While facilitating a recent conference session on facilitation skills, near the end of the session a participant I was sitting beside asked me a direct question about my opinion on something. We were having a “raise the curtain” sort of workshop, talking about why I was doing the things I was doing, and so I asked his permission if I could “go meta-level” on his question.
“So he’s just asked me a question, which I could answer, since he’s asked for my opinion,” I said. “But I’m a facilitator and I’m curious as to what the rest of you think, since collectively we found out we have over 200 years of training and facilitation skills between us, so I’m going to turn it back to you. How would you answer his question?” A couple of people answered his question well from their experience.
There are probably very few times that facilitators don’t have answers to direct questions in their workshops, but does that mean facilitators should answer all questions themselves? Or answer all questions first? I often turn questions directed at me to the whole group to answer first, because I want to leave room in the workshop for other people’s opinions and not just my own. (And sometimes people don’t want to contradict the facilitator if we speak first!) Sometimes I’ll add my thoughts in after for the group if I think they’ve missed something crucial, and sometimes I don’t. And still I do answer some questions myself because if I never did I’m sure that would be annoying and make me look like I don’t know anything at all! The key is balance.
Thinking about asking questions and answering questions – and who’s doing both and how – is a key facilitator responsibility and, I think, one of the most exciting parts of the work.