Cairn of rocks © Jeremy Thomas

Summing it Up!

In Marlboro College’s Training, Facilitation and Consulting Certificate Program we ask participants to reflect on the question, “what is your superpower as a facilitator?” Doing this exercise with students made me ask the same question of myself.

I got it: my superpower is making summarizing statements. I’d never really owned it before. What it means is synthesizing disparate contributions and discussion threads to summarize an issue in a way that people say, “Yes, that’s exactly what we meant!” Or to frame a question that helps people back off of heated agendas momentarily to say, “Yes, that’s what we need to explore and decide.” A good summarizing statement helps people step back from the complexity, or the heat of a group process, and provides a platform that a conversation can then move forward from.

Here are some principles of good summarizing statements, for two different kinds of situations.

Situation #1: A discussion is complex or “all over the place” with big-picture ideas and lots of side-journeys and individual agendas

A good statement:

  • Succinctly captures and focuses one or two central points
  • Hits the right “altitude” – is neither so vague as to be subject to any meaning you want to assign to it, nor too detailed

Situation #2: Mediating a conflict

 A good statement:

  • Presents the concerns of all as a shared problem
  • Favors no one
  • Uses unbiased, neutral language

There are a few skills and behaviors that facilitators can cultivate to do to deliver impactful summarizing statements.  As an added benefit, they’re good for enhancing one’s focus by integrating different kinds of perceptions, and developing one’s overall agility as a communicator. They include:

  • Careful listening to content and learning to “read the room” for emotional energy and flow
  • Practice discriminating between overarching ideas and details
  • Putting aside a need to be “right” or get it the first time; readiness to check and adjust until people say “yes, that’s it!”

Practice is everything.