Managing the (Topical) Temperature
FRONT OF THE ROOM – Brian Lange
There are a few facilitation phrases that can help a group focus.
Recently, you may have noticed feelings “running hot” throughout societies on a variety of subjects. I’m not sure I can add anything to generate more clarity to the various discussions underway, but I do tend to think about how the current state of things affects us at “the Front of the Room.”
I’ve always had the belief that we should strive to be neutral on the standard high-risk subjects such as politics and social issues, while addressing a corporate audience. Over the years, I’ve found it reasonably easy to steer clear of inciting or engaging in highly personal, impassioned “discussions.” A few of the guidelines that have led me:
- Ideally, an audience should not know what your personal religious, political or social positions are.
- Group member attempts at “educating” each other in seeking to sway opinions is generally not served by doing so in a work setting.
- There’s a purpose for being in front of the group – chances are it is to influence behavior change. It’s important to not let anything hijack those efforts.
There are a few facilitation phrases that can help bring a group back to the learning focus if comments are made on “sensitive” issues:
- “Appreciate sharing your view on that — I’d like to suggest we segue back toward our work topic of…”
- “I appreciate that you feel strongly on this topic … with our limited time together as a group, I’d like to steer us back toward focusing on our desired outcomes for today.”
Try to avoid agreeing or disagreeing with the person’s views and get back to the purpose of the session. Ideally, the delivery is confident and forward-looking, and not consisting of an apologetic or even judgmental tone. It’s not about shutting the speaker(s) down — it’s about re-directing to the learning focus at hand.
I recently had someone share two pieces of feedback that were surprising about the challenge: I referred to an issue as not being “simply black or white” but, rather, having “gray areas, too”—and this person felt it promoted stereotypes as black being bad, and white being good (I meant it in the “absolute clarity” connotation).
In addition, I referenced the cover title of a recent Fortune magazine issue, “Make the World Great Again.” This person suggested that even saying that title was divisive and upsetting.
Our inclination is likely to explain that it was never our “intention” to cause harm or discomfort. However, our intention isn’t particularly relevant at this point. Best thing to do is let the person know you’ve really heard them — I always communicate that I’m appreciative they made the effort to share feedback, and often express that they’ve “really given me something to think about.”
Mark Twain wrote that, “It is my custom to keep on talking until I get the audience cowed” (bullied) — yet we know this is not practical in our corporate settings. The best we can do to keep the temperature cool is stay focused on the improvement we are seeking from our delivery efforts — and, perhaps, keep in mind some of these pointers.