Unexpected Benefits

Benefits 2When I signed on with the FIT Team, I really couldn’t have told you much about facilitation. Eighteen months later I’m amazed at how much intensive facilitation training has changed our team, our understanding of community engagement, and potentially our organization.  I could never have anticipated how it’s changed me both personally and professionally.

In January I accepted a new position specializing in business outreach for our library.  Working with Anna Wilcoxon, our Business Librarian, I support small businesses and entrepreneurs; work with the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce and other business development agencies; and build connections for the library in and around our business community.  I love this job.  I think we’re off to a great start.  A lot of my success in this role can be credited to the training and experience I’ve gained through the FIT Team.

I would have found this job terrifying in January 2013.  Networking?  Diving into tech conferences like Big Omaha hoping to hear the needs and interests of local entrepreneurs?  Standing in the lobby of a multi-billion dollar bank, waiting to deliver a lunch-and-learn?  A year ago I knew the library’s resources well enough to do this job.  I didn’t understand my own resources.  Our training and pilot projects forced me to engage and practice social skills in new ways.  They taught me to be comfortable with fear and risk and failure in a way my professional life hadn’t previously demanded.  I’ve grown enough to know I was ready to make a change and take a chance on a new direction for my career and our library.

This experience has changed my work life but the learning goes everywhere.  Although I’m tempted to use the phrase “typically Midwestern”, it’s fairer to say I’ve had the kind of upbringing and social space that doesn’t equip men terribly well to communicate about emotions.  This is especially true for male friendships.

Last week I grabbed a beer with a buddy who had a new job offer.  Instead of celebrating, he was clearly wrestling with the choice.  It would have been easy to focus on the positives – more money and health insurance just as he’s starting a family – and expect him to be excited. Active listening let me acknowledge the gratitude he feels toward his current employer and the guilt he feels leaving a young team that looks up to him.  I had the chance to honor those emotions and credit my friend for being the kind of person who experiences such feelings.  By the time we finished our beers it was clear that talking through and validating the difficulty of this choice helped him reach a place where he could feel OK about pursuing the new opportunity (and having health insurance).

It’s not like this is magic.  Although I knew how to talk to a friend about a problem eighteen months ago, developing facilitative skills has changed how I see and hear personal and professional interactions.  It helps me take risks, listen for requests and offers, and think differently about the process of communication and decision making.  I’m also a better friend.

Posted by Mark Sorensen, Facilitator-in-Training

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