Why Facilitators Need Deep Democracy

Originally posted on www.DeepDemocracyUSA.com. Leia em português aqui. Obrigado, Regina Eggers Pazzanese, instrutora do Brazilian Deep Democracy, pela tradução! 

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After 30+ years as a facilitator, I thought I knew it all. When I went to new facilitation workshops, the techniques seemed repetitive. Then I discovered Lewis Deep Democracy. This unique methodology is built on humanistic values like respect for human dignity, choice, responsibility, authenticity, openness, learning, diversity, and inclusion. Many facilitation techniques advocate for similar values. Deep Democracy offers new and different ways of actualizing those values.

Here are five reasons why facilitators need Deep Democracy.

All Voices Matter

As a facilitator, I believe that all voices matter. However, if I’m honest, my facilitation often sent the message that all voices weren’t welcome, especially those that slowed down the process. I would often ask questions like, “Who agrees with this proposal?” If people nodded their heads or expressed energy, I would accept that we had an agreement and move on. I rarely asked those who were silent what they thought.

With Deep Democracy facilitation, we make decisions differently. We take time to invite dissent and bring alternative views to the table. When making a decision, people don’t always get their preferences, but everyone is heard. Including all voices makes for stronger decisions, especially since dissenters often have valuable information the rest of the group lacks.

Emotions are Welcome

Most Western facilitation methods aren’t comfortable with emotion. Many of us are trained to tamp down anger, avoid sadness and regret, and redirect conflict. But asking people to check their emotions at the door forces them to leave behind a part of their humanity. It also tacitly favors the norms of more emotionally restrained cultures.

Deep Democracy facilitation, in contrast, welcomes emotions. But it’s not a free for all. Instead, we provide spaces and processes in which participants can express feelings clearly and directly. People might fear that if they express anger, they will permanently damage their relationships. I’ve observed just the opposite: groups that allow space for anger no longer have to expend energy holding back. They release suppressed tensions and free up resources to think creatively and collectively about the issue at hand.

There’s No One Right Answer

When I teach Deep Democracy to facilitators, a turning point often comes with the realization that perfection is not necessary. This is a revelation to many Americans who have acclimated to the expectation that professionals must always get it right. To be brilliant facilitators (and who doesn’t want that?), we must intervene in the perfect way to move the group forward. Yet there are many ways to get from point A to point B.

Deep Democracy is based on the concept of emergence. We create spaces in which groups can become their best selves. We intervene knowing that sometimes we will get it wrong. Those moments can help a group turn a corner. Sometimes people can’t express what they want or need until we suggest something that they can oppose. By saying the wrong thing, we can help people articulate their truth. We also tacitly give participants permission to be imperfect as well, to experiment, to miss the mark, and to recover.

We Go Beneath the Surface

Every group can be described as an iceberg. Some aspects of the iceberg—group behaviors, artifacts, intentions, speech patterns, and so on—are apparent. Yet there’s much happening beneath the surface. In mainstream facilitation techniques, we have words to talk about what’s underneath the water line and we have methods to discuss hidden aspects of group functioning. (See Marshak & KatzScheinArgyris, and Agazarian for some notable examples.) Yet these techniques are not widely used in groups. Instead, facilitators often focus on what lies on the surface.

Deep Democracy facilitation is based on the premise that wisdom lies beneath the water line. If we don’t allow space for what’s hidden to arise and influence our conversations, teams will remain shallow and blocked. In Deep Democracy, we use techniques that help bring out what’s important but unseen, thereby enriching conversations and expanding possibilities.

We Work with Power

We have a complicated relationship with power in the United States. The word power often has negative connotations; many believe that power corrupts and is something to be avoided (at least overtly). Yet few people want to be powerless and will often act to increase their influence. While the American story is that we’re an egalitarian country, every organization contains hierarchies. Some are overt and represent positional authority. Others are covert and create rankings based on qualities like race/ethnicity, gender, class, and so on.

In Deep Democracy, we make aspects of power visible so we can work with them rather than working around them. We acknowledge that formal leaders have power. We encourage them to understand how their power might affect others in meetings. We have tools that help leaders own their power without shutting down group conversations. Power dynamics occur even when we’re working in a group in which people have equivalent titles. We don’t see these dynamics as negative but as a natural part of group life that can be named and discussed.

These are just five of the many gifts that Deep Democracy gives to facilitators. If you’re interested in learning more, contact me.

Thanks to Cat Lazaroff and Ipek Utun for the conversation that sparked this post.

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