Handling Challenging Facilitation Moments with MAGIC®: Part One

By Jean Marie Johnson

Note: This is part one of a two-part series. Here in part one, we explore how MAGIC principles and behaviors can be applied to your challenging facilitation experiences. In Part Two, we discuss how MAGIC applies to a particularly thorny matter: participant venting.

As facilitators, we have all thought at one time or another, "Am I the only one who has experienced this?" Or, "There must be a more MAGIC-al way to handle this situation."

You are not alone. Even the most experienced facilitators face challenges in their facilitations. The good news is that by taking a step back and considering how MAGIC can serve you in dealing with challenging situations, you can become a more effective facilitator and authentic model of MAGIC.

In our last newsletter, we explored how applying The Five MAGIC Steps to your facilitation will create an exceptional experience for your participants. In this issue, we'll address two common and challenging facilitation moments and how you can turn these into MAGIC opportunities: 1) When a participant refuses to participate in skill practices (role plays) and 2) When a participant questions why his/her manager has not taken MAGIC.

The MAGIC principles and behaviors can apply to both of these situations. It is important to view and approach all challenges as opportunities for growth as opposed to obstacles. While there is no one right way or silver bullet answer, when we facilitate with MAGIC in mind, we influence the response in a positive way. As you review the following approaches and examples, ask yourself:

  1. How would your participants respond?

  2. Which approach sounds most natural to you?

What do I do when a participant refuses to participate in skill practices or role plays?

While you should internalize these suggestions and come up with your own response, we offer a few key elements of best practice responses to this question:

  • Express Empathy: When you express empathy, you acknowledge through your response that you "get" how the person feels. It is important to remember that empathy is achieved not only through your words, but through your tone and body language.

    Barriers to expressing empathy tend to fall into two categories: 1) you don't agree with how a person feels, "I wouldn't feel that way if it were me." Or, 2) you judge how the person feels. 

    By remembering that empathy is simply recognizing and acknowledging, we shift our thinking, making it easier to show our respect for the person and how they are experiencing a situation. For example:

    "I totally understand. I bet there isn't a person in this room who would choose to do a skill practice if they didn't have to."

    "I know that role playing can be nerve-wracking. Not just role plays, but doing them in front of your peers and not wanting to make any mistakes—and with a tape recorder, no less!  I get it…"

    Through expressing empathy in this way, you put the participant at ease and they are more likely to join on in.
  • Clarify the Issue: Get to the root of the issue. Show the participant that you understand their position by probing for the cause and offering up some clear and common reservations, such as:

    "Is that because the situations are not real – that it's different than actually being with a customer? [Pause and wait for an affirmative response].  I see."

    You can't help them without completely understanding the issue. By putting the issue in clear terms you can address it and move forward.
  • Ask Permission: Before jumping into an explanation or story why role playing is important, get the participant's permission. Ask:

    "May I share with you why I think skill role plays are a valuable way of learning?"

    When you ask permission you are engaging the participant in a two-way conversation and he/she is more likely to really listen to your explanation as opposed to feeling talked at.
  • Focus on the WIIFM (What's In It For Me): Once you have the participant's permission, provide him/her with the benefits of role playing. Focus your explanation on the, what's in it for me. Share stories and make analogies. You might say:

    "You know, a way to think about it is that when we participate in skill practices, we are like a pilot in a flight simulator – it's not real but it is a great way to learn and to practice. So when the real thing happens, the pilot has developed some effective approaches. The same holds true for us. It's simulation that gives us practice for the real thing."

    "I absolutely see your point. I don't want you to think of it as pretending or making things up. It's more like practice—what you do when you are on a sports team or part of a choir or any other activity that requires you to develop your ability. That's the reason we role play—simply to get better."

    "First, every successful professional I know pays attention to how they are impacting others. They constantly strive to improve the way they communicate through asking others, 'How can I be more effective with my words, tone of voice, or body language?' and 'How do I come across?' That is the value of making a recording and playing it back. You get to hear how you are coming across to others. Second, this may be a once in a lifetime opportunity to hear yourself in an interaction. You will have the opportunity to pick out many of your particular strengths and also hear things that you would like to improve upon." 

  • Create Common Ground: Relate one of your own experiences or feelings with what is going on in the participant's head to create common ground. Like you, they want to know that they are not alone in what they are feeling. Consider sharing what your first skill practice was like. For example:

    "I didn't recognize my own voice…Who's that? That can't be me, I know exactly what I sound like, and I can tell you for a fact, that's not it…You mean when I speak, that's what others hear? That's so embarrassing…I will never speak again! Yet, here I am speaking. Role playing is an eye opening experience and is the number one way for us to hear ourselves as others experience us."

    Relieve some of their fears by sharing your own. It can even be quite humorous to lighten the mood and put them at ease.
  • Provide Alternatives: Before you jump to role playing alternatives, consider the group dynamics as well as the needs of individuals.

    To a specific participant, you might say, "Would you be willing to talk with me about that on our break, Tanya?" OR, "Tanya, I'd be happy to be your skill practice partner. How would you feel about doing a short skill practice with me?"

    If the group is reluctant to role play, you may suggest, "Would you like to hear some of the other options? You could record the role play in a separate room with one other participant." 

    Depending on the group and the rapport you have established, you might even ask, "What ideas do you have about how to make the skill practice part of our workshop a really effective learning experience for you?"
  • Role Play Lite: If all else fails, you can ease them into role playing without them even realizing it. For example, you might say:

    "Let's hold off on the role play, okay? Could you tell me how you answer the phone, Hector? [Hector gives his answer] Thank you and guess what, you just did a role play. [Clap, clap, clap.] Would you be willing to do that again? This time I'm going to put the tape recorder over here [away from him]. Now, how do you answer the phone?"

    This is a great way to get people relaxed and role playing, within their own comfort zone.

Role playing is a difficult challenge when you have reluctant participants. However, by following these few best practices and approaching the challenge in a MAGIC way, you can put your participants at ease and get them practicing in no time at all.

What do I do when a participant questions why his/her manager hasn't taken MAGIC?

Often times, when representatives take a course that their manager has not taken, there is some resistance. The reps question the course's significance and its importance to the business. There are several ways you can handle this, but we suggest considering these key elements and best practice responses to this question:

  • Acknowledge the Question: The first thing you want to do is acknowledge the question without jumping to conclusions as to why their manager has not taken MAGIC. For example:

    “My understanding is that all managers are expected to demonstrate the skills of personal interaction that MAGIC provides. But MAGIC is always a choice. For each of you, MAGIC can help you to become more aware of your own responses to situations, and become more skilled at handling customer interactions, as well as interactions with your boss.”

    Reinforce the benefits the participant receives through MAGIC, rather than focusing on the manager. Help them understand how MAGIC will help them in their own job, career, and life.
  • Ask Questions: Ask questions and begin a conversation around the topic to understand the participants' concerns and feelings. You might say:

    "That's an excellent question, since MAGIC is about creating a culture within your organization. I'd like to understand, what causes you to ask that? I'd love to capture your thoughts on a flip chart."
  • Encourage Positive Influence: This is a key opportunity to guide and coach participants in focusing on what they can control and influence. For example:

    "How can you tell your manager about the impact it has had on you in a way that encourages him to ask more questions about MAGIC?"

    "What sentence would you use, when speaking to your manager that could encourage him to take the workshop? What would he see as the benefit to him?"

    "Can you describe the impact these skills and attitudes could have on your team/department in a way that encourages him or her to ask more questions about MAGIC?"

    "You will have an opportunity at the end of the workshop to write an anonymous recommendation for all of the managers to attend."

When managers do not attend MAGIC, reps have a hard time understanding where it fits in and how it affects their jobs. Focus on the benefits they receive from the training and encourage them to discuss the issue further so you can address any concerns they have.

Approach Your Next Challenge With MAGIC

While each of us is faced with challenging situations in our facilitations, if we step back and approach them in a MAGIC way, we can create opportunities for our own personal growth and our participants' growth. 

We encourage you to consider the possibilities inherent in each of these best practice approaches and find the one that works for you.

In our next issue, we'll take a look at how to turn participant "venting" into an opportunity for both personal and organizational growth.

Click here for Part Two.

Jean Marie Johnson is a Communico facilitator and has helped clients with their MAGIC initiatives. And for 20 years she has specialized in cultivating the customer experience as a key competitive advantage.

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Just one "tragic" contact can influence your customers' perception of your company (and their buying decisions). Listen to the difference MAGIC® can make.