Difficult Conversations:
The art and science of thinking together

A guide for facilitators

Tips to Get Ready

A few things to consider as you get ready to facilitate the workshop:

Choose the workshop format

I've facilitated this workshop in large groups and small groups, in person and online. Never have I been able to complete it in less than four hours, and even that's difficult. If you can get people to commit to a daylong version – say six hours – that would be ideal. Another option is to break the workshop up into weekly series of 2-hour meetings.

Decide the group size

I suggest keeping your workshop group small, preferably 6-8 people. It’s very hard to go into depth with larger group sizes. If you have a larger group, consider breaking folks into sub-groups of 6-8 for conversation purposes. This gives more people a chance to speak. Also, many people are not comfortable speaking in a large group, but will come alive in a small group setting.

Create the environment

The environment you create plays a determinative role in the quality of your workshop. From the start you want people to feel welcomed and safe. Everyone has a certain amount of anxiety coming into a facilitated conversation. The following suggestions are designed to help reduce that anxiety.

  1. Do what you can to create a warm physical environment. Plants or flowers help. If possible, provide simple snacks and/or drinks.
  2. Welcome everyone as they arrive. If people are new to each other, have nametags.
  3. When you’re ready to start, and the group size is small enough, have participants sit in a circle. This helps foster a sense of community, and makes it easy for people to see each other.
  4. Take a moment to orient people to the space, for instance letting people know where the bathrooms are.
  5. Have an agenda ready that you can post. People like to know where you’re taking them.
  6. Finally, the spirit you bring to the dialogue is the most important factor for a successful conversation. People will pick up and reflect your energy, so be warm, inclusive and present!