When working with groups, one of the jobs of the facilitator or host is to “feel the room”.
It requires to develop the habit of going back and forth between the activity as it is happening in the room and what is happening in oneself.
What’s happening in the room isn’t always about work. There are the many aspects of people establishing relationships with one another and verifying how the relationship is going. There are also many ways people react to what is happening and how they are feeling about it. And there are the moments which feel productive and being connected with one another.
Before a meeting starts, people come together and start to greet one another, then they engage in some small talk or in awkward silence. To continue it sometimes needs a brave person leading the people in the group either to connect or to follow a conversation they are suggesting. It’s the time spent with rituals like saying hello, seating everyone, offering something to drink. It’s time spent with small talk. Both are ways to be together which feel comfortable and safe. For some, it takes more time and even if they are present they will take their time to engage.
It’s a bit like warming up to one another.
When that’s achieved it’s possible for people to engage with one another. It’s engaging based on the reason they have come together. It can be to have interesting conversations, enjoy a meal, train, work, or do other activities together. These are the moments that feel productive and enjoyable.
But it doesn’t always feel like this. There are moments that will feel much more intense.
There are moments during which all the people in the room feel tense. It’s a feeling of being uncomfortable, possibly manipulated and not sure of the outcome. It can be conscious or unconscious. They happen when participants seek to achieve something which doesn’t feel clearly communicated. And what people are engaged in doesn’t correspond to the feeling experienced. While it is out of proportion it is somewhere on a scale between subtle and intense. Berne called these situations games.
There is another variant of an intense moment that feels much more appropriate, open and intimate. These are the moments during which people feel vulnerable, open to it and feel most connected. At the same time, this vulnerability makes these moments feel a bit dangerous even if it’s in a very different way than the very tense moments or games that we regularly experience too.
Sensing the differences between these types of moments helps to know what the group is experiencing and in which state of productivity it is. Not all are equal but all happen regularly and will be experienced when being together. It’s nothing that is being said verbally. It can only be observed and sensed.
Navigating the differences, inviting the group to shift from one type to the other, belongs to your set of effective leadership skills.