Guila Muir

Developing trainers, presenters and facilitators to make a difference

The “Tuned-In” Facilitator: When and How to Intervene

Picture this: You’re running a regular, non-eventful meeting when…

Scenario One: Suddenly, as if some invisible button has been pushed, unexpected emotion erupts from the group.

Or…Scenario Two: You suddenly sense a strong feeling of resistance from the group. No one says anything about it, but you can’t shake your own awareness of “push-back.”

Or…Scenario Three: You notice that Bill has his arms crossed over his chest and is rolling his eyes as others talk.

Have you been there? Is there a “right” thing to do in these instances, and if so, what is it?

Three Stages of Tuned–In Facilitation

Stage One: Practice Internal Awareness
Great facilitators acknowledge the tangible and intangible aspects of the facilitation environment. How does it “feel?” (Is the room set up in a way that adds or detracts from a feeling of open collaboration? What attempts have been made to “de-institutionalize” a sterile environment?) What hints about their emotional states do the participants give as they walk in? What do you see, hear, and feel throughout the meeting?

Stage Two: Diagnose
As you notice behavioral shifts, changes in the “feeling” of the meeting, or verbal hints, ask yourself: “What’s going on?” It is this internal, ongoing acknowledgement of dynamics that enables the facilitator to make the right choice: to intervene or not to intervene.

An example: Susan notices that Pat and John, who are sitting next to each other in a meeting, often speak to each other in low tones. Susan asks herself “What’s going on?” Pat and John could be laughing at her or at the meeting itself, they could be processing information to understand better, they could be discussing last night’s episode of “America’s Next Top Model…”

Susan realizes that Pat and John will play unique roles in the changes under discussion, so when she thinks, “I bet they’re talking about THAT…” she feels she may have gotten it right. The sense (call it a guess) of “I believe THIS is going on…” is all there is to Stage Two.

Three essential reminders at Stage Two, the Diagnosis Stage:

  • Your diagnosis is yours alone. It may be off the mark.
  • Your diagnosis guides your actions. Your actions impact the group.
  • You are not obligated to go to the next stage.

Stage Three: Intervene

In the example above, Susan will only intervene if she gets the feeling that “Something needs to change.” When the facilitator intervenes, s/he holds up a mirror to the participants so that they can see their own process.

Here are some questions to ask yourself while deciding whether to intervene:

  • Could this situation go away on its own?
  • Is it necessary to stop the action? Why?
  • What impact will intervening have on the flow of the meeting? The environment?
  • What will happen if I do nothing?

Here is some helpful language when intervening:

  • I’m noticing that…
  • Let’s stop for a moment and look at what’s going on.
  • It strikes me that…
  • I’d like to suggest…

A tuned-in facilitator is a good facilitator. And a good facilitator continually decides if and when to intervene in the group’s process.



Read more articles about Facilitation Skills. Learn about Guila Muir’s Facilitation Skills Workshop.

Guila Muir is the premiere trainer of trainers, facilitators, and presenters on the West Coast of the United States. Since 1994, she has helped thousands of professionals improve their training, facilitation, and presentation skills.


One Response to “The “Tuned-In” Facilitator: When and How to Intervene”

  1. Alan says:

    Another excellent article Guila, full of valuable tips.  I particularly liked the comment in Stage Two that you don't have to go to Stage Three.  The 'do nothing' options has its place in the facilitator's repertoire.

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