Relationship between effective group facilitation and good leadership?

October 5, 2011

As I posted some information on effective group facilitator techniques, it occurred to me that the change that so many seem to be asking for, as they vote in the primaries, is for this kind of transparent communication from our leaders.  The hope that Obama and Clinton seem to be putting forth is honesty from the top levels of government.  Imagine how the last 7+ years might have been with Bush-Cheney-Rove-Rumsfield being transparently honest with the American public.  Instead of deception, we may have been able to make an informed choice about attacking Iraq (or not!).  Maybe I am a naive optimist, but I have see this kind of honesty work  in small groups, negotiations, mediation and other areas of difficult dynamics and conflict.


Conflict and Self Awareness

May 20, 2008

Conflict and Self Awareness

One of the amazing things about groups is the opportunity they present to move us forward.  In groups, there is a common phenomenon called the risky shift, where the group takes chances that none of the individuals would take on their own.  There is also the possibility of getting stuck in groups: Many seem to fear the possibility of psychological harm happening to them resulting from the events that occur in the group.  Yet we can cause more psychological harm ourselves by not moving toward the core issue and resisting the opportunities presented to us by the group.


“Many times people find themselves worrying not about what is happening to them but about what mighthappen to them.” –Schmuck and Runkel


The following excerpt is written from the idea of mediation, but it is about the transformational experience that happens during interpersonal conflict.  Folger and Bush describe how people in conflict feel about and view the other party when they are involved in conflict with them.  If you substitute the word facilitator for mediator, then you have another model for group facilitation.


The goal of mediation, according to Folger and Bush should be to foster and encourage the compassionate strength inherent in each of us. In so doing, they are not claiming that we will change people forever, although the effects of a mediation experience may ripple far beyond the conflict itself. Indeed, the goal is not to transform others. It is to provide opportunities and encouragement for people to tap into their own strength, capacity for clarity and ability to make decisions about what they want to do, while at the same time offering opportunities for them to recognize the unique humanity and experience of the other party to the dispute.


The need for this kind of encouragement and support in mediation stems from the emotional and psychological impact of conflict on those who are in its midst. Conflict, by its nature, is a destabilizing force, evoking certain qualities in the individuals who are experiencing it. The experience of conflict, according to Bush, tends to generate in us “the experience of weakness, vulnerability, confusion, uncertainty.” It also tends to lead us to become “suspicious, defensive, hostile and assuming the worst about whoever is on the other side.” When we see people behaving in this way, we can interpret their attitudes and behavior as revealing their nature (the individualistic view) or we can see it as an artifact of conflict itself and not a true reflection of the person at all (the transformational view).


As a neutral third party, a group facilitator is in a unique position to hold and retain an outside perspective on what is happening. From the transformational vantage point, the facilitator is therefore able to perceive opportunities to help the parties move from a state of weakness and self-absorption to strength and responsiveness toward the person on the other side. This is the opportunity offered by conflict to affect the way that we deal with one another in our human relationships. Through the distressing experience of conflict, facilitators can help people find new ways to act and interact, to capture their own capacity, should they choose to do so, to be simultaneously strong and compassionate in the ways they manage or experience their disputes.


Folger and Bush have coined the terms “empowerment” and “recognition” to describe the kinds of support a third party can offer to foster disputing parties’ re-connection with these capacities. When parties to a conflict are acting out of their own capacity for compassionate strength, they can find ways to deal with their conflict that work for them in a holistic and truly satisfying way.

What is Organizational Psychology?

May 16, 2008

Many of the undergraduate students I meet are interested in Psychology.  When I ask them “Why?”, they are likely to say something like, “because I want to help people” and/or “I watch Oprah and want to be like her.”  While I find that to be a humorous anecdote, Organizational Psychology is a way to “help” people but it operates in the realm of work, business, and organizations while applying psychological principles to people at work.

Organizational psychology (also known as I/O psychology, work psychology, work and organizational psychologyoccupational psychology, personnel psychology or talent assessment) concerns the application of psychological theories, research methods, and intervention strategies to task-oriented groups in both workplace and non-workplace settings. Organizational psychology is commonly associated with interactions between workgroup members, leadership, management, and other aspects of task-oriented group mentality and behavior. Organizational psychologists are interested in making organizations more productive while ensuring physically and psychologically productive and healthy lives for workers. Relevant topics include personnel psychology, motivation, leadership, employee selection, training and development, organization development and guided change, organizational behavior, and work and family issues. Organizational psychologists often work in an HR (human resources) department, though other Organizational psychologists pursue careers as independent consultants or applied academic researchers. Often the unit of analysis is the group as much as the individual.  Thus the field of group dynamics and group facilitation may be part of the study of Organizational Psychology as well.

Relating effective group facilitation to politics and good leadership

May 15, 2008

As I posted Using effective ground rules to facilitate a group to increase open communication, it occurred to me that these rules could explain the change this country is longing for as we come to the end of our long primary season.  Both Clinton and Obama are suggesting a different model of government and leadership at the top–one that is more transparent and open, which is consistent with the model of group facilitation that I teach. I have seen this approach produce very effective results in groups ranging from the classroom to negotiation, mediation, and conflict situations between group members with very different backgrounds.  Imagine what our county might have been like over the past 7+ years if the Bush-Cheney-Rove-Rumsfield group had been open and honest with the country and allowed Congress and the citizens to make an informed choice about attacking Iraq (or not!).  Maybe I am a naive optimist, but I have seen this open and transparent approach work successfully.  And it empowers all who are part of the process instead of polarizing the participants into warring opponents of each other.

Using effective ground rules to facilitate a group to increase open communication

May 15, 2008

Using Ground Rules to Develop Effective Groups

A facilitator needs to understand specific behaviors that improve a group’s process

·        Using specific examples along with the group rules to:

1.      test assumptions and inferences

2.      share all relevant information

3.      agree on what important words mean         

How are the ground rules helpful to use?

·        They serve as a diagnostic tool

·        They can be a teaching tool for developing effective group norms

·        By making them explicit, the group can share responsibility for improving their process

·        They guide the facilitator’s behavior

Facilitator Interventions

·                    What is the gift that is being presented?  By framing the words and actions heard as a gift (vs. a threat), they can be more easily accepted and commented on openly, honestly and “in the moment”.  If I become angry, fearful, or embarrassed and focus on my emotions only, I then stop attending to the group and I lose effectiveness.

·                    Move toward the conflict.  By publicly identifying the conflict in the group and having an open dialogue about it, the members can explore how they contributed to the conflict, how they are feeling about it now, and how to deal with it.

·                    Follow through on interventions.  Some interventions result in defensiveness, indirect expressions of emotions, or discomfort.  Use the ground rules to discuss your purpose behind your intervention and what they would need to happen for them to continue.  Another option is to:

·                    Use a meta-intervention where you refer to a previous intervention and explore with the group what it was that led them to not respond to the initial intervention.


The Unilateral Control Model is a personal theory that is used in interactions with others when they are perceived as threatening or embarrassing; it is designed (sometimes unconsciously) to protect us.  We are trying to get others to do what we want them to do. 

We try to achieve our goal by acting unilaterally to control the conversation.  The results often create the very thing we are trying to avoid. 

·        I want to achieve my goal through unilateral control

§         Win, don’t lose

§         Don’t express negative feelings

§         Act rationally

·        I know what is going on, others may not and those who disagree are wrong

§         My position is justified (and needs little to no explanation)

§         Others either agree with me, misunderstand or are wrong

·        My strategy is to: not share my reasoning, do advocate my position (only), don’t ask about others’, do “ease in” and do attempt to save face

·        The consequence is misunderstanding, conflict and defensiveness

§         Mistrust

§         Self-fulfilling prophecy

§         Limited learning

§         Reduced personal and group effectiveness

·        Examples: 

o       Ruth tells people what decision should be made or which course of action should be taken.  She has her solution in hand and proposes it to the group expecting instant agreement.

o       Ruth gets exasperated if anyone asked her the reasoning behind her “solution” because that would mean giving up control of the situation.

o       When Sammy responds with his own (and different) ideas, then Ruth will tell him that he is wrong, or at best, misunderstanding her idea.  In fact, Sammy may be seen as a threat and a problem to her personally.

o       Ruth will “ease in” by asking questions or making statements that indirectly show her point of view and that will get others to see things her way.

o       To save face, Ruth will state her conclusions, not share her reasoning (because that could be faulty) and not share specific examples—because to identify people by name would make them defensive (according to the unilateral control model).

o       Ruth actually misunderstands the situation because she assumes the situation is just as she sees it.  She bases her actions on untested inferences about others instead of checking them out.

o       Ruth lives out the self-fulfilling prophecy by following this model:  By attempting to control the conversation and pushing her point of view, and by not being open to other’s viewpoints, Ruth is seen as defensive—the very thing she is trying to avoid for herself and others.  By easing in and asking others questions (without explaining why she is asking them) Ruth makes others wary and cautious in their response to her.


The Mutual Learning Model

Using this model, you assume that others may see what you miss and vice versa.  Here, differences are opportunities for learning, not threats or challenges to your authority or knowledge.  The group interactions are like a puzzle with everyone having some piece to offer and the group task is to jointly figure out what the puzzle looks like. 

  1. The members seek to create valid information (i.e., all the relevant information you have on the subject and that ideally can be validated by those concerned.
  2. You seek to create free and informed choice so that people agree to do things because they have the relevant information and because they believe the decision makes sense.
  3. You develop internal commitment to the decisions and people join in to take action and implement the decision.
  4. You value compassion—temporarily suspending judgment to appreciate others’ perspectives.


Compared to the Unilateral Control Model, the Mutual Learning Model values the following core values and assumptions:

  1. Curiosity to learn more about the topic of discussion and about what others may know that you may be missing.
  2. Transparency is the ability to share all relevant information and strategies in a way that is timely and valid.
  3. Joint accountability means sharing responsibility for the current situation, including the consequences it creates.  It also means addressing your problems with others directly, rather than avoiding them or asking others to do this for you.

Empathy relates very well to what I do in group facilitation

February 22, 2007

Interesting post on various types of Empathy.  I find that empathy and effective listening are crucial to the work I do in group facilitation, organizational consulting and consulting.  To understand the dynamics of groups, its very important to listen first, really hear what others are communicating and then intervene, as necessary, to move the group forward.


Welcome to my Organizational Psychology blog!

February 9, 2007

Hi. This is my first blog post and I’m really excited to start a conversation about the people processes important in organizations and small groups. This field is called Organizational Psychology.

Here’s something I’ve been working on. It is a new Master’s program at Southern Oregon University in beautiful Ashland, Oregon and we are trying to build our program.

Program Overview

The training & development field holds exciting potential for those who wish to work in organizations. Leaders in nonprofit and for-profit organizations increasingly acknowledge that training develops skills, enhances productivity and quality of work, and builds worker loyalty (Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2004-05). The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that such human resource-related positions are expected to grow 21-35% by 2012.

There are many exciting career possibilities within the field of Organizational Psychology. With a master’s degree, like the OTD degree at Southern Oregon University, one has many choices when it comes to job opportunities.With this degree one could start off their career working as an HR specialist. They could also focus their career on working for a consulting firm, teaching at a university or devoting their life to research in Industrial/Organizational (I/O) psychology. The pay ranges for this degree start at about $30,000 and work their way up to about $40,000. If one chooses to move up to management, the salary could reach about $50,000 to $80,000

Meeting this demand, the Organizational Training and Development (OTD) track of the Master in Applied Psychology Program offers a two-year sequence of courses leading to an MS degree in Applied Psychology. This program is a member of the Council of Applied Master’s Programs in Psychology.

The OTD track will prepare you for professional positions in organizational settings, specializing in group facilitation, training, staff development, managing change, or organizational development functions. Emphasis is also placed upon interpretation and application of empirical research.

OTD courses are offered in a small classroom format that affords personal, individualized attention to each student.

Hello world!

February 9, 2007

Welcome to This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!