silent for a few minutes. Be comfortable with the silence, and do not jump in too quickly.

  • Never make negative comments about the lack of participation.

  • Ask individuals about what they are thinking.

  • Ask the group if anyone needs clarification on any topic.

  • Ask the group if they are confused.

  • Recount the last few points of conversation made by the group.

  • Break into smaller discussion groups.

  • Reflect on your behavior to make sure that you have not caused the silence.

If the discussion gets off topic or starts becoming repetitive:

  • Write discussion points on a flip chart or other device.

  • Place the point on a list to be discussed later if necessary.

  • Point out the repeated point on the flip chart and ask if there is something new to add to that point.

  • Recount the last few points of conversation made by the group.

As a facilitator in either the group meeting or learning experience context, remember to never tell your group members what you think they should learn or decide. Above all, remember that advice is not facilitative. Even if it is requested, it is often not helpful.


By now, you should know how to do the following:

  • Set effective ground rules.

  • Encourage communication through active listening skills.

  • Avoid derailing or stalling conversations by using appropriate communication skills.

  • Avoid unproductive conflict.

  • Handle conflicts that do occur.

  • Use productive assertion messages.

  • Use collaborative decision-making processes.

  • Navigate through the three stages of facilitation.

  • Encourage transfer of learning from group experiences to everyday life.

  • Stimulate discussion if it stalls or becomes repetitive.

As you can see, facilitation requires a variety of skills. However, it is important understand how each of these skills can work together to aid facilitation.

Facilitators use active listening and communication skills to aid the discussion of concerns, ideas and learning experiences. In case of group conflict, facilitators need to understand how the conflict can be managed constructively and without damaging any group member’s feelings or concerns. In group meeting contexts, facilitators encourage consensus decisions so that all members are committed to the final decision. In group learning experiences, facilitators guide group members through a three- stage process culminating in the transfer of new learning experiences to everyday life. In the end, facilitators are responsible for guiding the goal achievement process.

While this article focused on how to use listening, communication, mediation and facilitation skills in church or organization settings, use the techniques described in this article in your everyday life. Practice listening to your friends with active listening and communication techniques. Assert yourself if you need a quiet place to study in a noisy apartment. Help your family settle disputes through mediation. This is an excellent way to familiarize yourself with the techniques presented before you actually lead a facilitation group.


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