Facilitate Meaning, Not Words

One of the toughest tasks of a facilitator is to relinquish judgement, to fully seek the meaning behind the terms used by meeting participants. Since structured workshops frequently support the information revolution (as opposed to the 20thcentury industrial revolution), remind participants that their words are but instruments behind the meaning being conveyed.

Facilitate Meaning, Not Words

The term ‘in-formation’ implies a sense of journey, rather than destination. Participants supporting in-formation technology discover that deliverables are transitory. The question is not whether a guiding principle or assumption will change, only when it  changes—or perhaps more accurately, how quickly the change will occur, since change is continuous.

Be willing to challenge participants to make their thinking visible. Great minds like a think. Strive to help your speaker or participants to more fully explain the meaning behind the terms they use. Words will rarely capture all of the intended meaning, but additional challenge and facilitation can help improve robust understanding, making it easier to build valid and sustaining consensus.

Whether you are most familiar with the “Five WHYs” or the inquisitive five-year old, ask for proof, evidence, examples, and options to fortify participants’ thinking and their supporting arguments. Be especially prepared to challenge adjectives and adverbs, such as ‘quick’ or ‘quality’. Ask about their meaning and intent.  An excellent follow-up question is “What is the unit of measurement for insert adjective or adverb______?”

English is but one of many languages that can be used to build consensus. True and valid consensus is not only an English term(s), rather it is also the meaning the participants intends to convey. The elusive nature of meaning was captured by Hafez (aka Hafiz) when he penned centuries ago:

If you think that the Truth an be known

From words,

If you think that the Sun and the Ocean

Can pass through that tiny opening called the mouth.

O someone should start laughing!

Someone should start wildly laughing—


Let us know what you think by commenting below. For additional methodology and team-based meeting support for your change initiative, refer to “Change or Die, a Business Process Improvement Manual” for much of the support you might need.

Become Part of the Solution, Improve Your Facilitation Skills

The FAST curriculum on Professional Facilitation Skills details the responsibilities and dynamics mentioned above. Remember, nobody is smarter than everybody, so consult your FAST Facilitator Reference Manual or attend a FAST professional facilitative leadership training workshop offered around the world (see MG Rush for a current schedule — an excellent way to earn 40 PDUs from PMI, CDUs from IIBA, or CEUs).

Do not forget to order Change or Die if you’re working on a business process improvement project. It provides detailed workshop agendas and detailed tools to make your role easier and your team’s performance a lot more effective—daring you to embrace the will, wisdom, and activities that amplify a facilitative leader.

About Facilitation Instructor
President of Morgan Madison & Company, through professional and academic endeavors, Terrence has focused on improving group decision-making quality. His experience has proven that: 1. Evidence-based information assures higher quality decisions. 2. Properly managed conflict, provides groups with more “options” to consider —
 and groups with more options have been proven to make higher quality decisions. With a Baccalaureate in Science from Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and a MBA from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, Metz’s core competency has focused on rhetoric: the process of adjusting ideas to people and people to ideas. He is a founding principal partner and president at MG RUSH and a certified Six Sigma Green Belt® from Motorola University. CRC Press, part of Taylor and Francis, publishers since 1798, published his recent book, “Change or Die: Business Process Improvement Manual”. Terrence introduced the concept of holism to the field of structured facilitation as a method for keeping discussions on target and aligning deliverables within and throughout an enterprise. As a public speaker and instructor, he strives to reduce ‘noise’ and ‘distractions’ so that groups and teams can be more successful. Terrence is passionate about using and teaching the FAST Facilitation technique so that people and teams make more informed decisions. He made the FAST technique more robust by adding and enhancing decision-making tools such as PowerBalls and the FAST quantitative SWOT technique that is used worldwide by Fortune 1000 companies. Since 1999, Terrence has taught over three hundred classes.

18 Responses to Facilitate Meaning, Not Words

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