What, Exactly, is Facilitation? Plans for an Institute

I’ve decided to start an Institute for Facilitation to offer coaches, leaders, managers, and influencers a Servant Leader-based set of skills to guide excellence without bias. I began my passion for ‘facilitation’ quite some time ago.

In 1989 I named my company Morgen Facilitations. Back then folks suggested I choose a different name. “Facilitation is just too big a word,” I was told. In 2000, when I got a registered trademark on my new sales paradigm named Buying Facilitation®, I was told no one would understand what ‘facilitation’ meant, that the term should be “short and snappy, like SPIN, or Sandler.” Thankfully, times have changed.


I’ve always been in the Facilitation business, with little interest in trying to convince others its importance as a way to conduct business. It’s my brand, and thankfully, over the past decades, many folks have used my services in sales and leadership to help move my ideas forward.

As Facilitators we care about others, using our hearts, kindness, and skills to help both personal and corporate clients achieve their goals. With ears primed to listen and hearts ready to open, we work at lessening our biases to help effectively manage any proposed change using the Other’s criteria.

I believe:

Facilitation is the commitment to enable others, without bias, to discover and navigate their best routes to their goals in a way that represents their beliefs and values.

However, I believe that using conventional Facilitation skills may not achieve that outcome. Let me explain.


Using conventional skills, even as we seek to serve, we sometimes inadvertently end up gathering insufficient or erroneous data, possibly causing resistance and impeding change. Of course we don’t do this purposefully. And it’s not our fault.

For the last 50 years I’ve been studying, and developing facilitation models to address, how brains are configured to enable change and decision making, and boy, are we restricted. Because our brains are set up to automatically experience all incoming sensory data (what we see, hear, think, feel, etc.) according to our historic synapses and pathways, we are restricted by our history and have little conscious choice.

It seems our assumptions, beliefs and mental models, history of past communications, and habituated brain circuits cause automatic, and very subjective, interpretations of all incoming content regardless of the reality.

If/where incoming messages differ substantially from our past experiences, we may not have similar-enough neural pathways to translate the messages accurately and end up unable to fully understand, act on, or even make proper sense of them.

With such a huge possibility of mistranslations on both the Facilitator and client end of this issue, there’s obviously a problem for Facilitators as we try to understand, serve, and lead clients. To get the full picture of the problem so we can figure out how to manage it, I’ll give you a more complete, though simplified, explanation of how our brains interpret for us.


Sounds, including incoming words, enter our brains as puffs of air without meaning, as vibrations that our brain turns into signals, and get sent down the nearest, most well-worn neural pathways, to ‘close-enough’ synapses that are ‘similar-ish’, for interpretation.

In other words, our brains don’t recognize words or meaning, just electro-chemical vibrations that get matched in hundreds of a second to synapses and circuits that most likely don’t exactly match; where they don’t, our brains kindly discard the differences automatically – without telling us!

In other words, once we hear someone speak our brain converts the incoming sound vibrations into signals, sends the signals down the most habituated – not necessarily the most accurate – pathways for action/interpretation, discards the signals that don’t correspond with what’s already there, and fails to inform us of the deletion.

So let’s say someone says ABC and our brain determines ABL is a close-enough match. It then discards D, E, F, etc. without even offering a warning sign that stuff was discarded! We have no choice but to assume ABL is accurate.

Given this process occurs for both speakers and responders, we all assume our communication partner will translate what we’ve said accurately – and our assumptions may not be accurate!

Obviously, that’s potentially problematic as clients end up translating what we’ve said into what’s automatic for them; and we, in turn, translate what we believe they’ve said into what’s automatic for us.

This, unfortunately, is how we end up misunderstanding, and the exact reason our conventional skills need a bit of updating.

Of course we have no choice but to believe what our brains tell us, leaving us with no idea how disparate what we think we hear is from what’s actually been said (and meant) unless we specifically ask.


What this means during the Facilitation process is profound: all that we hear, all that we say, is restricted according to existing electro-chemical brain configurations and translated idiosyncratically according to our history and any nuance, or unrecognized, unfamiliar, or uncomfortable concepts may get deleted or misconstrued.

As an example, think of something you have a very strong belief about, and remember a time when someone tried to change your mind or discuss options. Politics? Your diet? Exercise? Most likely you’ll reject it regardless of its efficacy.

Unwittingly, we bias every interaction we have. And herein lie the problem for Facilitators:

  • How do we Facilitate outside of our own, and our client’s, historic beliefs and biases, our automatic, historic brain circuitry?
  • How can we Facilitate others to change if they don’t already have circuits for it?
  • How can we go beyond brain biases to promote meaning and change?
  • How can we help Others create new circuits and pathways to discover new answers?

Sadly for us, there’s no conventional way into another’s brain. How, then, do we serve?


Now that we know it’s not as simple as Speak + Listen = Understand, or Think = Commit + Act, as Facilitators we must add new skills to override the brain problem.

I believe the job of a Facilitator is to help Others develop new brain connections so they can discover answers that might not arise automatically. I believe:

Facilitation is a leadership process, but not leadership.

Facilitation instigates discovery, but never asks why.

Facilitation uses the values of the facilitator, but never the biases.

Facilitation uses questions to instigate clarity, but has no answers.

Facilitation aims to reach goals, but doesn’t define them.

I’m sure many of you agree with me. But in case your brain translated my comments differently than I intended and still believe that your current skills can accurately interpret what’s been said or meant, let’s check.

Do you pose conventional questions?

Conventional questions are meant to gather data but prove to be rather problematic. They

  • are posed using the intent and goals of the Asker,
  • emanate from the curiosity of the Asker,
  • use the natural words and sentence structure of the Asker,
  • are translated according to the Responder’s assumptions and idiosyncratic neural circuitry (i.e. limited and subjective).

I bet you don’t think of questions that way, but that’s what they do. So when you’re posing questions out of your own curiosity, or believe clients need to consider something specific, your words and thoughts may be mistranslated or misunderstood. It’s the same problem when your client speaks to you – it’s a problem on both ends as we all

  • interpret,
  • translate,
  • guess,
  • assume
  • respond

subjectively, based on the responses we think we’ve heard.

This biases what we think our clients want to achieve, or how accurate the data is we’re trying to collect. In other words, conventional questions are unwittingly biased and will collect some unknowable subset of accurate data, or translate incoming messages in some unintended way, given the potentially flawed baseline assumptions of all parties.

What are you listening for?

When we listen to understand and collect data as per our goals, we’re listening through ears biased and restricted by a lifetime of our own subjectivity – our mental models, training, history, beliefs, and experience. Indeed, because of the way our brains listen we can’t know if what we’re hearing is what was meant to be conveyed. Again, as with questions, when we think something has been said or meant, we’re just hoping, guessing, and assuming.

I spent three years writing a book on this topic that explains precisely how our brains misinterpret and misunderstand based on neurology (i.e. not intent) and what can be done to mitigate it. Take a look at sample chapters: www.didihearyou.com.

Note that by the time we’ve carefully, attentively listened (through historic, unconscious neural pathways that are some degree off the intended message spoken) and posed questions, we’ve already biased the conversation and may inadvertently be collecting incomplete data and sending incomplete, or flawed messages. That’s how people walk away from a meeting with different thoughts on what happened.

But there’s more! That’s just questioning and listening. I’ll continue.

Are you facilitating using your own goals?

We generally enter each situation with a goal in mind. I contend there’s no way for an outsider to have a goal that captures the full set of unconscious criteria held by a client.

Since it’s so difficult to ask questions or listen without our own biases, it’s pretty hard to appreciate the complete set of criteria clients need to meet. Indeed, clients often begin with the most conscious awareness of a problem to be resolved, but ultimately end up – much later! – realizing the unconscious criteria involved that may get in the way of a resolution. This costs time and frustration on both sides.

Obviously the deck is stacked against us, we aren’t always able to Facilitate a change initiative to the fullest extent possible. Hence I developed new skills oriented around brain change and choice.


As facilitators deeply wanting to serve, we want to get it right, certainly without bias. The new skills I developed work with the brain to create and guide brain circuits to discover solutions that match their historic integrity.

I actually spent 10 years creating a new form of question I’ve called a Facilitative Question that sequentially, consciously, leads the brain to specific channels to discover unconscious criteria; I spent three years developing a way to listen that enables hearing accurately.

I will teach these skills in my proposed Institute for Facilitation and will invite others to offer additional skill sets I believe necessary when facilitating others through change:

*Change Management *Storytelling *Coaching *Power/control management *Buy-in *Servant leadership *Influencing *Negotiating *Questioning *Listening

If you’re interested in becoming part of the Institute, please let me know. I look forward to offering a foundation where facilitation is elevated to a Servant Leader skill set.


Sharon-Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon-Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharondrewmorgen.com She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.

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