Category Archives: spiritual formation

The Trustworthy Facilitator

In order to grow and maintain communities where individuals are invited to trust each other and themselves it is essential for the person facilitating to set the standard for trustworthiness. I say facilitator and not leader for a very distinct reason. Leaders need followers in order to be leaders, right? But if we are trying to build community and invite people into safe space where they can explore the movement of the Spirit in their lives, our need to be a leader can very often get in the way. Primarily, if we as the holders and inviters into the space are anything, we are facilitators. We pay most close attention to the transitions, not so much to having the final word. We walk the group through the layers.

A trustworthy facilitator is considering trust levels long before a group ever begins their official conversation. The way we welcome people immediately tells them how close they are able to get with us. Do I welcome people with a hug or a hand shake, asking them how things are going, or do I wait in another room quietly for everyone to join me? Often, I will start the group with a story or thought that I had that day or right before I got there… one that usually makes me look a bit goofy or silly. Last night, at Spiritual Integration, when someone said they heard I was going to help them find God, I noted that I was pursuing enlightenment at the ranch, while shoveling cow manure. Already, they see me as one who is pretty normal. Trustworthy facilitators build trust by meeting people on their level before the official gathering even starts.

Most often, unless participants in the group are very familiar with how the gatherings usually proceed, there are new people who don’t know what is about to happen. No one is really hurt by a general overview of how our time will go… even if they have heard it a hundred times. Without it, though, someone who is new will never be close to the same page as the rest of the group. They are already at a disadvantage with the Trust Factor. To be a trustworthy facilitator means to build trust from the very beginning… by letting people know where we are going to go together.

Another thing that is extremely important for trustworthy facilitators is to establish the intention of a safe space from the very beginning and to name their intention of protecting that space. This allows the group to begin to feel that they can count on this person to be there for them. Confidentiality, treating others as they would like to be treated, no pressure to share, and willingness to take the time each person needs are a few trustworthy intentions to be noted.

The way we physically hold the space (posture, nonverbals, how we listen, etc) is also important, but I will have to write another post on that one. The last thing I would note in this post is the notion of total awareness, especially to the time! It is extremely frustrating when the group goes over with the time and it is clear that the facilitator does not know it or doesn’t care. We lose people immediately because they are trying to tell us as facilitators that we are going over. If we are the ones keeping it going, even worse. It is essential to note when time is almost up and to ask if we might carry it on a little later. This is trust-building.

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Growing the trust factor

Yesterday, I began my recent writing on small groups and transformational community with the  foundational element of the Trust Factor. Much of what I am learning currently is emerging through weekly facilitating Spiritual Integration Classes at myc yoga, here in Bend, OR, and through some extremely good reading (Parker J. Palmer – A Hidden Wholeness).

I closed out the last post urging us, as leaders and inviters into community, to begin to pay attention to the Trust Factor. As we begin paying attention and rejoicing at every hurdle of trust that others in our community climb over, we are well on our way to facilitating groups and building community that support transformation authenticity. Hand in hand with paying attention is our ability to invite others into space that nurtures the Trust Factor. There are a few things that I seek to remember at all times (but often forget) when it comes to holding space for trust:

  • Any movement towards more trust is worthy of celebration and support. If someone feels supported, chances are they are not going to move in the direction of less trust.
  • At the same time, causing damage to someone’s willingness to trust is like two (or ten) steps backwards after one step forward. People who have repeatedly taken the risk of trusting and been hurt, are in need of great care. There are many, many things that kill trust.
  • Eye contact and smiles help immensely
  • I try to envision what it would look like for me to embrace the other without actually giving them hug. My eyes, my smile, my posture, my tone of voice… all of my being is here to embrace and welcome you!
  • Envision an open space of comfort and love expanding between the two of you. Breath the other into that space, deeply and calmly. I must NOT fill it with my “self” and my needs.
  • In regards to breath… our breath, as clear and free and deep as it can be, and our posture, as relaxed and open and strong as it can be, invite others into that space with us. This is not something we learn at school. Crossing arms, slouching, looking out the window (the clock, our phone, etc), breathing shallowly, wearing sunglasses… all these things do not help.
  • As hard as it is, we must avoid “leading questions…” those being questions that seek to make a point or get someone to consider something we think would be “more appropriate” for them to consider.
  • We must be able to be alone ourselves. As Henri Nouwen writes in Reaching Out, “As long as we are lonely, we cannot be hospitable because as lonely people we cannot create free space. Our own need to still our inner cravings of loneliness makes us cling to others instead of creating space for them.” Spending time in solitude and silence allow us to truly be an safe host, without an agenda to carry out or needs that we demand the other to meet.

There are a lot more things… I think that the best place to start is considering myself in their shoes. We can open others in trust with our own bodies. Breath, posture, eye contact. This is absolutely essential to consider. Oh yah, and SLOW DOWN. Silence pauses are ok! We must be okay with the open space between us… not filling it with our insecurities.

Death to trust

Here are a few things I have found that kill trust:

  • Any thinking (even if it is never said) that we know better how someone might think or act.
  • Any comments or thoughts of “should” or “shouldn’t”, more or less “appropriate,” “right way” or “wrong way” to do something, etc.
  • Fixing
  • Judging
  • Correcting
  • Interruptions
  • Text messaging or taking a call while the other is talking
  • Turning the conversation to a focus on me rather than the other. This is very easy to do with stories.
  • Comparing pain, busyness, challenging times, etc. stories. We are not in community to “one up” each other with who has the harder life.
  • “Leading” questions. Is it about our agenda or theirs? Who needs who here?
  • Needing the other person to be a certain way
  • Not saying out loud what your body is telling them loud and clear
  • Trying to cover up what is really going on inside us.