How to use metaphors to create better training? – Facilitator as Clinician – Part 2.

The stated need of a stakeholder can have several layers to it. This post will help you peel that onion, give you a deeper appreciation and understanding of the need and perhaps come up with a program that is so much more relevant and real for your participant and stakeholder.

This is the 2nd part of a series of posts entitled Facilitator as Clinician. In the previous blog – Case of the Facilitator as a clinician – Areas of Inquiry- Part I, I brought out the concept of areas of inquiry and how they’re different from questions.   

This post is dedicated to a few things you can keep in mind when trying to unpack an ‘area of inquiry’. 

To Recap: What’s an area of inquiry?  
When you want an answer to your curiosity/query or concern but posing a direct question will get you: a) no answer at all b) a misleading answer or c) the situation to worsen When the person being asked the question doesn’t know the answer / has not thought about it before, and you want him/her to reflect on it. When the answer doesn’t lie with any one person but needs to be arrived at by collecting different points of view and connecting the dots – something that your role allows/needs you to do examples of areas of inquiry: “How are you?” or “Why is your performance low (or high)?” or “How do we change the strategy to get…” better still “how do we change the culture?” etc

As an occupational hazard, we facilitators end up giving advice freely and quickly. 

Formal meeting room conversations or water-cooler chats can provide you with great inputs for your program but don’t always solicit your advice. Besides, you need to earn the right to give advice.

Ask yourself, “what role am I playing in these conversations?”, gets you to be perceived as a good listener, gives you important inputs, and doesn’t turn people off (Oh s/he is always advising). 

As a simple and fun way of doing this, rather than trying to recall some bullet point you saw on a presentation, try thinking of your role in terms of metaphors. While conducting a diagnostic you could do this by asking yourself – “Am I being called upon to be:” 

  1. A sponge – Soak up what my stakeholder needs to share: the latest book they have taken up and want some matrix from it covered in the training program or some concern or just an idea. Be like a sponge soaking up, listening, acknowledging, resonating (where and when you can) but without providing a solution. 
  2. A traffic cop – For the times when you need to stop and redirect a  certain line of thought, push back or confront positively.
  3. A spade – Digging for the root cause.
  4. An artist – Painting the entire picture
  5. A sounding board – Sometimes clients listen to their ideas spoken out loud and arrive at realizations.
  6. A mirror – Getting the client to reflect

For example, if after asking yourself what I am being called upon to do, the answer you come up with is ‘spade’. That means you need to dig a little deeper with your stakeholder to get a little closer to the root cause. But if you see that the conversation that you are in is getting you to be only a ‘spade’ asking yourself if you need to change the metaphor you are using,  helps you to zoom out. For example, after being a ‘spade’ for a while  at an appropriate place in the conversation you could say something like: “could we pause a bit and look at the big picture for a while, how does what we have arrived at connecting to the business need….” You’re now being an artist who would like to see other parts of the picture if s/he needs to produce a beautiful work of art. Or (at the appropriate moment) you could say, I notice the word ‘resentment’ (or a particular word/phrase you notice) keeps emerging… Guess which metaphor you are working with now – You’re being the mirror.  

The 6 metaphors that I have mentioned are not a comprehensive list but allow you to unpack most of the ‘areas of inquiry’. You could come up with your own metaphors, but keep them simple and use something that is easy to recall. The last thing you want is trying to remember which metaphor meant what.

To summarize: 

  1. We brought out the idea of  ‘Areas of Inquiry’ in our previous blog. 
  2. Just as a clinician uses several methods/tools (like a stethoscope, a blood test, and so on), you as a facilitator need to use different tools to arrive at the root cause of the symptoms. Metaphors could serve as a good set of tools that you can use for further exploration of the AOIs 
  3.  I’d now like to leave you with a sequence – which metaphor should come first, second, and so on.

Sequencing your metaphors 

Think of this sequencing of metaphors as a kind of heuristic, a simplified rule of thumb that makes things simple and easy to implement, but its main advantage is that the facilitator / designer knows that they are not perfect, just something to help your conversation to segue seamlessly from one phase to the next. Of course, you could remold this sequence as per what works for you. 

MetaphorDescriptorSequence
SpongeAbsorbsListens to the client acknowledges Paraphrases At the start of the conversation mainly. Before you can start to get to a solution you are meeting a client that has something in her / her mind – it’s important to take all that is – without trying to quickly come up with a solution. The solution too early and you face a lot of ‘Yes buts’, you also leave your stakeholder feeling that you have something pre-cooked in your mind and don’t want to listen to the entire context
SpadeDiggingPick up key pieces of informationUsing key pieces of information you have picked up from the sponge phase, you go deeper, asking for data and  instances around them
A Traffic CopRedirect the conversation, sometimes to a place where you need to push back – gently and positivelyThe story is beginning to form. You have a choice here of going deeper into a particular rabbit hole. Personally, I’d like to wait before going deeper and exploring other rabbit holes/points of view-
Done well, clients often appreciate a constructive push back – just make sure: it’s one on the one you set the context as this being part of your role you take permission to push
An ArtistPainting the Big PictureI have not put this as the initial step -I know a lot of people who advocate: ‘begin with the end in mind.’ 
I feel that the end is an “Area of Inquiry’ to get to actually defining the end goal there are a lot of things you have to clear up. 
Yes you could do a check at the start point of a discussion – as to what is the need of the hour. Often you will see the need change when you have taken the stakeholder through a quick journey  
Being an Artist is a step just taken before you share the solution. You have covered a lot of ground and want to go back to the big picture, to how the key points that you have been taking notes on connecting not only to the learning need but also to the business requirement 
An interesting element of this step is that it gets your stakeholder to stop and think about the connect – a small ‘Aha’ for you 

A sounding board: Not sequencing this metaphor does not take away its importance. 
This is a metaphor or step that comes into play arbitrarily – your stakeholder may have something they are struggling with and just want to have a chat with you. Listen and acknowledge. Confirm at the end if they would like you to action anything. 
The importance of this step lies in the fact that it is an indicator – when your stakeholder calls you up to bounce off an idea know / struggle know that your trust is growing!  

In closing, unpacking your AOIs can be seen as a multi-step process using metaphors could serve as an interesting point of departure

In my next post, I shall share the 2nd step – i.e the actual questions you can ask to complete your diagnosis. 

I’d like to close by saying that this post is for when you have the time and the willingness of the stakeholder to conduct a diagnostic. Sometimes you don’t have either, how to design a training program in those situations is something I have outlined in a previous post. 

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