Facilitating Story Ferrets

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After so many years studying and practising group processes, facilitating, holding space, feels intuitive, like second nature, so that its hard to pull apart the steps, the details, the core essentials that make space safe, and safety is the name of the game, always.

Safety or trust is the critical state you are aiming for whenever you are facilitating, no matter what your purpose, but for this Muse I want to focus on the need for safety in order to elicit stories.

I often think of personal stories as ferrets, small, furry sandy coloured critters that live in tunnels underground.

Any ferret needs to believe her head isn’t going to be knocked off as soon as she sticks it above ground. This level of safety is crucial to enticing the story out in the first place. The greater the safety, the more revealing and vulnerable will be the story that emerges. Safety levels develop over time, just like conversations do. But there are some simple ways of holding space, of doing and being, that can fast track safety, so that in a relatively short space of time, people share stories they have never told anyone.

Creating safety is a dynamic and iterative process. After anyone takes a risk sharing, the group and particularly the person who shared, is looking to see how their story is received. It is like a ferret that sticks her head above ground to see the lay of the land, the potential threats or hazards, if there is any sign or scent of danger that ferret dives back underground. The difference with stories is this may be the one and only time that story sees the light of day, such is their shyness and fragility. If there is even a hint of critical judgement, either of the content or its quality as a story, it will duck back underground, sometimes never to be seen again.

It is for this reason that when I host a storytelling event I am at pains to be the best listener in the room, to make sure that when the teller looks around for an encouraging face in the audience, they can find mine. Secondly it is why I try my best to honour the teller, their story and the way they told their story after they have told it. I thank them, draw out what resonated with me and if I am lucky say something useful, or insightful about them or the story. I am not always successful by any stretch but these represent my base line intention as a host.

The rest of the Story Wise Monday Muse posts for May will further explore the skills and processes for story facilitating - hosting, catching and coaching. Love to hear your comments, thoughts and experiences below…