Report on Tree Bressen Facilitation Workshop

Submitted by Larry Rider

On October 15. 2011, NICA hosted Tree Bressen, a facilitation trainer from Eugene OR (http://www treegroup.info), who gave a daylong workshop entitled, Facilitating a Meeting with Care and Skill.

The event was held at the Ravenna Eckstein Community Center in the Ravenna district of Seattle. About 30 people attended, of whom about half were residents of intentional communities, and about half were not. It was a lively and informative workshop, with a variety of activities and role-playing to help understand and develop skills to help groups achieve their goals.

Tree made the point that her background in intentional community, and specifically in a commune where everything is shared, is about the best training for learning facilitation skills, because people in community live closely together. 247. and must learn to deal with the inevitable problems and conflicts.

First Tree presented her 5 basic principles of facilitation:

  1. You are the servant of the group. You are not an authority figure. you should not be involved with the content of the meeting, and you should be willing to admit mistakes, or bias, and ask for help when you don’t know the answer.
  2. Plan ahead — work outside the meeting for better preparation. This includes a practice such as meditation to ground and prepare yourself
  3. Help each person feel heard. A facilitator should seek the full contribution of everyone. Speak back to them what someone is saying. and summarize their remarks for the group (this is quite a skill in itself)
  4. Work with all of that’s in the room – not only the rational, verbal contributions, but open wider to allow the emotional, spiritual, and intuitive into the discussion. Name that emotion.
  5. Listen for the common ground and reflect it back to the group as often as necessary . Bring out more depth of opinion. Break a larger issue into parts. Seek a balance between alternating times of divergence, when different opinions need to come out and convergence, where coming together in agreement is needed.

Next, Tree covered some guidelines for Reflective Listening. These included keeping your concentration on the other person. hearing their story. It’s not about you. Avoid being judgmental. Listen with your heart to get the essence of what they are trying to say, especially the emotional experience. The practices being developed in “NVC” or Non-Violent Communication are helpful. NVC emphasizes naming the emotion — “sounds like that was frustrating for you.”  Then we paired off and did some exercises to practice this.

Some of the other areas covered by Tree were Stacking, Intervention. and Formats. Stacking includes various techniques to recognize speaking order. Intervention is how to interrupt and guide speakers going on too long or repeating. hi format Tree introduced a variety of alternatives to the large group format, including continuums, fishbowls, go arounds, talking sticks, and small groups. I won’t describe these, but she conveyed the sense that there are a lot of tools for getting people up and rearranged, for more effectively involving people.

Finally Tree talked about Facilitating Tough Situations, and we did some roleplaving. with several people volunteering to practice facilitating a meeting of the hypothetical Harmony Co-Housing community on the subject of a work-sharing proposal. This also was lively and revealing. We also made use of some “pattern-language” cards that site and others have created to focus on different elements of facilitation.

Overall the day was over too soon, with lots to digest. Tree emphasized that she has lots of work as a facilitator, and that these is an increasing need for people with facilitation skills. One woman present was participating in the Occupy Seattle movement in Westlake Park and said that there was a great need there for people with facilitation experience, as the people there were trying to self-organize in an organic and leaderless way, with a daily general assembly and a number of smaller work groups dealing with food, medical, media, and other issues.

Tree has a lot of information on her website. These include resources and links, exercises, services. and how to contact her.