Blog > More on facilitator language

July 12, 2007

I’ve just returned from New Zealand where I did some work with Anne Pattillo and her team.

We revisited our paper on facilitator language and summarised the findings as follows:

Language is a window on facilitator behaviour and effectiveness. Evidence suggests that polite, effective facilitators use communication skills to reduce the force of negative behaviours. Polite communication is based on mutual respect so that both the speaker and listener save face. Linguistic politeness is a tool that facilitators use to build rapport. Facilitators use politeness startegies to reinforce positives and reframe negatives. There is a continuum of negative polite utterances which is related to the directiveness of the request. Hedging, as a linguistic tool, is used to reduce the impact of content and increase space.

Facilitator language incorporates embedded commands that communicate unconsciously and create compliance. Body language appears as important as spoken language – and body language is a significant part of building rapport and relationships.

Exploration of metaphor opened up discussion around facilitator values and action. There appears to be a strong link between the IAF Core Values and the top three metaphors identified in the research.

Conclusions: Facilitator language reflects facilitator behaviour and is an unacknowledged core of facilitation. The authors hypothesised that there is a gap between what facilitators say they do and what they actually do. The interplay of spoken language and body language through video recording is an area for future study.Facilitators may seek to reduce their endowed status through using polite language and embedded commands. This is a rich area for further research.

Later in the day we spent some time on the Solutions-Focus Approach and the following day explored Improvised Facilitation – that is, what facilitators can learn about facilitating from improvised theatre techniques and how that informs how they facilitate and what approaches they use to facilitate.

The common thread in all of this was language and using strength-based approaches. Taking a solutions, or appreciative, approach to strategy building and problem solving requires reframing and careful selection and use of language. The use of improvisation requires an understanding of the acceptance of offers – of saying YES! – and building on, rather than bringing down, the ideas of others.

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