One of the toughest tasks of a facilitator is to relinquish judgement, to fully seek the meaning behind the terms used by meeting participants. Since structured workshops frequently support the information revolution (as opposed to the 20thcentury industrial revolution), remind participants that their words are but instruments behind the meaning being conveyed.

Facilitate Meaning, Not Words

The term ‘in-formation’ implies a sense of journey, rather than destination. Participants supporting in-formation technology discover that deliverables are transitory. The question is not whether a guiding principle or assumption will change, only when it changes—or perhaps more accurately, how quickly the change will occur, since change is continuous.

Be willing to challenge participants to make their thinking visible. Great minds like a think. Strive to help your speaker or participants to more fully explain the meaning behind the terms they use. Words will rarely capture all of the intended meaning, but additional challenge and facilitation can help improve robust understanding, making it easier to build valid and sustaining consensus.

Whether you are most familiar with the “Five WHYs” or the inquisitive five-year old, ask for proof, evidence, examples, and options to fortify participants’ thinking and their supporting arguments. Be especially prepared to challenge adjectives and adverbs, such as ‘quick’ or ‘quality’. Ask about their meaning and intent. An excellent follow-up question is “What is the unit of measurement for insert adjective or adverb______?”

English is but one of many languages that can be used to build consensus. True and valid consensus is not only an English term(s), rather it is also the meaning the participants intends to convey. The elusive nature of meaning was captured by Hafez (aka Hafiz) when he penned centuries ago:

If you think that the Truth an be known

From words,

If you think that the Sun and the Ocean

Can pass through that tiny opening called the mouth.

O someone should start laughing!

Someone should start wildly laughing—


Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiative, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need.

Become Part of the Solution, Improve Your Facilitation Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you’re working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and detailed tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.


  1. Pingback: How to Facilitate the Ideation Activity with the Brainstorming Tool « Facilitative Leadership & Facilitator Training

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