In a group discussion, the primary role of the facilitator is to manage the traffic or flow of conversation, keeping the interaction smooth by guiding and controlling who speaks when. At the start of the session, the facilitator should establish the ground rule for the discussion part and review the guidelines before the discussion starts. In order to properly guide and control the group, the facilitator has to engage and be involved during the interaction.
Apart from showing interest, it also makes it easy for the facilitator to intervene in a facilitative way, making it a point not to appear dominating or manipulative toward the group decision and opinions. Staying neutral is the key element in effective intervention.
There are many instances in which a facilitator may need to intervene. As the discussion proceeds, it may be natural for more than one participant to want to speak at the same time and express their viewpoints. You may also encounter a participant who tends to monopolize the conversation. In some situations, getting sidetracked or strayed from the topic may occur. But probably the most difficult type of intervention is when participants are in disagreement or in conflict with each other.
Dealing with Conflict
A facilitator must foresee and prepare when conflicts in group discussion arise. This is normal in a group interaction since people have varying opinions. Conflict is not at all a negative thing because differing stances on an issue may generate or contribute more ideas and widen the group’s perspective.
One of the best ways to deal with this situation is to set expectations at the very start of the session so that at the time of disagreement, the facilitator may intervene politely and review the guidelines agreed upon by everyone. In setting expectation, the facilitator should remind the members to focus the disagreement on the idea and not on the person.
In order to arrive at a common understanding, the facilitator must control the conversation, bring it to a stop, and conduct a summary of ideas. But be careful not to do the decision-making yourself; the group should still come up with an agreed decision or solution. If a decision seems hard to be reached, take note of it for the next session and proceed with the next agenda item. In a situation where the level of conflict gets out of hand, it is best to give the group a break and cool off. An ice breaker will help relax the atmosphere.
Dealing with Behavior Problems in a Conversation
During a conversation, you have to get yourself prepared for behaviors that may ruin the discussion. These are the conversation dominators, side conversationalist, or even the silent participant. Both verbal and non-verbal behaviors have to be closely observed. Be professional in dealing with these types of people. For example, you might want to speak with the quiet participant during the break to keep the person from humiliation. Ask if the person is feeling any discomfort.
It is always best to review and remind everyone of the rules. This approach will generalize the group instead of singling out problem participants. Also, when intervening, say a quick sorry for interrupting the conversation before proceeding.
Keeping the Group Process Flowing and Positive
How can you keep the session flowing and positive? While a discussion is going on, be vigilant and watch for side conversations. When you spot one, let the participant finish talking first and remind everyone to pay close attention when someone is talking. This way, you address the group and not embarrass the members involved. Also tell them that any ideas should be openly brought up to the group.
For issues that cannot reach a conclusion, do not dwell on it too much as it will only eat up time. Instead, park the subject that cannot be concluded, ensure everyone that you will get back to it at a given time, and proceed with the discussion.
Keep an eye on participants who are not fully participating. Every now and then, call their names and ask for their opinions to get them to talk. Be keen on the group’s behavior as well. If you spot any problematic behavior, stop it immediately but in a way that will not offend the person.