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The facilitator’s job includes creating trust. But how do you go about that? I’ve seen facilitators announce that the session is ‘safe’ or that we can all trust each other. But saying it doesn’t make it so.

Yet it is possible to start creating an abstract notion like ‘trust’ by adjusting a physical environment. I often find myself starting by moving furniture around. I don’t call it that. I call it ‘Structuring an environment’, although it is no less stressful on the back muscles. The idea is to organise a space in which people can more easily do what we have talked about.

For example, the lay-out of the room will affect how easy or difficult it is for people to move around. In turn, that will change who talks to whom and whether or not everyone has a better chance of networking or escaping a tedious colleague.

It’s the facilitator who manages the frequency and the scope of these movements. The facilitator also calls the breaks, making judgements between heroic lengthy sessions or more frequent time-outs so that everyone remains comfortable and refreshed and can give the sessions their best.

To do this skilfully means noticing all the little signs that show whether participants are engaged or disengaged. And knowing what can you do about that when you do notice it. Your job is simply to remain sensitive to what’s going on.

A facilitator can also generate a more positive atmosphere through the choice of questions. For a first question, we might ask, ‘What brings you here?’ It’s a fairly natural, rather innocuous question. One of its advantages is that everyone can answer it in their own way. Sometimes, more purposefully, I ask “What’s been going well for you lately?’ After a moment or two to ponder, almost everyone recalls something – and that introduces positive emotion into the room. Equally, you can dive in directly with a question about the session’s topic: that plants information and gets everyone swiftly focused.

It’s your choice and what you choose makes a difference.

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