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Get People Talking – How to Effectively Facilitate Dialogue

This blog post was contributed by Mary Anne Berzins, assistant vice president for human resources at University of Utah, who has presented extensively on the topic of facilitation skills. 

HiResThe ability to facilitate dialogue and create spaces in which people can engage and share perspectives is a key HR competency; however, it can be challenging to get people to talk and explore alternative perspectives in an environment where there are multiple views and opinions about everything we do.

How can we, as HR professionals, hone our facilitation skills in order to promote dialogue and pave the way for open, honest communication? Here are four things you can do to be a more effective facilitator.

1) Practice Self Awareness
Self awareness is key in being an effective facilitator of dialogue. As a facilitator, you must be willing to:

  • Be open and respectfully candid, and support others in doing the same;
  • Be present in listening;
  • Experience other perspectives and ideas;
  • Recognize that there can be a cultural basis for differing communication styles;
  • Ask respectful questions to clarify ideas and check understanding;
  • Recognize personal assumptions/motivations/judgements that you may bring into dialogue;
  • Separate feelings from ideas.

2) Hone Your Listening Capability
Listening can take many forms, soit’s important to understand the different types of listening and practice becoming a better listener.Here are some suggestions on how to do so:

  • Practice active listening – give your full attention to whomever is speaking;
  • Still your inner dialogue – practice reining in personal feelings when you hear something you disagree with;
  • Practice listening “behind the words” for any bigger/deeper issues that may not be immediately apparent;
  • Pay attention to your own body language – what does it tell others about how you may be listening?

3) Understand the Importance of Asking Questions
Questions are a great way to encourage dialogue and discussion. Great questions help participants get to a reflective space to really consider topics and issues. Impactful questions that focus on self can facilitate thoughtful dialogue – “In your opinion how might you …?”; “What might be ways that you could improve … ?”; “How would you define (insert topic) from your perspective?”

4) Get Clear on Your Role as Facilitator
As a facilitator, your job is to keep the dialogue on topic and on track. A facilitator provides structure, maintains momentum and maximizes participation, and helps participants to navigate issues and move to outcomes. As such, in your role as facilitator, you should be prepared to clarify, reframe and summarize the conversation (this is where listening skills come into play).

You’ll no doubt face challenges in your facilitator role, especially in a group setting where participants might try to dominate the conversation, engage in debate instead of dialogue or attempt to promote their own agendas. Being able to quickly and efficiently address these challenges is of paramount importance to keeping the dialogue moving.

Additional Resources on Facilitation:
10 Tools That Should Be in Every Facilitator’s Toolbox
The Facilitation Process – A How-To
8 (Really Good) Questions About Facilitation
Webinar – Facilitation Essentials: Build Your Competency and Credibility
Webinar – Foundations of Facilitation Skills

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