Verbals & Non Verbals
What Facilitators Say
Facilitators manage group energy, focus attention, and manage information. They give directions, clarify tasks, frame group perceptions, encourage participation, and support the group in its own development. To attain these aims, three dimensions are important. One is the trust group members feel toward the facilitator. A second is the construction of the agenda and design of the meeting surround. A third is the facilitator’s “paralanguage” or nonverbal behavior. Against these supports, the facilitator’s use of language plays a dominant role.
Facilitators are intentional about the language they choose:
1. They seek to use descriptive rather than judgmental words. ("You're asking about what would happen if this doesn't work," rather than, "You don't like this idea.");
2. They seek to use words that distinguish the facilitator from group members and avoid phrases inferring the group is doing something for the facilitator. (You're going to have an opportunity to...," instead of "I would like you to..." or "We are going to...");
3. They seek specificity in their language. ("Sarah," instead of "she");
4. They use active voice unless the identity of actors is not clear. (Judy decided to include the data from last year," instead of "It was decided to...");
5. They refer to each subgroup in terms that reflect its own independent identity rather than in terms that use another subgroup as a point of reference. ("Community members...," instead of "Parents and non-parents...");
6. Facilitators also avoid humor that puts down or discounts group members or that can be misinterpreted. ("Well, Sam, I see you are actually on time today!")
What Facilitators Do
Non-Verbal communication in itself is not new. What is new, is a body of knowledge and credible research that details the results of varying non-verbal skills on memory, energy, and learning environments. Like any intriguing natural phenomena, skipping rocks on the surface of water or watching the falling rain, what we see looks simple but what lies underneath is rich with complexity and nuance. This is true, too, about non-verbal communication. We refer to gestures, voice qualities, breathing, eye contact, and other non-verbal skills as “paralanguage.” “Para” means along side, in this case along side the spoken word. (Think of paramedic, paraprofessional.) Technically, in educational research, paralanguage is narrowly defined to include the audible sounds, intonations, inflections, speed, and volume characteristics accompanying speech. We will use the term in its more generalized meaning for simplicity in this text.
Without relationship, there is a decreased flow of information. Without information, there is no learning. In Wheatley’s Leadership and the New Science, leadership is always dependent on the context, but the context is established by the relationship we value. Our relationships influence the flow of information. With relationships, information flows. Without relationships, information is impeded. Information flow can be enhanced through the conscious use of paralanguage. What you do with your voice, body, breathing, and gestures add information to verbal content and helps develop your relationship with a group. You can increase your influence through the conscious use of certain paralanguage moves. Planning paralanguage moves is as important as planning teaching strategies and content. Planning allows you proactive work with a group. To be reactive restricts your options. If we can plan and anticipate, we have at our disposal our entire toolkit of paralanguage skills.