Groupwork Centre Blog

The Power of Noticing and Naming

Sometimes we have stuff going on in our lives that gnaws away at our equanimity.  We’re driving along feeling OK and then we remember ‘that thing’ – an unresolved issue in our life which sits like some kind of boulder inside of us, and which we desperately wish wasn’t there.  

Sometimes taking the step to work it through can seem insurmountable and the temptation to ‘bury’ it in various ways can often win out.

If you’re feeling a little guilty about this, take heart from the fact that some workplaces have normalised this behaviour in a phenomenon called ‘work arounds’ where issues are ‘circumvented without eliminating them’, just so output can continue.  The priority is to keep going first, and sort out the underlying issue second.  Dysfunctional workplaces exist because the burial of problems has become so normalised that the issues are invisible.

This cycle of burying problems can be broken using an approach called “The Emperor’s Got No Clothes”.  (Actually, it’s called Noticing and Naming but stick with me.)  Remember that unassuming child in the fairytale who called out the Emperor as he paraded down the main street in his underwear?  No-one else was brave enough to say anything.  Once the issue was ‘named’ however, the mass collusion by the crowd was broken and the Emperor’s parade was over.

When we Notice and Name what we see in a group, amazing things can happen when we do it with care.

So often a group’s way forward becomes clear when someone is brave enough to simply say what they are seeing.  Sometimes it can be a behaviour such as eye-rolling, or sighing or other body language that is communicating unhappiness.  If we ask the question to the group or individual, something can shift.

“I’m just noticing a few arms crossed, and a bit of sighing … and wondered what that was about?”

There’s no judgement in such a comment and so the behaviour has been named in a way that people feel it’s OK to speak about their concerns safely.  Behaviours have been called out, but no-one reprimanded for acting ‘inappropriately’.  The realities are that we have emotions as humans and sometimes that’s the first part of the communication that comes through.  As facilitators, we need to be able to tease out the more important message that lies beneath the emotion, because it could be a vital piece in the work of the group.

Naming what’s going on is very powerful.  Many problems organically sort themselves out when we as facilitators hold the space safe so that an issue is allowed to surface.  As facilitators we need to remember we’re not there to fix problems but we’re also not there to collude with the group and hide them!  This is where the “noticing” part of the skill comes in.  Unconsciously we can be concerned that by naming something that looks challenging, we might be ‘opening up a can of worms’.  Without even realising it, we can re-direct the group to avoid what needs to be discussed or even consciously think to ourselves, ‘don’t go there, it’s better to get the group back onto an even keel’.

So, once we’ve seen something, we need to act!

Yes, believe it or not, we need to learn how to Notice things that perhaps we’d prefer we didn’t see.  Our unconscious is a powerful player in protecting us from trouble!  However, as facilitators we need to feel comfortable with things occasionally getting messy and confusing, knowing that this is just a part of the way we work as humans.  Controlling a group and keeping it ‘tidy’ will almost certainly keep a group away from the adventure of discovery they could be on.

For me, the power of Noticing and Naming is quite magic.  I feel sure there is some metaphysical process at work when we name things – speak them into a group.  That act in itself seems to begin a process of “correction” bringing the whole group into a more coherent and collaborative frequency and allowing the issue to dissipate.  I’m a big believer that there is an underlying human nature that is good and that wants to be borne into the world every moment.  Negative traits we often ascribe the term ‘human nature’ to are actually part of our fight/flight past.  What does it mean to be human? What’s our true nature?

We are evolving every moment if we make the right choices.  Letting go of these old fear-driven habits is something we can choose to do with self awareness.  As facilitators – the wonderful thing is that we can help a group do the same.