To become a facilitator, you don’t only need skills, but you also need tools. The facilitator’s toolbox represents the tools that will help you in preparing and giving out a workshop. It may seem awkward to use these tools in the beginning. However, it is a question of training until it gradually becomes second nature to you.
It is hard to describe what engaging contact means, but when it is established with another person, you feel a strong mutual connection. When you experience engaging contact with yourself, you have a sense of being in balance, in your element, or in a flow.
Dialogue brings us into engaging contact. You therefore feel heard, seen, and understood. It is unimportant who is right or wins. And you are able to move on having been enriched.
You yourself have to be engagingly contacting, focused and present in mind to be able to create an engaging contact with others. To pull this off, it is a good starting point to know your own views and values, and to be in touch with your own feelings and needs.
The ability to enter into engaging contact can be trained in many ways. One of them is to work with self-reflection and attention to your own reactions to, and feelings and thoughts about what you experience.
Active listening is a simple and effective tool to show that you have really heard what the other has said. You ask questions and use confirmatory and appreciative body language, such as eye contact and nodding.
Active listening means disregarding yourself even if you want to help, which is not wrong. But in conversations where active listening has been chosen as a tool to stimulate dialogue, you must resist the temptation to speak your mind. You refrain from giving advice and suggesting solutions, unless you are asked directly.
In a dialogue between two colleagues or friends, you will typically take turns to assume the position of the active listener. In leading a workshop, active listening is one of the most important tools to get dialogue into play.
Mirroring is a simple technique also used in active listening. Mirroring signals to the other that you have heard what they said, while also understanding it better by saying it aloud. Often repeating a couple of words will do for the other to feel listened to, say, the last few words in the other person’s sentence. It adds a little momentum. The person speaking continues their train of thought and their reflection and may even think deeper. The dialogue is in motion.
You can also mirror the other person with your body language. For example, you can lean forward when the other does so, or take up eye contact, when the other invites you to do so.
Asking exploratory questions helps to clarify and elaborate on what you might not understand directly, regarding both the actual issue being talked about and the views of it.
Open-ended and exploratory questions may well start with an interrogative, that is, words like what, how, which, who, and when. Or with encouragement such as “Can you say some more about it?” It is preferrable to avoid the interrogative “why”. In this context it comes across as if the person has to justify something.
The questions must not be closed or leading. Nor should they convey your own (covert) view.