There are several dimensions that are important in and to those who
are trainers, or facilitators of
human learning and change. Some of these are personal and some are related to
professional knowledge and experience.
The human element is the most critical and
most real component of facilitator effectiveness. One of the most significant
personal dimensions of a facilitator is the ability to feel empathy for another person. Of course,
we never can fully experience someone else’s situation, but it is crucial that
a facilitator try to see things from another person’s perspective. Another
important personal dimension is acceptance-allowing
another person to be different, to have a different set of values and goals, to
behave differently.
Congruence and flexibility
determine two additional aspects of the person. Congruent people are aware of
what they are doing and feeling and are able to communicate these to others in
a straightforward way. A healthy and psychologically mature person is flexible,
not dogmatic, opinionated, rigid, or authoritarian. A healthy facilitator
should be able to deal with another person at that person’s pace.
If people have these personal attributes, they are therapeutic.
Just being around them makes others feel good; they help by being
well-integrated persons themselves. The most meaningful growth that
facilitators can undertake is improving their own personal development,
furthering their own understanding of their values, attitudes, impulses, and
desires. Two of the most important interpersonal conflicts that HRD
professionals must resolve for themselves are their individual capacities for intimacy and their relations to authority.
Specific attention should be paid to the facilitator’s role as a
person who interacts with others. The facilitator should strive to be a person
who generates enrichment rather than a person who extracts nourishment from
others. Facilitators should focus on giving trainees opportunities to grow as
individuals. Many training programs are combinations of counseling, personal
growth, consciousness raising, value clarification, sensory awareness, and
other experiences in addition to content training; the intent is to help
participants to experience themselves and others in a growthful way.
Appropriate training for group
facilitators is an important issue in education and in the applied behavioral
sciences. The trainer needs more than a package of structured experiences to
facilitate learning effectively. Solid exposure to and integration of the
following components are needed.
Conceptual Knowledge
It is important that the group facilitator
have a solid understanding of people, groups, and facilitating styles. This
knowledge may be obtained through formal means (a university or other
professional training program) and/or through less formal ways such as reading
or attending seminars.
Theories. Theory is a resource. It
is one of the components a facilitator uses to develop and improve as a practitioner.
Theories abound in applied behavioral science; there are theories of
personality, group dynamics, organizational behavior, community behavior, and
Techniques. One also can improve the effects of training and
consulting through techniques and design components such as structured
experiences, instruments, lecturettes, confrontations, and verbal and nonverbal
Understanding People. The facilitator has direct and often
intense involvement with people. Knowing about people in a theoretical sense
contributes to knowing them in a personal and professional sense. This
knowledge can be obtained through the study of normal and abnormal human
behavior, theories of personality, and theories and techniques of counseling,
as well as through other sources.
Understanding Groups. A thorough knowledge of group interaction
and dynamics is required. A “cognitive map” is crucial to the adequate
understanding of how groups develop and how members relate to one another.
Several models are available for understanding the stages of group development
in both the personal and task dimensions.
Experiential Learning. Experiential
learning as a group member in various types of groups is a necessary beginning.
Being in a group as a fully participating member may be the best way to learn
about groups. Supervised co-facilitating experience is an important
introduction to the role of group facilitator. It is at this point that the
integration of theory, practice, and experience is approached. Supervised facilitating
without a co-facilitator is the next step, and ongoing professional development
is needed throughout one’s practice. Such development may be acquired through
laboratories, workshops, seminars, and professional conventions.
Communication Skills. Certain basic
communication skills are necessary in order to promote individual, group, and
organizational growth. A facilitator needs to develop the ability to listen, to
express (both verbally and nonverbally), to observe, to respond to people, to
intervene artfully in the group process, and to design effective learning
environments that make efficient use of resources.
Presentation Skills. The perceived effectiveness of a
presentation is dependent on several variables, including the presenter’s
appearance, use of language, bodily movements, preparation, content, and
delivery. Attention to the following items can help to make any presentation
more effective.
n Appearance.
It is important that the facilitator appear credible and professional to the
participants. One of the most obvious ways in which this perception can be
affected is in the facilitator’s choice of clothing and accessories. Needless
to say, it would not be appropriate to show up for a training program at, for
example, IBM, wearing a dashiki and sandals. In some other situation, it might
not be appropriate to wear a business dress or suit. The trainer should
determine what the culture of the sponsoring organization and participant group
is and, in most cases, dress accordingly.
n Language.
It is a good idea to use the participants’ language as much as possible, with
the exception of the crude vernacular or excessive jargon. Before speaking,
take two or three deep breaths. Slow down and speak more deliberately than you
would in a normal conversation. This makes it easier to remember what you want
to say next, and it also is easier for the participants to understand.
n Body
language. Nonverbal body language also is part of the trainer’s
presentation. Good posture helps to present a professional image, but it need
not be stiff or formal. In fact, it often is a good idea to appear to be
relaxed. It is important to look at all the group members as one speaks and to
maintain eye contact briefly.
n Preparation.
Preparing one’s presentation ahead of time, practicing (in front of a mirror or
on videotape), and observing seasoned professionals who are presenting can help
to develop effective physical and verbal presentation skills.
It also is important to take the
participants into consideration during any presentation. There are many books
on the subject of metaverbal and nonverbal communication that can help a
trainer to gain skill in reading the body language of the participants. One
should be able to recognize nonverbal messages of enthusiasm, impatience,
boredom, fatigue, conflict, mistrust, and so on. Other theories and models can
help to improve a trainer’s presentation and facilitation skills as well. For
example, an understanding of neurolinguistic programing can help to make one’s
presentations more interesting and memorable for the visuals, auditories, and
kinesthetics in the audience. An understanding of social styles can help one to
understand and relate more effectively to the analyticals, drivers,
expressives, and amiables in the group.
The group facilitator needs to demonstrate
competency. This is a combination of the facilitator’s knowledge, personal
style, and training experience. Facilitative functions can be structured or
unstructured, verbal or nonverbal, exotic or traditional, but they all are
intended and applied to effect desired outcomes. Lieberman, Yalom, and Miles
(1973) have identified four basic, facilitative functions in encounter groups:
emotional stimulation, caring, meaning attribution, and executive function.
n Emotional
stimulation represents evocative, expressive facilitator behavior that
is personal and highly charged emotionally. The facilitator performing this
function frequently is in the center of the group. Personal confrontation is
valued; high risk is pervasive.
n Caring
is evidenced by the development of specific, warm personal relationships with
group members. These relationships are characterized by understanding and
genuineness. Caring is a completely separate issue from technical proficiency.
n Meaning
attribution is achieved by the facilitator’s providing cognitive
explanations of behavior and definitions of frameworks for change. As a
functional skill, it means giving meaning to experience.
n Executive
functions are managerial approaches such as stopping the action and
asking group members to process the experience or suggesting roles and
procedures for group members to follow.
Included within these four basic functions
are specific behaviors. Some of these behaviors are listed in the table on the
next page. They comprise a typology of facilitator functions and behaviors.
Lieberman, M., Yalom, I.,
& Miles, M. (1973). Encounter groups:
First facts. New York:
Basic Books.
Pfeiffer, J.W., & Ballew, A.C. (1988). Presentation and evaluation skills in human
resource development (UATT Series, Vol. 7). San Diego, CA:
Pfeiffer & Company.