Reaching Across Today’s Discourse of Division: Perspectives for Facilitation

We live and work in a world where division, anger, frustration, and fear dominate the public discourse. People want different things. They relate to others in myriad ways. Activities are acceptable to some, but not to others. In the media, it is hard to know fake news from real news or editorial comment. Around the world, people are stuck. Irreconcilable differences seem to dominate the conversation.

On the other hand, in local groups of like-minded individuals, people resolve differences to move to action. In organizations and institutions, difference shapes important policy decisions. At all scales, difference brings energy for change and action. What balance of difference will allow us to move toward a more productive and connected future? How can we find and maintain that balance in our public and not-so-public dialogues?

Skillful facilitation can help bridge differences. Facilitators with the will and understanding to diffuse patterns of anger, frustration, and fear are needed when the differences seem intractable. Facilitation must focus on differences that bring energy for change and action to shift patterns that prevent progress. Traditional facilitation offers tools for helping people work together, sometimes shifting those patterns for a moment, yet may not offer a way of seeing or understanding the system in ways that lead to ongoing productive action.. Human systems dynamics provides that level of understanding.

Facilitation is a complex combination of art and science. We must better understand the science that informs the art. What is it that makes facilitators great? What can inform the art of facilitation in a way that helps us deal with today’s challenges?

To explore the first question, in 2003, Glenda Eoyang and I talked about what she does to make the challenging work of facilitation look simple, described in the article here. We identified two sets of foundational perspectives. The sets represent both “doing” and “thinking” of leaders and facilitators. Behavioral perspectives describe what the facilitator does with the group to move conversation forward. Cognitive perspectives describe how the facilitators is processing information to understand and leverage the dynamics of the group.

Behavioral Perspectives

The first set of perspectives includes:

Cognitive Perspectives

Glenda and I identified the following core activities of the cognitive perspectives.

Today’s social and political world is full of challenges. Great minds look for a path to bring people together. New perspectives are needed. HSD offers perspectives that helps us answer the second question: “What can inform the art of facilitation in a way that helps us deal with today’s challenges?”

In HSD, Glenda and I have defined a facilitation approach that uses complexity science to inform the art of powerful facilitation. That approach offers:

  • Ways to see, understand, and take action in the complexity of today’s challenges
  • Specific models and methods, grounded in the science of HSD, that help you take powerful action toward group goals
  • Common language that provides a path for shared conversation

This approach works for anyone who facilitates dialogue and engagement across divides. Whether you are a professional facilitator, a community organizer, an organizational leader, or a citizen concerned with the public discourse around you, this approach and the tools it offers can support your work.

On February 20, 21, and 28, the HSD Institute offers an online Adaptive Action Lab for Facilitation. These sessions support your move toward intentional and skilled use of HSD, whatever your role in facilitating conversations. This course offers an opportunity to move beyond your intuitive strengths to an intentional practice that brings people together. Join us to learn specific models and methods to address the division and fear that hold our societies stuck in today’s issues.

Whether you can join us or not, be in touch. I love hearing from you!

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