I proudly volunteer with the Big Issue. One of my roles is to hang out and chat with one of the vendors of the street magazine while they are on their ‘pitch’ (i.e. where they stand on the street to sell). We’re good mates now and I’m pretty sure I get more out of it than he does.
Last week after talking about thrash metal music (a shared passion), we got onto the topic of change. He shared with me the importance of routine to him; why he goes to different locations on certain days in a fortnightly cycle. “I like the predictability. So do my regular buyers.” Then, with a chuckle, he added “…but if I sleep in, it’s OK. I like having control over that.”
I shared with him that I was going through a significant corporate restructure at present, and that waiting to know what would happen in the change was the worst bit. His advice was to go and work for myself!
I appreciate his perspective and admire his freedom; but it’s not for me, not right now. I love the community aspect of working in a big company. And when there’s necessary change going through, it is how everyone supports each other that defines the cultural success after the change.
Being a facilitator during a restructure has put me at the epicentre of understanding how it affects people and has provided some moments I’ve not experienced or anticipated. As our team is also affected by the restructuring, I’m feeling the same highs and lows as most of my workshop participants. I read yesterday that all emotions are useful. They may as well be because that is what we are all made of.
With that knowledge, I’ve had to work out what to do personally and professionally hearing people share their stories in my workshops, especially the ones that focus on how managers can lead effectively through change. Several participants have been faced with letting some of their staff go, in the same week of the workshop. I’ve not experienced such raw emotion or silent silence before in all my time facilitating.
At those moments all I have done is shared the quiet moment; the bond of concurrent common experience with everyone in the room, as a peer. Nothing else has been needed from me. No magic, no artful phrases. No self-amplification. No devil’s advocation. Just naked acknowledgement of the feelings everyone is experiencing, together, safely. I’m not a psychologist or even a counsellor, but as a facilitator my job is to guide shared discussion, even if nothing is said.
A facilitated discussion has so much potential benefit. If you can allow people to express their emotion together without damage, but with collective empathy, it’s a healing thing. Ease the anger, salve the frustration, show the hope, feel the opportunities. It can be just as therapeutic for the facilitator as for everyone else.
I have always loved the expression “pressure makes diamonds”. In stretching moments, it has blocked my panicked thoughts as they’ve gone scampering back to my amygdala. Usually I act on the good advice, but lately I’ve had a few moments where I’ve cracked a bit, despite my best endeavours.
The other day I checked my email quickly while my group was happily working away together in an activity. There in my inbox was an unprompted, heartfelt note thanking me for some facilitation coaching I gave six months prior. I had forgotten I’d done it, the sender of the email hadn’t. They said it had made a massive difference to their confidence in meetings, workshops and conferences since.
I felt like I’d been punched in the guts. I left the group, walked across to the other side of the floor to an empty classroom, shut the door and cried my eyes out for five minutes. It reminded me that all the effort, care, diligence and sheer emotion I put into my work does some good for other people. My job doesn’t define me, but I certainly define it.
I walked back into the workshop, and kept facilitating.