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How the Fearless Facilitator Handles the Unexpected, Unleashed, and Unmotivated

My mature Labrador Retriever, Max, likes to sit on the front porch and watch and sniff passers by. Normally this is quite a staid activity characterized by ear wags, nose action, head tilts, and now and then a tail thump. But occasionally something unexpected happens – like the time a cat went by and Max took off after it into the street putting himself in danger and causing fear in his owner – me! If I had been observing more closely this would not have happened. I just wasn’t expecting it!

For those of us in charge of leading meetings of all kinds (training, teambuilding, department, Board), unexpected behavior can cause the meeting to run amuck and us to look less than professional. This is not the time to criticize, to hunt down, and to cause further angst and disruption. Instead it is the time to observe, ask, clarify, and move forward.

The Fearless Facilitator knows what to do:

The unexpected (growler)
Often a meeting is going along quite smoothly when someone makes an unexpected comment. For example, the normally agreeable team member argues a long-held belief, or the typically prepared supervisor has outdated data. Or the enthusiastic marketer takes credit for another’s idea.
Fearless Facilitator: “Megan, if I’ve got this right, your concern is the turn-around time. Is that correct? How have things changed since your initial support of the idea?” OR “ Joe, if I’ve heard your report correctly, the data ends with winter quarter. Do you have the spring results?” OR “ Bob, I hear you; you’re building on Frank’s idea, right?”

The unleashed (barker)
We all have trigger points that unveil our values; for example, innovation, loyalty, honesty, hard work, or fun. If a meeting’s direction undercuts a core value, we tend to get emotional when we should be business-like.
Fearless Facilitator: “You feel strongly about this issue. What are you specifically referring to?” The idea is to acknowledge the feeling first, then get to specifics about the facts. Sometimes this must go off-line, as in, “ Yes, Kevin, company loyalty is key and your point is well taken. Let’s look at the immediate issue first.”

The unmotivated (whimperer)
Some people just don’t want to be there. They sit silently – even begrudgingly with ever-present cell phone texting or disruptive side conversing. Here the facilitator gently corrects (or not so gently depending on the rules). Bringing aboard the whiner happens outside of the meeting but during it, the behavior is acknowledged in subtle ways
Fearless Facilitator: “Dr. Jones, what do you do in your area?” or “Sheila, Jenny, is there a question?”
As you may have noticed, Fearless Facilitators have a mental “script” that kicks in when these three behaviors occur. Observe, ask, clarify, and move forward and your professional meeting facilitation will get results.
For more tips, check out our book Fearless Facilitation: the Ultimate Field Guide to Engaging and Involving (!) your Audience by Cyndi Maxey and Kevin O’Connor (Pfeiffer/Wiley, 2013). Available on,, and more.

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