Growing Through Facilitation

EmpathyI was very new to the library when I attended the Omaha Public Library’s Staff Day where Sam McBane Mulford and Cheryl Gould introduced facilitation by having volunteers guide a conversation at each table.  For some reason I thought, “I can do this”.  Public speaking is not something I was comfortable with.  Although I came from a previous office where you didn’t express your thoughts or ideas even when asked, I kept thinking that this is something I could do.  I felt good about this small table facilitation.

Sam and Cheryl mentioned that Omaha Public Library would train a team of facilitators.  Let your manager know if you were interested in this opportunity.  I kept thinking about it.  After a few weeks, I sent an “I am interested” email to my manager.  I received an acceptance notice after another month or so.  I wasn’t sure whether to be excited or terrified.  For some reason I had faith that I was being called to do this.

I didn’t have a lot of expectations going into facilitation training.  I wasn’t even really sure what I had signed up for or what direction it would take me.  It certainly wasn’t easy.  It put me in very uncomfortable situations which are great for learning and growth.  It was also comforting that the rest of the FIT Team was learning right along with me.  Since we had pairs or teams of three for projects, it wasn’t so daunting.  All my partners were awesome.  We did a lot of team building activities so we became comfortable sharing in uncomfortable circumstances.  We experienced the pressure of creating a meeting and not knowing if anyone was going to show up; the apprehension of representing the library well; living up to the confidence that the administration had in us; and measuring the outcomes of the pilot projects and the impact it had on the community together.  It was truly an amazing experience.

From that first training session, 16 months ago, to today I can say that the FIT Team has positively affected every aspect of my personal and professional life.  I continue to learn and grow daily because of the different techniques, skills, and perspectives I learned as a facilitator.  I can now take on a neutral role and see a broader view of a problem or situation.  Before this training I might have been too personally or emotionally involved which limited solutions.

Empathy 2One activity we did was an empathy exercise.  We wrote down one personal work-related behavior that might be annoying or hard to understand by others.  We passed the cards around the room, ended up with someone else’s card, and read it to a partner.  The words on the card weren’t mine but it was definitely my behavior.  Although I’d never been able to put my finger on my behavior, it was instantly spelled out for me, “Jump in and solve someone else’s problem.”  After striking me like a gong, I’m consciously aware of this tendency.  I now understand this annoying behavior and don’t subject my co-workers to it anymore because of this simple activity!

One of the facilitation’s greatest side benefits is that I’m privileged to learn everything that the meeting attendees are learning.  I learned so much more about the library, community organizations, and our community just because I facilitated meetings.  Someone stated in one meeting that “without conflict, you cannot grow, make positive change, or have innovation”.  What a great statement!  After coming up again in a subsequent meeting, that statement really impacted how I think about conflict.  My challenge now is to portray conflict to others as a positive tool to build on rather than a negative force.

I appreciate this wonderful opportunity.  Representing the library as a facilitator really feels worthwhile to the community and the library.  I am very grateful that Omaha Public Library is progressive, forward thinking, and such a valuable community resource in so many ways.  I think the facilitation team can continue to expand the public’s view of the library, bring people together to discuss important community issues, and impact positive growth with continued support and vision.

Posted by Laurie Hajek-Jones

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