In a recent post I wrote about the role of  discomfort in group dynamics. Trying something new is generally not comfortable.  Trying to communicate in a different way is not comfortable. Finally digging in and dealing with hard stuff that you’ve been avoiding is not comfortable. A certain level of discomfort can be necessary for progress.

I like to compare this to fitness. The only way for muscles to become stronger is to work them hard, which is NOT comfortable. But they can only rebuild stronger if they have been stressed. If you work too hard for too long, without adequate rest, the muscles fail. The challenge is to find the optimum amount of stress that will lead to the desired growth. As facilitator and trainer, it’s my job to push a team’s communication and collaboration muscles to new strength, while maintaining safety.

So what do I mean by safety? It is the job of the facilitator to maintain an environment in which participants can speak — and disagree–  freely without being attacked. It means making space for those who tend not to talk as much, often by reigning in those who tend to talk too much. It means reading the underlying emotions in the room. It means intervening when it appears that one person’s comments have not landed well on another. It means helping folks HEAR each other.

It DOESN’T mean keeping things so “nicey-nice” that the hard things don’t get said, but helping folks express themselves in a way the others can hear it, even if it’s hard stuff. It means directing the fire so that it warms, illuminates, and inspires — without burning down the house.