Open and closed language in facilitation

Posted by  Andrew Rixon —January 25, 2006
Filed in Anecdotes

It was during one of my first strategic planning workshop facilitations when I noticed it. This was in a time before I discovered open space facilitation. The group had just spent the last 20 minutes in discussion and it was time to ask them to feedback on their discussions to the room. Casually, maybe even naively, I said “could you tell me your ideas”. The group looked stunned. I sensed that there was something wrong with this language. It just didn’t feeeel right. Rephrasing I tried again with “I’d like to invite you to share your ideas…”. The group’s composure appeared to change from winter to spring, ideas and discussion flowed forth.

After that experience I started to become more mindful about the words and phrases that are used in facilitation. Speaking to my wife about this, a university trained linguist, I got a confirmation that indeed there might just be something more to this. She too started to noticed how groups seemed to respond to words like ‘conversation’ and ‘discussion’. Maybe also how popular those words can be amongst facilitators. The final nail in the coffin was when I recently spoke with Viv Mcwaters about this phenomena and it resonated. For Viv, it resonated around the areas of tacit and spontaneous knowledge in facilitation. Something I can’t wait to hear more of when Viv eventually comes online with her own blog.

To explore this further, Viv and I are now inviting facilitators to join us together in a reflective practice designed to help you to become more mindful of your facilitation practice as well as providing an opportunity to learn more about the ways and practices of other facilitators. Our focus is on the language facilitators use to encourage or discourage a group discussion. This reflective practice will run over 3 months and for those participating we will provide reminders, feedback and stories from other participants. We aim to share our learnings and findings at a workshop for some upcoming Australasian facilitation conference… If you would like to join in on this reflective practice, send either Viv ( or myself (  an email and we will join you in to our program.

About  Andrew Rixon


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