Photo by Zdeněk Macháček on Unsplash
June 26, 2024

How can you design and facilitate incredible workshops?

Dr. Myriam Hadnes

Join Ally Dommu, Director of Service Development, and Dr. Myriam Hadnes, facilitator, and founder of Workshops Work, as they discuss the power and importance of facilitation. Discover steps facilitators can take to harness benefits and create respectful and inclusive spaces.


Ally Dommu: Hello and welcome to the Smart Communications Podcast. I’m Ally Dommu, director of service development and worker-owner at Big Duck. I am thrilled to be here today with Myriam Hadnes, and we are going to talk about the power and importance of facilitation. We’ve hosted conversations on this podcast before focused on facilitation. You can check out a past podcast with the amazing Key Jackson, that is episode 112 titled, How can you facilitate inclusive conversations? And I really do love shining a light on the importance of facilitation specifically for nonprofits. As nonprofit workers, volunteers, board members are all in spaces every single day where there are collective conversations and decision-making going on. And facilitation can be an intentional practice to help ensure that these groups come together, they hear each other, they work together as best as possible to come up with solutions or to make decisions or to discuss and advance their mission.

Ally Dommu: Before we dive into the conversation today, a little bit more about our guest; Dr. Myriam Hadnes holds a PhD in behavioral economics and a master’s in sociology, and for 15-plus years has combined academic knowledge with practical experience in group collaboration and facilitation. She describes herself as a self-proclaimed facilitation evangelist. Myriam is the creator of Never Done Before, a global online community of and for expert facilitators who aim to challenge preexisting practices by exploring and testing their own workshop ideas. She’s also the founder of Workshops Work, which helps individuals and organizations grow their facilitation skills through tailored training programs, facilitated workshops, and masterminds. Additionally, she hosts the Workshops Work Podcast, where she engages in weekly conversations with global facilitation experts. This podcast has over 250-plus episodes, so definitely be sure to check it out, and we’ll include a link to that in the show notes. So welcome to the show, Myriam, thank you so much for being here today.

Myriam Hadnes: Thank you so much for hosting me, Ally.

Ally Dommu: You shared that you consider yourself a facilitation evangelist. This is not a term I’ve heard before and it definitely was intriguing. So I’d love to start with just, what do you mean by that phrase and why does that feel like the right title for you?

Myriam Hadnes: Thank you. I must say that I’m not sure whether it is a thing. I came up with it at some point and then asked ChatGPT to write a definition for it. And this seemed fitting because the deeper I go into the work of facilitation, I’ve built a podcast with over 250 guests talking about facilitation. I built a community about facilitation, and I have the impression that more than being a facilitator myself, I now feel the need to support others in their journey to become facilitators, and even more importantly, to support those who don’t even want to be facilitators to grow their facilitation skills. Because I really believe that it’s a leadership skill. It’s a skill that we need if we want to better communicate and collaborate with others.

Ally Dommu: Yeah, yeah. Can you say more about what you see as like the benefits of facilitation and how can it be a leadership skill? What do you mean by that?

Myriam Hadnes: Facilitation for me is like a meta-skill because it combines so many other skills. I think in a nutshell, it’s the ability to help a group go from confusion to clarity to action by designing a process that makes it easy for them as facilitation comes from the Latin word facile, which means easy. And facilitators do that by having the courage to make the implicit explicit so that the group knows what they’re actually talking about. And a facilitator is present in the moment to hold that space where the difficult conversations can take place. And even more importantly, the facilitator creates an environment that feels psychologically safe so that the individuals in the conversations can speak the honest truth, can have difficult conversations, feel heard, and can speak up.

Ally Dommu: You use the phrase making the implicit explicit. What does that look like when someone is facilitating and going through the process of noticing that there’s something in the room, something isn’t being said, but it’s underneath the surface. How does a facilitator lift that up and make it explicit? How can they do that in a caring, thoughtful way?

Myriam Hadnes: Great question. I think many different ways. One way is maybe the most obvious or not obvious. “I followed the conversation so far and I’m wondering, what remains unsaid? What are you not talking about right now? I can feel that there is something that you’re holding back, so let’s give the elephant in the room a name.” So this could be a very explicit way of saying that. Otherwise just asking questions of how we sense. And I think that’s why it’s so important to be present and to be centered, to really sense what’s going on. Because very often we feel that something remains unsaid but cannot put our finger on it. And then sometimes it’s also if we sense that the group is talking around a topic without really getting to the core of it and then saying, “Okay, I hear you saying all of these things. For me, it sounds as if this is what you mean. Am I right?’ And then sometimes it can be this kind of very uncomfortable silence, suddenly. And then the skill of a facilitators to stand in that silence and to also allow participants to just take a moment to collect their courage, maybe think about it, and then contribute.

Ally Dommu: What do you think it might feel like for someone that’s a participant in a room with a facilitator where you’re in a conversation, and I think we’ve all been here where you’re, I like that term, circling around a conversation, but you’re not really entering into it. You’re not naming the hard topics or not really grasping it. But to be in a room where then you have someone that’s actually helping you take that next step. What should it feel like to be in a room where you have a facilitator that’s sort of holding and seeing that space and kind of guiding you?

Myriam Hadnes: Thank you for phrasing the question away that what should it feel like? Because I think there are two potential outcomes in this situation. The individual could either feel like, “Okay, what’s going on? I want to run away. I want to disappear.” Or it can feel like, “Ah, thank you. Now we can talk.” And I think the difference in both behaviors is the space that the facilitator has created beforehand. Does it feel safe? Yes or no, to actually speak about that truth. And for this to happen, a lot of kind of micro-actions need to happen before that so that the facilitator creates a space where everyone has the impression that they can put off the mask they’re wearing, they can show up, they can challenge each other’s ideas without being disrespectful, and that they really have an opportunity to feel, to be seen and heard.

Ally Dommu: Yeah. What are some of those actions that a facilitator can take to create that space of safety? You said the term psychological safety, but yeah, that sounds challenging. How can a facilitator sort of like take that responsibility and work towards that safe space?

Myriam Hadnes: I would love to start answering this question by what they should not do. Don’t say, “Oh, this is a safe space. You can speak whatever you want. You can be who you are.” Because I think psychological safety is something we can feel and sense. And if someone tells us this is safe, it almost creates unsafety because who can judge my own feelings and needs of safety in order to create psychological safety? I love to refer to a model by Timothy Clark who wrote a book on The Four Stages of Psychological Safety. He refers to psychological safety being a function of two things: respect and permission. So if we increase permission and respect to a similar extent, then we create higher degrees of psychological safety. And the beauty of this model is that it again makes the implicit explicit. So we can think of how do we know that we have permission and how can we create a sense of permission for the group? For instance, we can invite them to speak, we can ask what they think. We can invite them to have questions, and then when they’re asked questions or when they participate and show up, we can honor that by thanking them for it, by making it safe to criticize, to challenge, to say something.

Myriam Hadnes: And then respect is maybe even more difficult because it’s easy to say when we don’t feel respected. So if someone interrupts us, or if someone uses a high pitch in their voice or use a louder voice, then the small things that show respect are asking a follow-up question, listening, maybe body language, nodding, saying someone’s name, including someone adding a chair to a space when they come, or switching the language if someone comes who doesn’t speak the language we are communicating in, or explaining what an acronym means. So all these small things show respect. And very often we are not conscious about that. So to create psychological safety, increase permission, increase respect to similar degrees. If you only increase permission, ‘Show up as you want, you can be your full self” without respect, this can quickly turn into bullying and shaming. “I’m just stating my opinion.” Oh yeah, you’re stating your opinion, but you’re offending someone else.

Ally Dommu: Absolutely. And you used the example of like pulling up a chair, and I’m wondering, virtual spaces. So many people now, workers now in the nonprofit sector are doing collaborations in virtual spaces and Zoom and Teams and all the ways, right, that we’ve learned in this new work normal to work together with our colleagues on the computer. And I’m wondering specifically about the benefits of facilitation in online spaces and what would you say is the sort of equivalent to pulling up the chair as a sign of respect and inclusivity in the virtual world?

Myriam Hadnes: I think it’s this moment of pause and honoring someone who has just joined. Maybe a moment of pause. Maybe either if you don’t want to interrupt a conversation, just saying, okay, thank you for showing up. I get you up to speed in a moment. Maybe having someone to, without even anyone to mention it, putting a little summary in the chat, putting, ‘Hey, welcome. This is the question we’re discussing right now.” A very small gesture that is the equivalent of pulling a chair.

Myriam Hadnes: So most of my work I do online. I think very often we forget that we cannot replicate what we would do offline to the same extent that we do to the online space. Or we forget that the online space is an amplifier for what doesn’t work already in the offline space. So for instance, we cannot have conversations with six or eight people around the table. It doesn’t work. Usually, there’s only one person speaking, maybe two, or it’s a conversation between a small group in the offline space. We often forget that because we have all these site conversations that would take place, people turning to each other, starting to whisper or exchanging glances. And these interactions cannot happen online unless facilitated. So in order to be really inclusive and to create a safe space for everyone to contribute, it’s really important to use tools like the breakout room so that it feels less scary to actually speak up and to go more into depth and to feel less alone. It can be very lonely to be just one tile in the Zoom in the Zoom grid. And if you go for four minutes to a breakout with one or two other people to discuss the reason to be there in the meeting or the intentions for the call feels very rewarding. And people feel seen and less alone.

Ally Dommu: Thank you for that. So for people listening, whether or not they consider themselves a facilitator, like with a capital F, Professional Facilitator or not, but maybe for someone listening who’s in spaces where they’re leading conversations, maybe they’re leading a workshop or bringing a team together: What’s an action that someone can take to tap into the benefits of facilitation? Whether or not it’s, you know, what they’re doing every single day, but it’s a space that they’re occupying?

Myriam Hadnes: Yeah. And this is even true for non-professional gatherings. To think of the purpose first. Why are we inviting a group of individuals to spend their two most precious resources, their time and their attention together? If we can answer the real purpose why we want them in this space and what’s in for them, this is already a big change very often. And then to honor that time by giving everyone the opportunity to actually speak. Because if we invite people to a meeting, a gathering, whatever, a live interaction, and are actually not interested in their live input, there’s no reason for them to be there. They can watch a recording in their own time, they can read an email, they can get the summary. All these AI tools are now actually getting very good in producing summaries of online calls. Why wasting someone’s time and attention? This means that if we do invite individuals to join us live, then create the opportunity for them to contribute because you want their contribution. That’s the only reason why we would have a live gathering.

Ally Dommu: That’s so true. And and really gets to the heart of it, right? Absolutely. Well, thank you so much, Miriam. This has been lovely. It’s been great to get to know you and to hear your wisdom. I wanted to ask if there’s a way that folks can get in touch with you, if they want to learn about your facilitation expertise and the communities that you’ve built, where can they reach you?

Myriam Hadnes: The best platform is LinkedIn. I’m very active there, share my content and reply all the messages myself.

Ally Dommu: Okay, great. We’ll be sure to link to your LinkedIn page. And thank you again. And thank you to everyone for listening in. We appreciate it. Have a great day.

Ally Dommu

Ally Dommu is the Director of Service Development, Worker-Owner at Big Duck

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