Since I recently completed a 200 hour program in New York, I was very curious to see how another training would be structured and run. Aside from teaching a very different style of yoga, one of the biggest ways the two trainings differed was based on group facilitation style.
There were many segments of the training where we were given a prompt to answer a personal question. For example: “What is your greatest fear in life?” or “ What is an interest or passion of yours that you’re afraid to admit to yourself or others?”. My fellow yoga students and I made ourselves vulnerable to the group by responding to the questions very personally. But after the last person in the circle would share, an odd thing would happen…we would be told that this session was over and when we’d meet up next.
Wait, what?!? We all just went around and shared incredibly personal stories and feelings — from people struggling with hard realities like death in the family, grief, abusive relationships, divorce — and the facilitator responds with “Okay, see everybody for dinner at 7”?? I was dumbfounded. My empathetic sensibilities were challenged every time this would happen after a group share.
It felt like we as a group were sharing authentically with one another but were being met with no sense of gratitude for sharing and zero conclusions or closure about what was shared. The two facilitators never shared any of their own personal stories or struggles. It all felt really out of balance (which is never great at a yoga related event).
During the closing ceremony, everyone was asked to share their thoughts or takeaways from the training. I was not surprised that every single person made a comment about what a great group we had and what a fast community we formed, but only a handful of people thanked the facilitators. Was this because they did such a great job of facilitating that we barely noticed their presence? Or was this because we didn’t gain anything from them as facilitators since their format was to pose a question and then not respond to any of the answers? I firmly believe it was because of the latter.
I thought back to the first Up Speak gathering I led where I asked questions but didn’t respond directly to group members answers. It had felt unnatural for me not to chime in to link certain ideas and feelings people were sharing or to share my own experience. Yet, I was trying to let the group provide the content and to focus my efforts more on the process.
The yoga training gave me more clarity around what kind of facilitator I did not want to be. I came back to Brooklyn and facilitated my next Up Speak group with more personal involvement. I spoke about my personal experience and wasn’t afraid to put forth my own perspective. Being a more active facilitator made people feel more connected to me and made me feel more supportive of the group.
Lesson learned: Most people fare better with closure to group discussions and when they recognize their facilitator as a fellow human.