Effective facilitation of a discussion involves the recognition and employment of different perspectives and different skills to create an inclusive environment. In order to do so, it is important to consider the features of effective discussions, and conditions that promote small group interaction and engagement. Discussion is a powerful mechanism for active learning; a well-facilitated discussion allows the participant to explore new ideas while recognizing and valuing the contributions of others.
Paraphrase what a participant has said. S/he feels understood and others can hear a concise summary of what has been said.
Example: “So, what you’re saying is that we need to go slowly in changing our organizational structure.”
2 Check for Meaning
Check your understanding of a participant’s statement or ask the participant clarify what s/he is saying.
Example: “Are you saying that this plan is not realistic? I’m not sure that I understand exactly what you mean.”
3 Give Positive Feedback
Compliment an interesting or insightful comment.
Example: “That’s a good point. I’m glad that you brought that to our attention.”
Elaborate on a participant’s contribution to the discussion with examples, or suggest a new way to view the problem.
Example: “Your comments provide an interesting point from the researcher’s perspective. It could also be useful to consider how a farmer would view the same situation.”
5 Increase the Pace
Energize a discussion by quickening the pace, using humor, or, if necessary, prodding the group for more contributions.
Example: “Here’s a challenge for you. For the next two minutes, let’s see how many ways you can think of to increase collaboration within our faculty.”
6 Devil’s Advocate
Disagree (gently) with a participant’s comments to stimulate further discussion.
Example: “I can see where you are coming from, but I’m not sure that what you are describing is always the case. Has anyone else had an experience that is different from Jim’s?”
7 Relieve Tension
Mediate differences of opinion between participants and relieve any tensions that may be brewing.
Example: “I think that Susan and Mary are not really disagreeing with each other but are just bringing out two different sides of this issue.”
Pull together ideas, showing their relationship to each other.
Example: “As you can see from Dan’s and Jean’s comments, context is important in research. You need to critically examine the research settings.”
9 Change the Process
Alter the method for obtaining participation or by having the group evaluate ideas that have been presented.
Example: “Let’s break into smaller groups and see if you can come up with some typical biases in course evaluation.”
Summarize (and record, if desired) the major views of the group.
Example: “I have noted four major reasons that have come from our discussion as to why managers do not delegate: (1) lack of confidence, (2) fear of failure, (3) comfort in doing the task themselves, and (4) fear of being replaced.”
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