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A facilitator should typically avoid the term “happy”.

Our effort guides a group to common or shared understanding that they can support and not lose any sleep over—something they can “live with.” Consensus does NOT mean that they are going to end up “happy.”

Look closely at the difference in meaning between the terms ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’. The ‘object’ is that outside of us that is being perceived. The ‘subject’ is the perceiver. In business, we frequently use the terms ‘objective’ as something we intend to accomplish or realize. We use the term ‘subject’ when we are referring to meeting participants, or ‘subject matter experts’.

Subject matter experts, aka SME, express their preferences, requirements, needs, priorities, likes, dislikes, etc. about ‘objects’ or things outside of their immediate control. Two people eating chili for example may disagree on the chili’s level of spiciness. What is really hot to one person may be tepid to another. They are experiencing separate realities; it, they are reacting differently to the same object (spiciness of the chili).

Consensus does NOT Mean that Participants are Going to be “Happy”

Scoville Units

No amount of argument will get them to agree on whether the chili is too spicy or not. Clearly to one, it is, while to the other it is not. They are both right from their subjective points of view. The wrong approach would be to encourage them to meet halfway and call the chili semi-spicy. That would be like suggesting one with their left foot in a pail of hot water and their right foot in a pail of freezing water should on average, be comfortable.

Objectify the Subjective

Therefore a world-class facilitator strives to ‘objectify’ the subjective. Meaning, they strive to find a common ground that both parties to which both parties agree without compromise. In the case of spiciness, we might be able to get both parties to agree that the chili is neither hot nor tepid, rather they might agree that it measures 3,000 Scoville units (ie, the measure of pungency or the amount of capsaicin that makes peppers ‘hot’). The truly objective rating of the spiciness does not make either participant “happy” but it does give them a common ground about which they can argue for more or less in the specific, rather than the general.

While one may argue for more ‘heat’ and another argues for less ‘heat’ we can now more effectively facilitate precisely what is meant by heat, and wisely offer options such as offering two or three types of chili.

We are seeking agreement or consensus rather than making participants “happy” so please be careful when using the term, or similar terms that are “qualitative” by description but can be made “quantitative” through strong challenge, clear definitions, and excellent facilitation.


Don’t ruin your career or reputation with bad meetings. Register for a class or forward this to someone who should. Taught by world-class instructors, MG RUSH  professional facilitation curriculum focuses on practice. Each student thoroughly practices and rehearses tools, methods, and approaches throughout the week. While some call this immersion, we call it the road to building impactful facilitation skills.

Our courses also provide an excellent way to earn up to 40 SEUs from the Scrum Alliance, 40 PDUs from PMI, and 40 CDUs from IIBA, as well as 3.2 CEUs for other professions. (See individual class descriptions for details.)

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Facilitation Expert

Terrence Metz, CSM, PSPO, CSPF, is the Managing Director of MG RUSH Facilitation Training and Coaching, the acknowledged leader in structured facilitation training. His FAST Facilitation Best Practices blog features over 300 articles on facilitation skills and tools aimed at helping others lead faster, more productive meetings and workshops that yield higher quality decisions. His clients include Agilists, Scrum teams, program and project managers, senior officers, and the business analyst community among numerous private and public companies and global corporations. As an undergraduate of Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and MBA graduate from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, his professional experience has focused on process improvement and product development. He continually aspires to make it easier for others to succeed.

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