Beginning Facilitator Skills

Beginning Facilitator Skills

Dennis Bradford

389 Posts



If you develop facilitator skills, you’ll be better able to help people help themselves.

People are hurting.  They are dissatisfied.  Often they are enduring pain or suffering.  If you help them feel better about their lives, you’ll feel better about your life.

Furthermore, you’ll find yourself with more friends.  To have more and better friends, be a better friend.  The best way to be a better friend is to use facilitator skills.

Suppose that you and I are what Aristotle called “complete” friends.  If we aren’t best friends, let’s at least assume that we are genuine friends, that we are not merely using each other, that we are not merely trying to take from each other.

What should we be doing together?

My work in the friendship is to support, encourage, and challenge you to live better.  My focus is on helping you help yourself.  Your work is to support, encourage, and challenge me to live better.  Your focus is on helping me help myself.

The friends in a genuine friendship mentor each other.

Let’s suppose, for example, that you are a smoker who wants to free yourself from that addiction.  I would not only encourage you to quit, I would support you through your process of quitting.  If I used skillful means, that might be a real blessing to you; it might just make the difference between your success and failure at quitting smoking.

Facilitator skills are skillful means of mentoring.

Mentoring someone successfully requires committing yourself to promoting whatever is best for that other person.  It requires being a psychological security blanket during that person’s period of growth.  As Eben Pagan puts it in his helpful “Become Mr. Right” training, it requires “holding space” for that person.

Here are some beginning facilitator skills that, if practiced, often work really well.

Think of beginning facilitator skills as a two-step process: (1) develop empathy and (2) lead the other person, who is your friend or potential friend, into tomorrow.  Find out about your friend’s situation and then help your friend to accept it and to discover a way forward.  (Note well that this is not the same as telling your friend what to do about it!)

First, ask about your friend’s situation and listen well to the answer.  (See also the post “Listening Well” in the moral well-being category of this blog.)  Since your friend is probably stuck on it, you may have to ask repeatedly.

Furthermore, don’t just ask about the specific frustration; ask also about how your friend feels about it.  Uncover not only the dissatisfaction but also the negative emotion that results from it.

Before proceeding, it’s very important for you to relate to your friend’s negative emotion.  It’s easy:  just remember a situation in which you felt the same way and talk about it.  If you make yourself emotionally relatable in this way, your friend will feel a stronger bond (connection, identification) with you.  Your friend will feel better understood and less lonely.

It makes no difference whether or not you think the emotion is justified.  Do not be judgmental.  Do not argue.  It’s the awareness and acceptance of the emotion that’s critical for draining it of its power.

Second, after you have understood your friend’s situation and related emotionally to how your friend feels about it, it’s time to shift the focus from the present to the future.  This will help your friend detach from the emotion and move forward.

The transitional question here is:  “What did you learn from this?”  Enable your friend to focus on the lesson learned.

It’s important to ensure that the answer includes improved self-understanding:  “What did you learn from this about yourself?”  How we think about ourselves is not only important with respect to how we feel about ourselves but also with respect to how we behave.

Once there’s a specific answer that makes sense, focus on the benefit of the lesson learned.  “How will this help you in the future?”  This transforms the lesson into a tool to be used to live better.  It derives a potentially valuable benefit from an emotionally negative situation.  It transforms an obstacle into an opportunity for enjoying an improved life.

In this way, even beginning facilitator skills can be very useful in friendships.  If you get better at holding space, you’ll help others as well as yourself.

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