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James Lawley

James LawleyJames Lawley offers psychotherapiy to individuals and couples, and coaching, research and consultancy to organisations. He is a co-developer of Symbolic Modelling and co-author (with Penny Tompkins) of Metaphors in Mind: Transformation through Symbolic Modelling, (with Marian Way) Insights in Space: How to use Clean Space to solve problems, generate ideas and spark creativity and an Online training in Clean Language and Symbolic Modelling. For a more detailed biography see about us and his blog.

What facilitators tend to do too early
By James Lawley | Published  10 12 2011

Following on from yesterday's blog about questions I frequently ask trainee facilitators, my second of four muses produced a table of things facilitators tend to do too early – and what to do instead.

2. Things facilitators tend to do too early

The beginning of a session is all about ‘preparing the ground’ for the unexpected change that happens – well, unexpectedly – when conditions are right. At the beginning you have little or no idea what those conditions are for this particular client. So the rule is, stay with the basics: facilitate the client to identify a desired outcome, find the locations and names of symbols, and develop a metaphor landscape.

The value of preparing the ground in an emergent process is commonly underestimated by a facilitator who feels the need to make something happen, or get things moving, or to get to the point quickly, etc.  In the desire to be helpful, novice facilitators commonly do the following things too early. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with doing any of them, it’s all a matter of timing.

Too early Instead
Decide on a direction at the very beginning of a session. Get to know the essence, or nature of the material presented. My most common second question is: And is there anything else about that?
Go down a rabbit hole focussing on one bit of the landscape. Develop the breath of the metaphor landscape. To start with, think span over depth.
Pursue a single rabbit by always asking a question of the last thing the client says. Ditto.
Choose between a number of options when there is insufficient information to say which is more salient (e.g. The client says ‘I want A and B and C.’) Let the client decide (see example #3 tomorrow).
Ask And then what happens? or And what happens next? when the client has just identified a desired outcome. Develop the original desired outcome landscape before moving time forward. If you do move time forward remember to go back and check against the original statement.
Ask a Where? question of something that does not obviously have a perceptual location. Pick something where the client is highly likely to answer with a perceptual location, rather than answer ‘I don’t know’ or with a real life location (such as ‘at work’).
Ask And that’s like what?
(a) before the client is ready to move into the symbolic domain
(b) for an undefined abstract concept
(c) of too big a chunk of information.
Prepare the client by identifying a number of attributes for the description before asking for a metaphor, e.g. see our generalised version of David Grove’s ‘From a Feeling to a Metaphor’ vector at:
Ask And what needs to happen for [.....]?
(a) without a clearly stated desire for something to happen
(b) of conceptual outcomes
(a) Make sure the client has specifically said they want ‘[.....]’ to happen.
(b) Identify the desire within the metaphor landscape first.
Ask the And is there a relationship? question between abstract concepts. Ask it of symbols embedded in a metaphor landscape. This will reduce the likelihood of the session becoming ‘ordinarily conceptual’. These days, in the early part of a session I prefer to ask And when [X], what happens to [Y]?

Next will follow some thoughts on How not to make decisions for the client.


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