Building trust in anecdote circles – Use silence

Posted by  Andrew Rixon —March 10, 2006
Filed in Communication

To follow on from Shawn’s post on building trust and rapport in anecdote circles there is one key element which I think is often overlooked. Silence. I have blogged before about the power of silence, however it is the silence of the facilitator which I want to emphasise in this post.

In todays environment of facilitation, there seems to be an emphasis, maybe even an expectation on the facilitator leading the group, keeping a high profile and always having something to say. I think of this as the control mode of facilitation.

Facilitating anecdote circles is different. The facilitator takes a very low profile, letting the group evolve and emerge with its own dynamics and content. I have found that by using the words like “exploring themes” rather than “I have some questions for you to answer” is a kind of open language which allows for the spirit of group empowerment to emerge.

Reducing eye contact with those sharing their stories, yet respecting and listening is another way the facilitator takes a low profile. The final one is the use of silence. One side of this is helping a group feel comfortable with silences. The other is, as a facilitator, how do you keep silent? Especially in the west with our predominance of the ‘thinking mind’ it is very easy for us to get enticed into the ‘why’s’ of a conversation and want to ‘interject’. However, in an anecdote circle that is not the facilitators role. Their role is to provide a safe and comfortable environment for participants to share their stories.

We are currently collecting and processing data from evaluations of our anecdote circles and  it appears that this approach of ‘safe silence’ appears to help groups experience trust and deep sharing within a group.

What is your experience of silence in group situations?

About  Andrew Rixon


  1. In my experience, the “physical” arrangement can make an extra difference. You already mentioned how to blend in using appropriate clothing. I like to sit at the corner of the table (if it’s rectangular) in order to be able to shift the chair back and out of the group “circle” easily; sit close to the window so they would be blinded by the light when they would look at me (so they avoid it); Lead very clearly and authorative in the beginning/introduction, and then pull out officially (saying something like : “your turn from now on”). Allow silence without feeling urgeed to say something to break it. Someone else WILL speak up, this is not the task of the facilitator. “Sink back into the chair” in order to become smaller and less visible (and pull the chair back etc.).
    Attending Open Space sessions (to watch the moderators, in particular: what they avoid to do) or learning OpenSpace facilitation is clearly helpful for that purpose.

  2. Andrew Rixon says:

    Thanks Christian. I like your point about the physical arrangement.
    I often wonder about the difference between squares, rectangles and circles. Sounds weird I know, but I think circles really do have a whole different dynamic. I wonder why….?

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