What Makes a Great Mindfulness Facilitator?

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By Wendy Quan

Mindfulness facilitators in the workplace all have one thing in common:  they are passionate about helping their co-workers or client organizations cultivate a calmer and reduced stressed existence.

But what makes a great facilitator?  What do they specifically do that makes their following grow and flourish?

In training and certifying facilitators, I’m blessed to watch these compassionate individuals shine their light to help others, whether on a volunteer basis or as a paid service. I also see their triumphs and their struggles. 

I personally went through some trial and error in my early days of facilitating in the corporate world in 2011, and I see similar lessons being learned by my community of facilitators. 

What does successful facilitation look like?

Most people tend to think of successful facilitation as the growth of their participants over time. After all, that’s the most visible measurement.   However, I think this is only part of the picture.  

  • I also believe that skillfully collecting the benefits that the participants are getting, personally and at work, is an important factor that is often overlooked.  Success is not only about the growth in numbers; it’s about the depth and quality of the impact it makes in people’s lives. This goes beyond asking people how relaxed people feel, as the power is in how this practice changes their experience of their lives.
  • Another factor is the joy that comes from sharing this practice with others.  The facilitator’s own life can be greatly improved by knowing they are helping others.  “Paying it forward” by doing something good for others is the best contributor to one’s own happiness.  To me, this is a personal success.

Do’s and don’ts for facilitators

I’m happy to share facilitator qualities and behaviors that lead to the best results; and those that lead to rather dismal results.  Running a workplace mindfulness program takes skill, and ongoing care and feeding. Here is a concise list of do’s and don’ts.

Humility

Do’s:  

  • They keep their egos in check. It’s not realistic to be completely ego-less, but successful facilitators do have a humbleness about themselves. They share the struggles they had as a beginner and still have as an experienced practitioner.
  • They are compassionate, great listeners and are fully present to whomever they are speaking.
  • They are truly open to different perspectives and catch themselves when they might be judging. 
  • They have confidence, but no arrogance.

Don’ts:

  • They are compelled to do a lot of talking, showing people what they know. For example, they often talk about their retreats in India and are not aware it sounds like bragging.
  • They interrupt people’s conversations and turn it around to be about their knowledge and their experiences.  
  • They don’t like to admit they don’t know the answer to something, so they deflect a question or make something up. 

Persistence

Do’s:

  • They are assertive, but not aggressive.
  • If they run into roadblocks, they find another way or remain patient until the time is right.  For example, if they have a small meditation group and have tried to gain approval to expand the practice corporate-wide, they carefully but persistently find the right people to talk to, using emotional intelligence to gauge how and when to gain support. They don’t give up, and they try different ways.

Don’ts:

  • When they don’t get their way or the support that they seek from management, they allow their hopelessness and frustration to overshadow the fact that they are helping the participants who do attend their sessions.  They start to give up and let the practice wane.
  • They don’t know how to navigate culture or politics and give up.
  • They are shy and avoid asking for what they want.  For example, they genuinely work really hard to create a quality group mindfulness practice and hope that the right people will notice their efforts.  They don’t know how to skillfully ask for what they want to do next, so nothing moves forward. 
  • They feel entitled.  For example, maybe they have spent time obtaining training and credentials, and don’t understand why they are not allowed to start a mindfulness group.  They are unable to look within themselves to see what might need improvement.

Thirst to learn and share

Do’s:

  • They keep abreast of what’s going on outside of their own world. They subscribe to mindfulness industry newsletters, attend meditation sessions, partake in mindfulness summits, read, etc.
  • They are delighted to learn different practices, even small tips on how they can present something a little differently.
  • Just as much as they love to continuously learn about mindfulness and improve their own personal practice and facilitation skills, they love to share and connect with other facilitators, knowing that together they will all benefit.

Don’ts:

  • They feel that because they lead others, they are experts.   This thinking leads to close-mindedness and minimal learning, which means there is little room for continuous improvement.
  • Again, the egoic behavior shows up here.  When facilitators believe they are experts and can’t learn much from others, their egos will show to their audiences, and usually, lead to an eventual decline in their following.

Our mistakes are our practice

We are not perfect, will never be perfect, and are not meant to be perfect.  We have good days and bad days, and perhaps sometimes our behaviors show up under the ‘don’ts’ lists. 

When we can see ourselves objectively and notice mistakes we might be making, we need to see those as part of our learning and growth as facilitators.

The only way we truly know how our participants perceive us is to ask for specific feedback. We need to look beyond the wonderful, general comments we may hear, such as “oh that session was so relaxing,” and seek specifics.  Here are some ideas for questions you can ask your audiences:

  • “What specifically can I do differently in our sessions to make this a better experience for you?”
  • “What do you think I can do differently to make people want to keep returning?”
  • “When I talk about my retreats, how does that come across?”
  • “Can you give me some feedback on how I respond to people’s comments and questions?”

I hope this has been helpful if you facilitate mindfulness for others.  I honor the compassionate work you are doing to help others; know that your light shines much, much farther than you’ll ever know.

Wendy Quan, founder of The Calm Monkey, is an industry leader, training and certifying mindfulness meditation facilitators in the workplace and combining change management techniques with mindfulness to create personal and organizational change resiliency. 

Wendy Quan is the lead instructor for the Mindfulness Facilitator Certification by Mindful Leader. Learn more about our certification training HERE.


7 comments

Catarina Peterson Aug 14, 2019 01:25am

Wendy thanks for this informative article!

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Happy that you found this helpful, Catarina!

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Mirjam Stein Aug 14, 2019 04:05am

Thanks Wendy! What a great read. This helps a lot to continuously reflect & with that to personally growth, also if a mindfulness trainers may fall into "autopiliot". Loved it! Thanks! 

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Thanks Mirjam, I appreciate the comment  :)   I think it's always good to have a view for continuous learning!

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Kerene Strochnetter Aug 14, 2019 09:38pm

Thank you for reminding me that persistence is important!

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Kerene, yes, yes, I think we all will run into some kind of roadblock, whether big or small.  It really is about timing, circumstances, changing culture and the people that we engage with.  Thanks so much for your comment.

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Margaret Johnston Sep 12, 2019 10:13am

Thank you Wendy. I really appreciate how you get direct to the point and make me think about what I may do well and what I perhaps need to work on. 

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