A facilitated conversation[1] is a discussion between two or more people (“participants”), usually members of a tight-knit group, who come together to address a challenging situation that they are currently facing or one that may be imminent with the goal of achieving understanding, harmony of vision, and/or consensus or agreement on how to move forward.

A mediator or other impartial third party (aka, “facilitator”) helps the participants engage in open and reflective dialogue, sharing their opinions and perspectives and expressing their needs, interests, and misgivings as constructively as possible. Additionally, she helps the participants listen openly to one another, without judgment or defensiveness, so that each person feels respected and heard. Finally, she provides them with skills to navigate future conflicts effectively on their own.

How a facilitated conversation can help you

  • Prepare for imminent change such as a merger or new leadership
  • Discuss complex issues in order to make a decision
  • Create understanding about others’ points of view, opinions, and beliefs
  • Ensure that there is consensus before committing to an activity or direction
  • Address dysfunctional communication, misunderstandings, and hurt feelings
  • Propose sustainable solutions to a conflict
  • Re-establish trust & create or restore bonding

Situations that may benefit from a facilitated conversation

Family

  • Elder care planning
  • Estate planning
  • Family property use, management, disposition
  • Family business conflicts & leadership succession
  • Concern about a loved one’s substance abuse
  • Difficult decisions about whether or not to stay married

Businesses and Workplaces

  • Workgroup conflict
  • Team communication
  • Strategic planning
  • Overlapping roles and responsibilities
  • Sharing feedback and information
  • Prepare for imminent change such as a merger or new leadership

Other stressful relationships:

  • Friends
  • Neighbors
  • Roommates
  • Congregations
  • Faculty members
  • Boards of Directors

[1] If you look up the term, “facilitated conversation,” you are likely to find a variety of descriptions and explanations about the process. The term is frequently—and not incorrectly—used interchangeably with “mediation.” A distinction that focuses on the less formal nature of the facilitated conversation does not necessarily hold true, for example, if comparing it to facilitative mediation (which provides the foundation for my style of mediating). Further, if you consider the fact that a facilitated conversation can occur within the context of a mediation, then the distinction may be immaterial. But whether the facilitated conversation occurs in the course of mediation or independently, it does have one unique characteristic: Unlike mediation, the facilitated conversation does not depend on the existence of a disputed issue.

Questions about a facilitated conversation?