Being authentic

“The only question in life that matters is this – will we dare to be ourselves?”

Pablo Casals

Point 1 of the 5 Point Plan in The Accidental Facilitator focuses on the importance of knowing ourselves, being present and being authentic when working with the group. I think the best bit of advice I ever received when starting out doing group work and consulting was simply this – “If you are sincere they’ll give you a go”. He was right – groups respond positively if they decide that you are sincere. Conversely, people turn off and get cynical pretty quickly if they think the facilitator is faking it.

So, … it’s a bit of an elusive topic but I wanted to offer a few thoughts – and quote a few others who know more! Abraham Maslow said this –

“Discover your true identity. Strive to be honest in the sense of allowing your behaviour and speech to be a true and spontaneous expression of your feelings. Live in a way that expresses your real desires and characteristics. Know yourself. Authenticity is the reduction of phoniness toward the zero point.”

According to the philosopher Kierkegaard, the “authentic self” is the personally chosen self, as opposed to one’s public or “herd” identity. To be authentic is to recognise resolutely one’s own individuality and distinguish one’s own essential being-in-the-world from one’s public identity. So, to be authentic is, essentially, to be faithful to who you really are.

It’s pretty hard to be totally pure on this when working with a group. And it would probably be a bit indulgent and unhelpful to be declaring every moment of your experience of the group! You are after all there for the group – they are your client, it’s about them. However, openness and the exchange of thoughts and feelings about the task are important characteristics of effective groups. People take their cue from the facilitator – if you model openness and authenticity you encourage it, you give people permission to do the same. Groups need openness to have the conversations that really matter and make good decisions.

Self-awareness and Emotional Intelligence

Authenticity relies upon self-awareness: to be ourselves we need to know ourselves. And I think any mention of self-awareness leads inexorably to the broader challenge of Emotional Intelligence.

Daniel Goleman proposed five domains, or areas of ability, for emotional intelligence. They are all particularly important for the group facilitator –

  • Self-awareness – the ability to know one’s emotions. In particular, recognising a feeling as it happens.
  • Managing emotions – building on self-awareness … handling feelings so they are appropriate and adapting to changing circumstances.
  • Motivating oneself – marshalling emotions in the pursuit of a goal.
  • Recognising emotions in others – empathy, attuned to the social signals that indicate what others need or want.
  • Handling relationships – in particular, managing emotions in others.

There is a lot to discuss here, and I will expand on some of these topics in later posts, but for now I just want to make the point that we have to bring all of ourselves to the group facilitation role. To do that we need to know who we are and how we respond around other people, and stay true to self.

A couple of practical examples may help here –

Self-disclosure – where it is appropriate to the discussion, disclosing some aspect of your own experience can have a powerful positive effect on the group. You should obviously only disclose things about yourself that you are comfortable with. And only you can judge that. Self-disclosure should be done selectively and only occasionally – as discussed, the workshop is not about you.

Your self-disclosure may also be about your experience of the group, an observation or suggestion regarding what you think may be going on in the group. In this instance it is important that your feedback is offered constructively, offering a potentially useful insight into the group’s dynamics and not delivered as a criticism of the group.

If you don’t know, say so – don’t try to bluff your way through when you are unsure what to do. It’s always a good idea to check what the group thinks in these situations, and, if required, let the group know if you need a 5 minute break to review your process, maybe with one or two of the group members.

Receiving feedback from the group – when a member, or members of the group give you feedback on your facilitation or the process, strive to be as open and non-defensive as possible. This relates back to interpersonal skills and the importance of non-defensiveness in assertive communication.

To wrap this up I would say that it takes a whole lot of pressure off you in what is already a challenging task, if you don’t try to be anything other than yourself and don’t try to bluff your way through situations where you are not sure what to do.

Hope these thoughts are helpful. My next post builds on this topic to some extent. It will address the importance of good interpersonal skills – and emotional intelligence more generally – and the extension of interpersonal skills into the micro skills of group facilitation.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *