woman lifting weights
Sometimes as facilitators we become frustrated with the behavior of a group. It’s important to pay attention to our frustration. It may be telling us something about ourselves that we need to learn.

Several years ago, I participated in a monthly peer mentoring group for facilitators. We shared situations where we weren’t getting the results we wanted and asked for suggestions on what we could do differently. Sometimes the feedback on new techniques helped solve a problem for the group and the facilitator. Other times, a facilitator discovered that changing up techniques did nothing to move the group forward. She would return to the mentoring group the following month and list all that she had tried unsuccessfully.

I recently had a conversation with a colleague who expressed frustration with a group for not demonstrating an understanding of the importance of an ongoing task. My colleague sought a way to get the group to understand and complete the task without use of a two-by-four.

Last year, I grumbled to a therapist that I had spent time with a group who spent most of their time discussing drama. “It made me feel sick, but the others seemed to be enjoying themselves. I don’t get it.” I said.

The therapist replied, “I’ve seen drama work for some people; they like drama and still get things done. So, I try not to judge it.”

I recently complained to my son that I had made several unsuccessful attempts to start a meaningful conversation with someone that I care about. “Whatever I say seems to be a non-starter. The response that comes back always stops the conversation. I never know what to say to keep it rolling.”

“Mom, if two people want to engage in conversation, it can be awkward, but you can stumble and still have the conversation. There’s nothing you can do to fix a situation where someone doesn’t want to engage.”

My frustrations had been sending me messages that I needed to pay attention to. Things I still needed to learn about myself.

In Women Rowing North, Mary Pipher describes a woman’s struggle to listen to her own reaction and its message. “She was socialized to believe that good women were happy only when others were happy and to monitor the room and take emotional responsibility for all of the feelings in it.”

Professional facilitators are trained to serve as sponges for all the emotions in the room. This is true as a concept of providing a safe container for all emotions to be expressed. But we must not construe this concept to mean taking responsibility for the feelings and thoughts of others and fixing them. That is doing the heavy lifting and when we do it, we miss the learning opportunity for ourselves.

What is your frustration telling you? Yes, it may be telling you something about the group, but its greater value may lie in what it’s telling you about yourself. As facilitators, our experience of frustration carries a gift that has the power to enlighten and shift us forward.