I’ve noticed that when I exceed my physical limitations (e.g. work too hard, sleep too little), my reactive behavior ramps up. I might insist on a point of view or become hyper focused on a perceived problem. The body has a beautiful ability to send a signal through reactivity and I’ve come to appreciate this signal. It tells me to wake up and pay attention to my behavior. Doing so allows me to choose a new, beneficial response.
A similar mechanism tells me that I’m doing too much as a facilitator. It happens when I hit a wall in the group process, meet some unnamed resistance, and attempt to change the wall or the group’s perception of it. The flow stops.
Many years ago, I worked with a group on workforce planning. I had chosen the RAND model as a process to follow and facilitated the group through several of its steps over the course of a few meetings. Then during a subsequent meeting, I encountered resistance to continuing and a group discussion ensued. One group member suggested a different process. Agreement with the suggestion meant the group would abandon the RAND model. I tried to talk the group out of this. I thought I was acting conscientiously. I believed that I had to be true to the model. Now I see that I had done too much as a facilitator and behaved reactively. Unfortunately, I missed hearing the signal and the opportunity to follow the group. It proved a painful experience for me as a facilitator.
I’ve had other experiences when it was easier to read my reactivity signal and choose a new response. It required a slowing down and stopping my attempts to facilitate. It required observation. Looking at group members’ body language. The expressions on their faces. Listening to words they said and their silence. It required observing the tension in my body, how my breathing had shallowed, the internal dialogue in my head.
Whenever I have heeded the signal, I have received an idea for a different response within minutes. Sometimes my response is a question that I ask the group. Sometimes it’s a hunch about what’s happening that I share with the group. The new response always coincides with a turning point in the group process; the wall disappears and the process flows again.
Embrace the walls that you hit and listen for reactive signals. Suspend judgment about what you should or shouldn’t be doing and do little or nothing instead, at least for the moment. The gift you receive may just be what melts the wall and reveals a new direction.