Groupwork Centre Blog

Should I say something?

As facilitators, we spend a lot of time with groups. Still, no matter how well we read the room, it can still be easy to overlook the challenges and feelings that can arise for a participant in any group. Spending time as a participant – with someone else facilitating – helps us better understand the dynamics of the group from their perspective.

When we are facilitating from a grounded and wise place, we can often tell  when there is an undercurrent in a group. We’ll get a sense that there is ‘something going on’ or feel in our body an energetic change. The microskills we learn to use as facilitators give us the tools to catch a moment, notice and name, and wonder as a way of helping the group achieve its purpose. 

And yet …  for those sitting around the circle, even with the most skilled facilitation, saying what’s on your mind as a participant can be difficult and scary.

Recently I was a participant in a group (rather than facilitating) and things started to go astray. I felt like I was under siege and various members of my Community of Selves were doing their best to take control. I noticed that I was working to manage myself and felt a sense of responsibility to “stay in control”. 

Of course, I was far from in control  (there was a riot on the bus!) and I needed some help, but didn’t say anything at the time. One of my selves was urging me not to disrupt the group.

A five to five moment

At the end of the session during the check-out, other participants were talking about how good they felt. There was relief, exhilaration, excitement as we went around the circle – all very different from how I was feeling. I was feeling battered, confused, and exhausted. My heart started to race and I felt my anxiety rise as my turn to speak neared. 

Should I say something? It was too late to change anything that had already happened AND we were wrapping up the session. I didn’t want to create a ‘five to five moment’.

When it was my turn to check out, I thought to myself, ‘I’ll keep it small and truthful.’ I said something like, ‘Wow, I feel really different from everyone else. It sounds like a great conversation was had. That’s not what happened for me. I feel a bit battered.’

A ripple of surprise went around the group. The other participants had been having their own experience of the group and hadn’t noticed that mine was different.

Suffering in silence helps no one 

You might be reading this and wondering why the facilitator had not, well…facilitated. Before considering that question, let’s consider this one, “should I say something?’

On reflection on this experience, my answer is a resounding ‘YES!’ But how to get through the fear and the worry is still a question that I’ve been thinking about. Here’s what I’m taking with me into future groups:

  1. No one is a mind reader – people need information. I realised that I was working so hard to manage myself I looked like I was calm and OK. I needed to say something.
  2. Facilitators can miss things. Facilitators are always outnumbered by the people in the group and we are only human. I needed to say something.
  3. Other group members will be immersed in their own experience of whatever is happening in the group. They might notice something, but be conscious that they are not the facilitator and be worried about taking over. I needed to say something.

Follow your feelings

As with all uncomfortable experiences, it has been a rich learning experience.The skills I have learned here at the Groupwork Centre gave me the tools to first reflect on the situation, second consider my contribution to the situation that arose, and third, the skills to reflect back to the group what had happened, next time we met.

Should I say something? The answer is often going to be, ‘If I’m feeling something in my body and I’m putting my attention there, instead of on what the group is working on, then YES.’


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