Published: November 23, 2016   Updated: November 23, 2016

How do we engage with our participants without shutting them down? Dr. Kathy Obear discusses what to do and not to do in order to connect with your participants and bring about productive learning and discussion.

Bullets points:

  • Try not to one-up or “yeah, but…”
  • Find your commonalities
  • Say “me, too.”

Check out more of Kathy’s work on triggers, social justice, facilitation and more at


Question: What are ways to “relate in” with participants?

KO: “When I do White caucus work, the pattern of Whites when we come together is to say who’s the best White. And we do this by competing. I guess this happens when other groups come together who are primarily privileged groups. I think activists do this like, who could be the best activist. Who’s got the best language. Oh! [hands in fists shape] Noticed my hands that I didn’t mean to that but that’s kinda what it feels like, it feels violent to me. I’ve done it so often.

So intentionally, I create a space and I do this I would do this wherever facilitating caucuses, one-on-one as well, I’m intentionally trying to find how I’m just like you. What I relate to? Now this is not to say differences don’t matter. Particularly people are vulnerable whether they’re disagreeing with you, or they’re vulnerable with emotions, which uh whether feeling fear, anxiety relating in can create a foundation from which then the build further conversation.

If I come in disagree if I come, “yeah, butting” if I come in one-upping, all that is discounting, dismissing, and I think its power/privilege dynamics. So if I say things like, “oh I relate” or, “yeah me too.” Which is something we’re even just what I was taught counseling like, “yeah I gotcha, keep going, I so…” or anything like that you’ll find me doing, whether I’m doing coaching, facilitation.

Even if someone says something diametrically opposed to what I believe in and I’ll be like, ” Oh I’ve heard people say that, tell me more?” Anything so that I don’t come in teaching, telling, judging, fighting, controlling, conflicting. As a facilitator I don’t find that useful. Now if I invite others to engage effectively that’s different. But if I use my power/privilege to disagree then I think I’m using my power/privilege probably ineffectively.”

Written by FacilitatingXYZ Team

This is the account that the FacilitatingXYZ team uses. FacXYZ is co-facilitated by Meg and Sam, and brings in expertise, knowledge, and lived experience from facilitators far and wide. Read more about us here.

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