At a workshop or a conference, some people arrive pumped-up and enthusiastic to get involved. These are often the organisers, though perhaps a few participants are up for it too. Others are cagier or more reluctant. What strategies do we have for managing this array of different states in which people will arrive?
Much depends on what you ask them to do – and when. Timing is crucial. There may be an activity at the start to which as a participant I’d respond, 'no way', though a couple of hours or days later, I'd be fine with it.
Perhaps as the facilitator you assume that everyone is like you. Because you are comfortable with movement or with physical contact, it seems reasonable to suppose that so will others be. Or you may hold the view that it is good for them. Or that if it happens the value is high, and therefore - treacherous logical step - we must insist.
One danger (for you and thus ultimately for the success of the event for everyone) is that people will withdraw from the group, removing their participation implicitly or even explicitly. Or they may join in with an activity that makes them uncomfortable, then resent it. This is how activities aiming to raise energy can instead dissipate it. It’s like a party where you get dragged onto the dance-floor.
Contrast this with the 'Law of two feet', sometimes called the 'Law of mobility' in Open Space (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open-space_technology), which says if you find you are neither contributing nor engaged, then you are advised to go elsewhere. So if we walk away from an exercise it's not wrong or an insult or a failing - it's the law.
How do you increase prospects that people will be willing to engage? You'd like to run a particular activity, you see there will be high value. Start by saying a few words to contextualise what you propose, to allow people to consider the benefits. Offer an opt-out option that is not presented as less worthy than joining in. You could say it’s OK to participate in variety of ways, for example by watching. Observing is a valuable role, as are questioning and critiquing. As a facilitator, you can create a space for those options.
Sometimes it’s a good strategy to be a fraction less enthusiastic than your participants. To vary the wise words of Steve de Shazer, 'I hope this will be useful. There are no guarantees. I'll do my best and assume you will participate in whatever way you find useful for you'.
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