Category Archives: Facilitation

Building our social muscles – getting a conversation started

We in the western world have many options to build our physical muscles, but what about our social muscles? As Professor John Cacioppo and Assistant Professor Stephanie Cacioppo identify in their article on the social muscle, lonliness and social isolation can be as dangerous to our health as eating too much or smoking, so it’s in society’s good interests to ensure we have safe places to practice.

My favourite was a WEA course I saw many years ago with the title “What do say do after you say hello?” Whilst I never attended the course, it got me thinking that the awkwardness I experienced whenever our CEO came to visit was a skills (or social muscle) issue not a personal one.

He’d stick his head in the door of my office and say “Hi Sharon, how’s it going? and I would reply, “good Graeme, how about you?” and he would say “good”, or “busy”, or maybe “tired”.  Then there would be an awkward silence and after a minute he’d say something like “good to see you, don’t want to keep you from your work” and move along to the next office.

Eventually I went to a few “how to network” courses and later I even ran them myself.  The skills are relatively simple to learn and use, though there still is that tiny moment of awkward, silent anticipation at the start. My way of overcoming the fear is to think of the other person, not myself.  In a way I am doing them a favour by going first, by asking a question that is easy for them to answer and gets the conversation started.

I find these skills are invaluable in the facilitation work I do. I also need to use them, surprisingly, when participating in online courses or meetings where we are split into breakout rooms.  Often there is an awkward silence before I speak up and either ask the person about themselves, or about the task we’ve been given.

Here are a couple of suggestions of what to say, for the next time you are split into a small group or breakout room when you don’t know the other people in the group:

>What brought you to this session / meeting / course?

>What are you hoping to get from it?

>What’s something you’ve liked so far?  *

>What did you understand our task to be?

>What’s most useful for us to focus on in the time we have?

The first two questions are also useful when meeting strangers at an event (who knows when we might use those skills again?)

* I ask this instead of “how have you found it so far” so I don’t get the person focused on any negativity

And a handy hint for Zoom facilitators: you have to write the topic or question in the chat before you send people to breakout rooms, otherwise they cannot read the group chat once they are in a room with a room chat.




Connect with a young person and improve our tomorrow

Just a thought.  If you are feeling too old and stuck in your habits to change the world (hehe) but have lots of ideas and “wishes” – get connected with a young person.  We need to nurture their belief that they can change the world for the better – for all of our sakes.

Read here for local inspiration.

If you are in Sydney and up for being a mentor: contact the Raise Foundation,

If you are a facilitator try the Learning Clubs with the Smith Family.

More to come!  Contact me on sharon at if you’d like to bounce ideas around.

Conversation – for converging not converting

What if we had conversations with the purpose of converging our ideas, rather than trying to convert others?  Then instead of two ideas we could have an new and interesting third idea.

With just one change of letter we can have a whole new experience of conversations in business and at home.

Thanks to Desmond Sherlock for a great idea and a great interplay of words. I look forward to learning more in Rethink Perfect.

Deliberately practicing facilitation and management?

Thanks to my Solutions Focused colleague, Coert Visser, for a link to Dan Coyle and The Talent Code. On the surface, its another name for deliberate practice (Anders Ericsson’s work) in order to distinguish a new book. But what intrigues me is the question of “How do facilitators and managers create opportunities to practice deeply / deliberately?” Physical skills like piano or sport seem easier because they are solo activities or there are practice sessions and games, but skills like managing or facilitating are mostly done “on the job” and require others.

I co-convene a facilitation community of practice in Sydney and I’m not sure that we practice deeply / deliberatley, we do more of what we already know how to do. I tend to practice new things on my clients if any, which I don’t really like.

I’m interested to know how others practice such skills.

What are you now capable of doing?

Thanks to Jo and StJohn at Evolution or Bust for another fascinating challenge question.  This one is great as a facilitation, training or team building opener to set a positive frame for the session:

What are you capable of doing now, that you weren’t capable of doing this time last year?

My responses:

I can go without alcohol, coffee or chocolate for a month (but not the same month).

I can do yoga five mornings in a row, especially enjoying the relaxation bit at the end.

I can run a Sustainability workshop and explain scope 1,2 & 3 emissions.

I can nearly get through a 24 hour flight and then stand in a long queue without “losing it” (This is one of my capability ‘goals’ for the next twelve months).

So what are you now capable of doing?

Above the line / Below the belt

Above the line / below the line is a commonly used concept to talk to managers and employees about what sorts of words and behaviour are helpful / not helpful in the workplace.

I have devised a facilitation activity entitled “Above the line / Below the Belt” which explores this concept through mock debates.  If you would like to recieve a copy of the instructions for this activity, send an email to sharon[at]

Learning ahas

Today’s session with Dr Bruce Copley and his “heartner” Barbara, was a great reminder that it only takes a little bit more effort to create a learning experience rather than be lazy and fall back on telling.  As Bruce stated, the first principle of learning is: “involve people and they will learn”.

Two things I am very keen to play with are the holoprint (pictured) and the electromagnetic ball.  For more on these “tools” visit Dr Bruce Copley’s website aaha learning Thanks also to Rob Clarke at Training Australia Magazine and Curtin Uni, for sponsoring the “teaser session”. 

Collective resonance – a corporate example

Yesterday, a series of links led me to The Resonance Project website and Renee Levi’s research into experiences of collective resonance. I was very impressed by the story from Tex Gunning, who was President of Unilever Bestfoods Asia at the time and who had been assembling his country leaders in retreat settings through events called Outbreaks “to build community, create purposeful business strategy and goals, and make a difference in the world”. Tex”s sense was that they were creating collective resonance and the story shows the difference this makes when a group of people have a purpose beyond pure profit making. It also makes sense of the recent Dove “pro-age” campaign – which uses real life models – not those 8 supermodels!

Have a read and if you have an experience of collective resonance – Renee and the Resonance Project would love you to submit your story and so would we.

If, like me, you are also interested in finding out more about Tex Gunning,

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Online Playing fields – what are the rules of our game?

I am involved in two online lists where there is a bit of argy bargy going on and at the same time I am reading about Barry Hall from the Sydney Swans and his weekend ‘hit out’ on the AFL football field.

For a while I have been toying with the metaphor of online lists as playing fields and wondering – how do we set up the rules of the game? It seems to me that without agreement to the rules or principles of our interactions, we all come to these lists and play the game as we have learned to play in life.

From my perspective – having been brought up to play “nicely” – it seems dangerous to play with those who have been brought up to play hard ball. The person who has learned to high tackle others, intellectually or with cruel words, seems to get the last word in and us “nice” players stagger off when we’ve had one too many whacks to the side of the head.

As my husband said about Hall, rough play is part of the game, so it’s not good enough to complain “he goaded me”. But this is not how I prefer to debate nor interact with others on an online list. So the challenge is to see whether and how we can come to an agreement about “how we interact”.

My call to action is for us all to play “fair” not foul, which for me means to interact in such a way that I feel good and I intend for the other person to feel good too – the classic win+win. Whether I am being idealistic remains to be seen.