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<xTITLE>Standing In The Fire: The Inner Art Of Facilitation</xTITLE>

Standing In The Fire: The Inner Art Of Facilitation

by John Folk-Williams
March 2010

From John Folk-Williams's blog Cross Collaborate

John Folk-Williams

Standing in the Fire 200x300 <em>Standing in the Fire:</em> The Inner Art of Facilitation

Facilitation is too often an underrated art. Both the practice and its practitioners are often characterized with some disdain as all process, no substance. Yet, everyone knows facilitation is necessary for tough meetings when the room is expected to bristle with tension, and a lot of skill will be needed to get a good result. Larry Dressler has written a book about the inner experience of the facilitator stepping into those highly charged meetings.

Standing in the Fire <em>Standing in the Fire:</em> The Inner Art of Facilitation won’t give you a new method for handling a group or a model process for problem-solving. Instead, the book goes deep inside the human being who’s up front responding to the moment-by-moment action and trying to make it work.

Larry Dressler is a successful facilitator with years of experience, the sort of practitioner who makes you wonder: How did he do it? But he sets aside that question in this book and goes instead to a more basic one. Who is doing it? He brings the work of facilitating down to the most essential thing of all: knowing who you are. After all, methods don’t make meetings work, people do. And to help people get where they want to go, a facilitator has to make dozens of spur-of-the-moment decisions that are completely responsive to the needs of that particular set of individuals. To pull it off, facilitators have to understand their own anxieties, fears, pride and preoccupations that pull attention away from the group.

The hardest work is recognizing the internal messiness of being human and managing the constant tension between one’s own internal triggers and the needs of the people in the room. To help you master that inner work, Dressler has inventoried all the issues he struggles with when “standing in the fire” of tough meetings and offers a set of principles and practices about how to prepare for the challenges of self-mastery.

Instead of assuming the stance of the all-knowing wizard and plunking down the hard and fast rules for success, he frankly lets you know that it’s just as hard for him as it is for anyone else. As he says: “…here are some thoughts from someone who is still trying to figure out how to make this work.” Read more »


I’m John Folk-Williams, the publisher and editor of Cross Collaborate. Since the early 1980s, I’ve been a practitioner and writer in the field of public policy collaboration, interest-based negotiation, mediation and the involvement of citizens in the decisions that affect their lives. A site like this is itself a collaboration and will involve the contributions of numerous other practitioners, leaders from all sectors and talented writers and teachers.

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Additional articles by John Folk-Williams