10 Things I Learned About ‘The Art of Facilitation’ from Miki Kashtan

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I have been offering workshops for 2-3 years on being ‘Conscious with Money’ with no formal training in facilitation. Feedback from the first few workshops affirmed that my contribution was appreciated and that kept me going. Seeing Miki Kashtan,  facilitate for a few years, via her audio courses, YouTube and live, I knew her style worked for me; it took me a few seconds to decide I wanted to attend when I saw she was due to be in Poland, June 2017 for a whole week on facilitation. Miki Kashtan is an international teacher, creator of Convergent Facilitation, and author of three books, my favourite being Spinning Threads of Radical Aliveness: Transcending the Legacy of Separation in Our Individual LivesWhat particularly appeals to me is her conceptual clarity, speaking with maximum meaning to the ratio of words (I like conciseness), authenticity, her inspiring journey into shamelessness described in her book, and an unflinching integrity and commitment to a vision for a world that works for all.

I did not imagine I would learn so much; she is a generous teacher- with knowledge, time and feedback. I observed her offering nurturing, honest and useful feedback as much as possible to as many participants as she could during the week. I had not accounted for the amount of ‘love’ I would need to be an excellent facilitator. Of course, love, courage & truth are the three pillars of Nonviolence.

10 Things I Learned About ‘The Art of Facilitation’ from Miki Kashtan

I have a significant passion for teaching; more and more, I sense this powerful calling to offer workshops (or rather playshops as it feels like play to me) around money. Like most people, culturally conditioned in the world we live in, my high motivation is whipsawed by a shameful inner voice, de-motivating me, questioning am I ‘good enough?’, 'who do I think I am?'. I want to empathise with this voice's needs (competence, to contribute something worthwhile) and I choose to operate from my committment to my work & personal vision around it.

And, here are the ten things I learned about facilitation I learned from Miki Kashtan:

1. Design how you start

Knowing how you want to start and having a clear plan of what you want to invite the group into next is important. As much as possible, the focus is on inviting people. Also, infusing values such as inclusion. For example, on day one; the threshold was held high for those who had already spoken to speak again leaving space for others to participate; this invited people to care for the whole.

2. Energy Uppers & Downers

There is often physical discomfort in the room when group energy is down - could be due to the discussion at crossroads with the purpose or other reasons. Being aware of this group energy is important. Agreeing on a simple way to make a request, when energy has fallen or asking for one minute of silence to integrate is important; as is having a plan to do something about this. We practiced many strategies to shift energy in the room & learned in real time via these experiments.

3. Tracking

There are so many aspects of tracking – time, needs, purpose, our inner states, etc. Open loops also frazzle the group so remembering to close them is important - noting who has unanswered questions/requests or had raised hands. The tracking I enjoyed seeing most was around people & noticing the unconscious structures of domination & patriarchy we bring and rarely talk about because it can be awkward. Miki said, “No system of domination survives unless individuals cooperate with it and believe in it.”  Noticing power differences & having concrete ways to deal with it is something I enjoyed as I work in a male-dominated world (financial advice). In general, it is easier & faster for men to speak in a group than women.

Eventually, the group became very good at noticing things like:

  • Men talking/ interrupting more often.

  • Participants asking for permission from the facilitator for decisions we could make ourselves

  • Noticing if we were not in free choice when making decisions or we were operating out of conditioning & habits. For ex-choosing always to agree, appease or go with a strategy for harmony when there are potential conflicts.

  • Going with first come, first served rather than what was most important

4. Know Thyself

There are no shortcuts to this one although making time to discover strengths & weaknesses in the group was a very, very useful use of time. Miki shared how she uses her strengths, works on areas to improve or let go as well as ways to compensate for weaknesses; this gave us great context and food for thought. We then split into small groups to discuss this; it was useful to use the ‘group mind’  to harvest strategies to compensate for weaknesses.  Some of my strengths I noted in my diary are my authenticity, tracking requests, sense of humor, playfulness & fearlessness around conflict. Some of my weaknesses are time keeping, offering too much content than can be handled & process. There was much fun doing this in small groups, and some of the fun of going to workshops is learning with others. For more insights on this, please read ‘What I take with me from my retreat’ by a fellow participant, Florian.

5. Feedback

Another fun thing I enjoyed was the amount of feedback I gave & received. I learned that feedback is a sacred gift, most of us do not know how to offer. When we offer feedback, we need to be clean about emotional charge; it is useful to point towards a particular observation, why it matters and to provide concrete suggestions. We were careful when offering feedback to check willingness to hear; some of us preferred only appreciation & this was okay. I noticed I had difficulty receiving appreciation and my automatic response was to offer something back. Once at breakfast, Miki said something nourishing and my immediate response was to say, “Thank you, I learned that from you by listening to your audio tapes” and quick came the response, “Just take it”. So, now I am working on stopping at “Thank you.”

6. Neutrality

On day one, I noticed the group was not really working towards a firm decision and Miki reminded us that she would make the decision, like a dictator, if we could not. I also felt comfortable when I facilitated to advocate for one proposal versus another by clearly stating why. I learned that transparency when doing this is important, so the group understands. So, those books I have that suggest a facilitator must remain neutral; I will be donating shortly. I now see this does not work for a group.

7. Nonviolence

Facilitating with radical love includes advocating for the needs of everyone, interrupting with care and refusing to accept compartmentalisation. I saw in Miki a fierce resolve to keep her commitment to nonviolence in every moment including not using words like ‘deserve’ or ‘should’ in her vocabulary. I am already socialised in a system that values domination structures, and a part of me still believes a doctor ‘deserves’ more than a cleaner. When I shared this, Miki encouraged me to choose differently, when I facilitate. To notice this conditioning and to make a choice from a place of commitment, rather than habit.

I also saw when repair work was needed between participants; this was encouraged. Talking about and resolving conflicts is necessary for healthy community and my mourning is I do not see enough of this in the world we live in.

8. Framing questions

I cannot wait for Miki’s book on ‘Convergent Facilitation’ which will have all of the beautiful aspects of this unique decision-making process she created.  Around questions, how to invite dissent, how to ask with a simple yes or no, when & how to raise or lower the threshold to hear less or more concerns/questions. Also, asking what you want the answers for rather than what you do not want and asking about ‘willingness’ even when participants are not all terribly enthusiastic.  We practised this skill a lot, experimenting with questions that worked & didn’t work both in small groups and in the larger group – this is one skill that I found not so easy to learn, and it is on my list of  ‘ to improve.’

9. Planning ahead

Having a plan for what do next or what information is need decide the next part is vital. One evening, we had loud thunder and couldn’t hear Miki; if that happens, do you play a group game or disperse into small groups – what happens next? The facilitator does not need to have all the answers; the group has great ideas too; the facilitator just needs to carry the focus of what happens next so as not to leave the group dangling.

10. Handling triggers – in yourself & others

Being ‘reactive’ isn’t helpful to the group. So, how to function, even when triggered? What I observed in Miki’s style, was she was always relaxed when facilitating; a useful reminder was that emotional charge is just information and not an alarm bell to do something right then and there. We talked about useful strategies of what do when triggered, how also to include outliers who may trigger the group when not included and so much more.

To summarise, there are many skills useful when facilitating groups and I hope this blog gives you some reflection points.

I have a small request of you – if you enjoyed this piece, please subscribe to my Conscious Money Newsletter if you have not already. Also, you may wish to subscribe to Miki Kashtan’s blogs at ‘The Fearless Heart.”

Other reading material:

Facilitating with Heart - by Martha Lasley