Posts Tagged ‘conflict’

Facilitation Antipattern: Dominator

Facilitation, Musings | Posted by Doc
Feb 15 2009

dominatorMotto: It’s all about me!
Belief: I have a lot to say, it’s important, and so I’m justified in taking the time and attention to say it.
Behavior: Turns the discussion to whatever is important to him.  Talks loudly, forcing his way into any discussion, and then turning it again.
Characteristics: Loud, forceful, relentless, determined, sincere, focused.

The Dominator dominates. Obvious, eh?

What’s not so obvious is that Dominators are not always egocentric or glory loving or outgoing. Frequently, Dominators have learned that the only way that they can get people to hear what they have to say, and to make their points, is by steamrolling everyone else. Outside of meetings/discussions, they may be timid or quiet. but get them into a meeting, and they will just take over.

Okay – there are also Dominators who do it because they do love to be the center of everyone’s attention. For these Dominators – the ones you probably thought of first – it’s not so much which point they make as that they make a point by overwhelming everyone else’s defenses. Their joy comes from the act and experience of being dominant.

Dominators have found that if they speak more loudly than everyone else, everyone else will be quiet and listen to them.

Dominators have found that by the force of their presence (similar to the Gladiator) they can achieve their goals.  But distinct from the Gladiator, the Dominator doesn’t want us to fight back. The Dominator achieves victory by shutting everyone else down.

The Dominator is happy when we say “Okay – whatever you say” as a sign of capitulation.  They’re happiest when we say “Oh, you’re SO right!” as a sign of recognition of their rightness, along with capitulation.

To deal with a Dominator, you have to break their pattern. This is hard, because they’re relentless.

Techniques that either involve the group without discussion (Starfish, Timeline) or that enforce a structure that gives everyone equal time and attention (Circle of Questions, The Margolis Wheel).

Note that Robert Chambers, in Participatory Workshops: A Sourcebook of 21 Sets of Ideas and Activities, has an exercise he calls Dominator (pages 168-9), which he describes thus: “A lively activity to heighten awareness of verbal and non-verbal dominant and submissive behaviour and of the effects of physical position on relationships.”

Facilitation Pattern: Co-Worker

Facilitation, Musings | Posted by Doc
Feb 10 2009

coworkerMotto: Succeeding together is better than failing individually.
Belief: Two heads – or three or four – are better than one, and the group is more important than the individual.
Behavior: Frequently takes on facilitative roles/activities, looks for ways to cooperate and collaborate with others.
Characteristics: Patient, team-focused, non-combative, conciliatory

The Co-Worker* believes that the best results are achieved by cooperation, collaboration, and putting the group/team above the individual.

What I like about the Co-Worker is that they are very much like a facilitator. They believe in teamwork, collaboration, cooperation, dialogue… There’s nothing quite so good as having a Co-Worker or two in a meeting to make the facilitator’s life that much easier.

You’ll recognize the Co-Worker as the person who seems to always step in and say “I can see both of your points of view. How can we bring this to some kind of compromise or conclusion?”

Co-Workers rarely seek their own aggrandizement – they work for the group, and will put in as much effort as it takes to see the group succeed. They will frequently take on action items at the end of the meeting, and will seek others to work with in most cases.

* I was going to call this one Collaborator – as in one who labors with others – but was afraid that too many people would take the negative definition of that word – like traitor. English does have its challenges.

The Facilitation Four-Step(tm)

Facilitation, Musings | Posted by Doc
Feb 04 2009

As I was preparing to deliver the Facilitation workshops this week, I realized that I do have a simple system for dealing with many of the antipattern behaviors. For the sake of discussion, I’m calling it the Facilitation Four-Step(tm).

What I realized was that I have done the same things over and over, without ever consciously identifying what I was doing.

Here it is:

  1. Interrupt
  2. Ask
  3. Redirect
  4. Commit


When I recognize that a destructive or non-collaborative behavior is occurring, the first step is to interrupt it. Always act with respect – that is, it doesn’t matter how I might feel about the person or the behavior, I should always treat people with respect.

Interruption is as simple as “excuse me”.

Professor Moriarty whispering to the woman next to her? “Excuse me.” Gently, respectfully, but clearly. Just enough to get their attention.

Gladiator engaging in combat? “Excuse me.”

Superhero comforting someone? “Excuse me.”


The next step is to ask if it’s okay to do something else. Like “Do you mind holding onto that thought for a minute?” or “Is it okay if we come back to that in a little bit?”

It’s important that the Ask make it clear that we aren’t ignoring or diminishing what they’re saying. Rather we want to communicate that it is important, but that something else must take priority at the moment.

Implicit in the Ask can be both the redirect and the commitment. So, for instance, the ask might be…


“Would you mind holding that thought? I’d like to allow Jane to finish her thought.”

“Is it okay if we come back to that after Mark has a chance to say something?”

The redirect is turning attention away from the “offender” and onto someone else. The someone else is frequently one of two types of participants: someone who is shy and withdrawn or just quiet; or the “victim” of the “offender’s” behavior. It breaks the pattern, shifts the group’s energy, and still shows respect for the offender.


If you’ve been reading carefully, you’ll have noticed that in each case, the question also included the Commit.

“Is it okay if we come back to that after Mark has a chance to say something?” is one example.

If the Commit is not explicly included in the Ask and Redirect, then I add it.

“Would you mind holding that thought? I’d like to allow Jane to finish her thought. Then we’ll come back to you. Is that okay?”

This technique has worked quite successfully for me for many years.

Simple, clear, respectful, and paying attention to what’s important to and for the group.

Facilitation Antipattern: The Gladiator

Facilitation, Musings | Posted by Doc
Feb 03 2009

gladiatorMotto: It’s all about the combat!
Belief: The best results come from heated discussion/argument.
Behavior: Challenging and confrontational.
Characteristics: Doesn’t take it personally, and doesn’t understand why you do.

There are some people who seem to be happiest when they are immersed in conflict of various sorts.  “Violent agreement” is frequently heard, along with being told that it’s more interesting that way, or that you shouldn’t have to hold back, or that it’s not personal, or…

The problem is that most people do not respond positively to being attacked, assaulted, dominated, overwhelmed with perceived verbal and physical violence. They frequently do take it personally.

As a facilitator, behaving this way is right up there with the Evil Genius – you just shouldn’t be facilitating, unless it’s the Ultimate Fighting Championships!

As a participant, you contribute to creating a situation in which no one else is interested in speaking up. Why speak up when someone is going to challenge you to a fight? That’s not fun for most people.

Dealing with The Gladiator requires the patience and confidence to talk to them directly and ask them to tone it down. In many cases, Gladiators are not actually bad people – they’ve just fallen into a pattern of behavior that has worked for them.

%d bloggers like this: