Experience: The Mirror
Some time ago, I was invited to deliver a half-day basic facilitation workshop to a group of program managers. The group leader was a big fan of facilitation and his primary goal for the session was to increase his team’s interest in the subject. To tailor the training, I had short telephone discussions with him and several of his staff. Through these discussions, I got hints that there were larger systemic issues that he somehow thought facilitation skills would remedy.
When I arrived prior to the start of the workshop, I began speaking with participants. One young man, let’s call him “Bill,” got my attention. He held a relatively senior position in the group and we’d spoken during my preparation interviews. He seemed a bit tired, depressed, frustrated, very bright, and very real. I sensed immediately that he could serve as an emotional barometer for the group. By that, I mean that he was the type of person who could not help but be transparent with his thoughts and feelings. He would unwittingly serve as my mirror during my workshop.
Relevance: Finding your way in
During this workshop, I found myself watching and sensing Bill’s reactions. He was so transparent, it was obvious when I was losing him, when I was talking too much, when I wasn’t real, when I needed to move on, when what we were doing was irrelevant, and so on. He was in fact my mirror who assisted me in keeping the pace, energy, and content on course.
Practice: Finding your mirror
– Scout the group. You may not always be as fortunate as I was at finding a “Bill” in your group. But do spend some time looking for particularly sensitive and transparent members who might serve you in this way. They may not always be the most pleasant among the group, and sometimes for good reason. If a group is significantly dysfunctional and everyone else is acting as if everything is wonderful, who would you rather trust? The most friendly and cheerful one, or the one who seems to be reflecting the problems you’re there to help them solve?
– No mirror? Bring a talisman. If we can’t find a person to be a mirror for our group, consider bringing a special object that you either conceal in your pocket or display somewhere in plain sight. Use this object to serve as an anchor or reminder of your intention for the session and/or how you choose to show up with the group.
For example, I have a small, flat stone that contains an image of an eagle carved on its surface. If I carry it in my pocket, each time I reach down to feel it there, I recall my earlier intention to rise above any confusion that shows ups, retaining a “bird’s eye” view of the situation to help this group rise above and triumph over their current issue.
If this object is symbolic of your intention, you can even announce it to the group so that it helps remind everyone. If your group is seeking to be more innovative, you could use a light bulb to symbolize flashes of insight.
– Use the mirror. Read the body language and sense the mental and emotional state of your mirror periodically. Don’t give your mirror undue attention, but monitor their response as you would any other participant. At one point, I found my mirror looking exhausted and I was feeling a bit drained myself. We were moving into a particularly long stretch in order to finish on schedule. I made a point to check in with him and ask if there was anything he needed to do to re-energize. He apologized and declined, but this seemed to be all he needed to shift both his energy, the group’s, and mine.
– Don’t act on everything the mirror shows you. While tapping into a personal barometer can be beneficial, be aware that giving any one person undue attention at the expense of the remainder of the group can be counterproductive. Don’t assume that the responses of the mirror are all about you and your presentation. Even when mirroring others, human beings have a way of letting their own “history” leak through at times that may have nothing to do with the present moment. So consider your mirror’s input in addition to all the other information available to you before deciding to change course.