Comparing Groups to One-On-One Interaction
The involvement of multiple clients in group interaction makes it harder to control and predict the relationship between you and any single client or to foresee the outcomes for the client. There are a number of factors that explain this difference:
- Casualties can occur far more easily in group sessions than in individual sessions because the leader has considerably less control over the proceedings.
- Peer pressure makes it more likely that participants may be coerced to do or say things for which they do not yet feel ready.
- Confidentiality cannot be guaranteed, and so personal disclosures could be compromised.
- One member who demands too much attention, or who is manipulative or abusive, can cloud the whole experience for others.
- It is difficult to monitor closely how each participant is responding to circumstances during any given moment.
- Safety is more difficult to maintain. Scapegoating can easily occur.
- It is easier for someone to hide and not be helped. Quieter members may be shortchanged.
- Members of non-dominant cultural groups may be forced to conform to majority values that are dominant in the group.
Module 5 Reflection Activity: Comparing Groups to One-On-One Interaction
Instructions: Think about your experience as a peer support specialist. How is it different interacting with an individual than with a group? When you are working in groups, do you experience any of the differences from the list above? What can you do to minimize the difficulties listed?
Did you think about using active listening or Motivational Interviewing responses to assure that group members feel heard?
Note: This activity is for reflection only and does not need to be submitted along with your workbook.
Group Facilitation Skills
Facilitation is defined as “to make something easier.” In the context of doing work with groups, facilitation means assisting a group to realize its common goals, visions, and mission. In order to achieve these aims a facilitator needs to be effective as a communicator, role model, problem solver, and conflict manager. In addition, the facilitator must be culturally competent.
How a group is facilitated is dependent upon several factors, including the type of group, the use of supporting materials, and the role or authority of the group leader.[i] As a peer leader, you have less authority over your group members than a teacher or a therapist would have. However, you have just as much responsibility for managing or facilitating the group process as these professionals. That means that the tools that you rely on for managing the group and attaining positive outcomes are limited to your communication skills and the relationship you establish with the group members.
Role of the Facilitator
The responsibility of the group leader or facilitator varies with the type of group being conducted. Generally speaking, in a support group, the leader is responsible for:
- setting the tone or climate of the session
- managing the process of the session
- ensuring the comfort and cohesion of the group. [ii]
For topic-focused and open-forum support groups, the content of the group session is set and provided by the members of the group, but in curriculum-based support groups, the content is pre-determined.
In an education group, particularly one with a skill-building focus, your role is more that of a leader or instructor and you are responsible for all of the things a support group facilitator must manage, but in addition, you are responsible for:
- conveying required information
- modeling skills to be acquired
- providing opportunities for skill practice and feedback
- confirming client progress or mastery.
Tips for Running a Successful Group
Your own agency will provide you with specific policies and requirements for running your group, such as enrollment, taking attendance, collecting fees and documenting client progress. If your group membership varies from session to session, such as in an open forum support group, there may be procedures that you need to follow at each group meeting, such as introductions, confirmation of confidentiality and other reminders.
Here are some tips for running a successful group. Some of the tips are more applicable to support groups than to education groups, but many of the tips hold true regardless of the type of group that you are leading. We have divided the tips based on specific facilitator responsibilities.[iii]
Setting the Tone
In both support groups and education groups, the facilitator is responsible for setting the tone or atmosphere of the session. Doing these things will help you to set a positive tone for your group sessions:
- Be prepared. Come to the group with all of the materials that you will need. If appropriate, know who your participants will be so that you can know when everyone has arrived.
- Create a welcoming environment. Be aware of how furniture is arranged, monitor the temperature, and offer refreshments if possible. Welcome participants – by name, if possible, and help participants get to know one another. Use nametags if necessary and appropriate.
- Start and end on time. This sends a message of reliability and dependability and helps to structure expectations for participants.
- Set ground rules and stick to them. It is a good idea to involve participants in this process, but be sure that you add any necessary ground rules if participants fail to think of them.
- Encourage and reinforce confidentiality, even in educational groups. This is important for the comfort and protection of participants, as well as for compliance with policies and regulations.
Managing the Process
As the facilitator, you are responsible for making sure that the group fulfills its intended purpose, benefits the members and does not cause distress for the members. In curriculum-based and skill-building groups, the facilitator is responsible for ensuring that the prescribed content is delivered as intended. These tips will help you to manage the process in your groups.
- Be flexible within limits. Allow conversation to go slightly off topic if it will meet the needs of group members and appears helpful.
- Do not allow one member to dominate or highjack the group.
- Allow members to participate and contribute at their own pace and within their comfort zone. Do not force members to speak, but do insist that they are engaged by demonstrating active listening.
- Use self-disclosure as appropriate to encourage participation. This should be limited to instances where a “prompt” is necessary to stimulate discussion or illustrate a point. Remember that you should seek your affirmation and support outside the group that you are leading.
- Respond to unacceptable behavior quickly and clearly. If consequences of negative behavior have been spelled out in advance, make sure that you impose these consequences.
- Model active listening and respectful, constructive feedback.
- Have an emergency plan. Be able to respond quickly and appropriately if a group member becomes overwhelmed to the point that they cannot control themselves within the group setting. Be prepared to respond to both the upset individual and the group members’ reaction to the upset.
Ensuring Comfort and Cohesion
- Encourage socialization and relationship building before and after the actual session. During the session, make sure that only one person speaks at a time.
- Where possible, allow the group to self-manage and control its own process. Ensure that group members’ problem solve and confront one another in a spirit of respect.
- End the session on a high note. Make sure that all participants have been able to express and process their feelings and emotions. Provide a closing summary, if necessary, that puts a hopeful spin and perspective on what has been shared in the group.
Over time, you will become more and more confident and comfortable with your group facilitation skills. If you base your facilitation on the principles included in this module and follow the tips listed here, you will be able to conduct your groups successfully. Remember to seek supervision and consultation if you have trouble with a particular group member or process.
Principles for Facilitators
Often, the facilitator is referred to as a neutral party whose only responsibility is to be neutral in moving the group through its intended purpose. While mediators act as neutral third parties in disputes between two sides, in a group, there may be many more than two opinions. Therefore the facilitator works with all of the opinions in the group to encourage discussion, honest expression, openness, and an atmosphere where all perspectives can be included.[iv] As a peer, you may have an opinion that is useful to contribute to the group, but your opinion should be shared only as essential and as a tool for moving the process forward. It is important that the group members do not feel as though they need your agreement or approval for their ideas to be valid. The goal is expression of all opinions that group members wish to share, so long as they do so in a way that is respectful of others.
As a group facilitator, you should base your actions on the following principles:
- Respect – Demonstrate respect for each individual and ensure that group members treat one another with respect.
- Equality – Make it clear that each member of the group is as important as the others. The experience of each group member is equally important.
- Trust and Safety – Every group member should feel safe to disclose feelings and opinions or to decline to disclose. Group members should feel that they will be taken care of and supported if something in the group triggers them and they become upset.
- Confidentiality – To participate fully, people must be confident that everything of relevance can be discussed freely without inappropriate reporting outside the group. Group members will normally decide what level of detail can be reported to those not in the group.
- Cohesion – Help group members to find common ground and build relationships with one another. Work to resolve conflict and manage disruption in the group so that the process can benefit everyone.
- Inclusion – Inclusion – Everyone in the group is encouraged to participate…, to share ideas, suggestions, and solutions. Consult with group members on direction, pace and focus as much as possible.
Adhering to these principles will help to reinforce the creation of a peer support community within the group, where you as the peer support specialist are on an equal footing with the members, but are taking on a special responsibility of leadership by virtue of your position.
Module 5 Reflection Activity: Group Facilitation
Instructions: Think about groups that you have participate in as a member. Do you think that the person leading that group acted more as a facilitator or a director of the group process? What qualities or actions created that impression for you?
Response to Reflection: Did you include things such as the language the group leader used? What about the amount of time the leader spent talking versus the time group members spoke? Did the leader expect group members to agree with his or her opinion? How did the leader handle conflict or disruption?
Note: This activity is for reflection only and does not need to be submitted along with your workbook.
Moving the Discussion Forward
The most important skill in facilitating a group is to demonstrate respect and positive regard for the participants. Active listening, which was discussed in detail in Module 3, is also a critical skill. Here are some examples of specific things that you can do as the group facilitator to keep the group process running smoothly.
- Ask open-ended questions – “How did you react?” or “What happened next?”
- Reflect the emotional content of what is being said – “You feel frustrated when people don’t appreciate the progress you are making,” or “You are anxious about enrolling in school.”
- Echo a word or phrase to get clarification – “Angry?” or “Confused?”
- Make your comments clear and brief. Say only what needs to be said to move the discussion along.
- Re-direct as necessary – “I can tell that you have more to say about this. Let’s talk more later,” or “I think you are saying the same thing with different words. Does anyone else have a comment?”
- Provide closure by doing a “review and preview” – “Today, we have learned about how to balance a checkbook. Next week, we will talk about budgeting,” or “Wow, we really shared some big goals this time. Next week, we’ll talk about how you took a small step to help you move toward your goal”
Video: Facilitation Series Effective Training Techniques (5:03 minutes)
This video provides an example of some techniques for effective facilitation.