You’re Not A Robot: It’s OK To Feel Uncomfortable
When I first started doing business analysis work, I couldn’t believe the confidence that more experienced colleagues showed. They could facilitate workshops, deal with conflict and navigate through complex political landscapes gracefully. They instinctively judged the context and could somehow pull out the most appropriate tool or technique for the job. They seemed to have this ability to adapt to anything that happened in a seamless way. Like a swan floating around a pond that suddenly pivots towards the family throwing bread into the water, they’d adapt and weave but make everything look deliberate and disciplined. Without skipping a beat they’d adapt their approach and make sure they get the best out of the situation.
We rarely talk about how people gain this confidence, so in this brief article I’ll reflect on (and share) my experience. What follows is my own personal journey, I am sure others’ experiences will have differed.
Nervousness Never Disappears: When Managed Well It’s Your Friend
I still get nervous before every single workshop I run, especially if it’s for a new client or a new group of stakeholders. I get nervous before giving presentations, and sometimes I even hover over the ‘send button before sending a document out for review. Perhaps you’ve experienced the same feeling: “What if I send this and there’s a really embarrassing typo in there?! Or what if I’ve accidentally attached the wrong version?”.
In my case, I’ve come to the conclusion that nervousness is only a problem if it’s uncontrolled or if it escalates into feelings of intense worry. A little bit of healthy ‘nervousness’ feels to me a lot like ‘anticipation’ or ‘excitement’. It is the thing that makes sure I prepare in time, that I consider what might go wrong, and that I arrive fully prepared. It reminds me of that feeling you have when on a rollercoaster, climbing up a steep incline. You know that the elation of the ride is coming, but there’s a slight nervousness as to what exactly is going to happen. Yet the elation of the ride relies on the anticipation….it’s part of the process.
I’ve always found that the lead-up to a workshop is nerve-wracking, but when the workshop starts the nerves start to subside. The preparation pays off and I genuinely enjoy it. When I was starting out, I genuinely thought the nerves would eventually subside… now I’d rather that elements of them remain.
Different people have different approaches for managing nerves. Some people advocate mindfulness, if this is a topic you’re interested in check out the recorded webinar Building Resilience Through Mindfulness with Kathy Berkidge. Certainly, focusing on breathing can really help. A key thing I like to remind myself is that a little bit of nervousness is rarely visible, and not only that, the other people in the workshop might be just as nervous.
One particularly effective approach is to spend time speaking with people one-to-one in advance of any kind of ‘high stakes’ meeting. This is a great opportunity to get to know people and also explore any concerns they have in advance. It can also mean that the workshop or meeting runs more smoothly as areas of consensus can be navigated quickly, spending time on the areas that really matter. But above all, meeting people in advance avoids the feeling of having to meet ‘a bunch of strangers’ on the day of the meeting.
Also, it’s important to remember that a facilitator is rarely expected to be an expert in the subject matter. It’s therefore fine to deliberately pause and ask for clarification. In fact, it can be very valuable to do so—very often different stakeholders will be using the same words to mean very different things. Although it can initially be nerve-wracking to ask a ‘stupid question’, experience shows us that in reality these questions are far more ‘curious’ than ‘stupid’, and it is curiosity that helps the group collectively navigate its way to a common understanding.
Preparation & Recovery
As a rule of thumb, I generally spend longer preparing for ‘mission critical’ workshops than their actual duration. Others have different approaches, and some people would say this is overkill, but I find prior preparation means that I can ensure the meeting runs smoothly. This typically involves research, designing flipcharts or virtual whiteboards, putting together an agenda and also a ‘run sheet’ which I’ll use to ensure I stick (broadly) to the time plan… or at least know when we’re going off track so the group can make a decision on how to react.
It’s tempting to think that preparation is a luxury that can only be afforded to those that have the time to do so. The cruel reality is that workshops that take place without sufficient preparation probably end up wasting far more time overall. I’d stress that what ‘appropriate preparation’ really does depends on the context. Of course, your style of preparation will probably be very different to mine!
Along with preparation, it’s important to consider recovery time. Facilitation is, for many people, a fun but energy-intensive experience. Where possible, scheduling some time away from other people to write up the output whilst it is front-of-mind can be a very good idea. The key thing here is self-awareness around energy levels. We owe it to our workshop attendees to ensure that we’re at our best so that we give them the best possible experience.
A Message To My Younger Self
If I could go back in time and give my younger self advice on these topics, I’d reassure myself that nervousness is normal, the key is to manage it.
What are your views? Do you experience nervousness, or is your experience different? I’d love to hear, be sure to connect with me on LinkedIN and we can keep the conversation going!