Stop worrying about the "elephant in the room". Bunnies are much more common.
I've facilitated a lot of meetings for groups that aren't quite functioning up to their potential.
Sometimes the problem is indeed "the elephant in the room" — there's a major issue that folks are upset about, but no one is acknowledging or talking about it.
But far more often, what's holding the group back is "the bunny in the room". A really fuzzy angora bunny. (Or often several of them.)
Think about your most frustrating meetings. Usually it's a lack of clarity (a.k.a., fuzziness) that's causing the frustration...
- Not clear on the purpose of the conversation.
- Not clear on who's leading the meeting.
- Not clear on what's expected of you.
- Not clear on how a topic relates to the issue at hand.
- Not clear on what's been decided.
- Not clear on what the next steps are or who's responsible for them.
In these instances, one of the most powerful things I can do as a facilitator is to tactfully point at the fuzziness and then ask questions to help the group get clarity where it's missing.
For example, I might say something like:
Sam, can I actually stop you for a moment? I'm not sure it's clear to everyone what you need from them here. Do you ultimately want the group to take a vote on this? Or are you just looking for their feedback about potential issues and opportunities so you yourself can make an informed decision?
I know we said the purpose of this conversation was about whether to proceed with Project X, but I keep hearing people talk about Y instead. Is Y an issue we need to address before you can make a decision about X?
One last thing before we wrap up, please. I'm hearing clear agreement that the group wants to proceed with Project X, but I don't think we've spelled out what the next step is. What needs to happen next in order to move the project forward?
What's important is that I'm gentle but persistent about holding the bunny up for the group to see. You might be surprised at how many times I need to do it over the course of a single meeting.
What should YOU do about the bunnies?
A bunny is not nearly as big as an elephant, so you may be less aware of it when one hops into your meeting.
Which means you have to be vigilant in watching for them.
When you do spot one, ask the facilitator and/or the group to help clarify things for you. Even something as simple as this can be incredibly helpful:
Sorry, I'm feeling a little confused by the discussion right now. Can someone help me get oriented?
That invites others into the act of creating clarity.
When you point out a bunny, most likely it will be a HUGE, courageous gift to the group. If you're feeling fuzzy, others very likely are too. You've just intervened to ensure the time you're all investing in the meeting is well spent.
So really it's just as simple as this:
Notice when things are feeling fuzzy, and then name it.
Banish those bunnies from the room! Your meetings will have so much more impact.
Bunnies pop up in individual work too.
If you're feeling stuck on something or like you're spinning your wheels, do a little scan to see if something needs clarifying.
Some quick journaling (here's how) can be a great way to help yourself get needed clarity on a project or issue.