Are you a good participant?
By good, I mean that you contribute your perspective, your insights, and your questions to the group’s discussion?
When I consider myself in the role of the participant, I have to honestly admit that I would have to say “it depends”. It depends on the invitation, the purpose and the process design, the size of the group, my passion for the topic … whether I’m an engaged or an inattentive participant.
As a participant, I am probably very mindful of how the process develops. You could also call it “déformation professionelle”. That is true. Meanwhile, I think some process mindfulness would be good for collaboration and group work.
A familiar role does not mean it’s all clear and settled
The one thing I don’t like about being the participant is being called the participant. I enjoy participating and being immersed in a conversation. I love being a discussion partner in a Conversation Cafe or an Unhurried Conversations. I find it fascinating what can happen in a truly inspiring interaction.
I doubt that calling those who attend meetings or workshops ‘participants’ is helpful. The term ‘participant’ seems rather general and imprecise to me. It is not very exciting
How do you define a participant? What do you expect from a participant? What is the precise role of a participant?
In the Cambridge English Dictionary, a participant is the one “who takes part in or becomes involved in a particular activity”.
There are multiple perspectives and interpretations of what taking part and becoming involved might look like. There is a continuum from being ‘a little bit involved’ to being ‘fully involved.’ Different people have different ideas and expectations.
So, let’s be more explicit and clearer.
And by the way, the first chance to clarify expectations about the role of those joining an event and their level of engagement is the invitation.
An active role – why else would you join?
As so-called participant you have a role to play.
No matter whether it is an ordinary meeting or a special event.
No matter whether it is a ‘small’ or ‘big’ gathering.
No matter whether there is a special guest or not.
Your contribution matters.
That is why you join.
That is why you are invited.
I was so happy when I heard Quanita Roberson saying the following words in a podcast conversation with Myriam Hadnes and Tenneson Woolf.
We are always contributing. We cannot show up and not be part of the whole in a way that expands or distracts.Quanita Roberson in ‘The role of facilitation when the world seems to fall apart’
Because the role of the participant is an active one, I prefer to talk about actors, contributors, or players.
A role with responsibility towards others and ourselves
Being the participant brings a certain responsibility.
Towards the group and the process.
But also, towards yourself.
That brings me to Peter Block’s four questions:
- To what extent do you intend to get value from being at this conference?
- To what extent are you prepared to engage personally to achieve this?
- To what extent are you prepared to take risks to learn at this conference?
- To what extent are you prepared to take responsibility for the learning and engagement of others at this conference?
Peter Block via David Gurteen
What would happen if you check these four questions before entering a next (online) workshop as the so-called participant?
To check-in with your readiness to engage, contribute and learn
To check-in with your curiosity to listen, be surprised and wonder
To check-in with your willingness to be in conversation with the group
To close the circle of this little reflection about engagement and participation, I would say each invitation to a meeting and workshop is a new deal between those invited to participate and those inviting and organizing.
And between me and myself.
What is your next deal?
- The secret of successful workshops: A collaborative planning process and the inclusion of many perspectives
- What do you manage when you are the facilitator?
Engage & keep engagement high. on June 9th from 13:30 – 15:30 CEST. Explore with us and a group of peers what facilitating engagement means in practice. How do you create and maintain engagement? How can you be engaging without becoming the meeting clown?
Liberating Structures online immersion workshop, November 3&4 and 24&25, 2022. Join the silent revolution set in motion by Liberating Structures.
22/05/2022 at 11:29 am
I love this post, it resonates at many levels with me and I really appreciate both your reflections and your ‘next questions’ that invite us to look beyond the stale reality of ‘business as usual’.
Two things that come to mind, as part of this invitation of yours to rethink our engagement/ participation/ contribution:
– How can we stop people being ‘sent’ or ‘enforced to participate’ in a given gathering?
– How can we also progressively change the attitude of various people who are just coming to meetings and gatherings with a consumer attitude i.e. feed me… content… entertainment… fun… something else than my office work…
It’s time to be mindful of what we give our time to. It’s too scarce and too precious to be wasted on something we can’t be bothered about, that we were forced to engage with or that assumed we didn’t have anything to contribute to…
Again, thanks for stimulating our minds and hearts…
22/05/2022 at 4:16 pm
Thanks for your comment. I love your questions.
I think its around choice and contribution in a spirit of a joint collaborative effort and of a shared responsibility that we can find a way forward. It‘s no luxury and probably a good moment now (after the pandemic turned collaboration upside down) to reimagine and renegotiate collaboration.
It’s the choice of every so-called participant to join and engage in an active role (or not join at all)
It’s the contributions of every so-called participant that matters and is wanted, that’s why are invited.
This shared awareness and process mindfulness that all contributions matter, that we rely in everyone’s engagement to find solutions,
that our meeting time is precious for me, you and us, we can only build it progressively – as you say. Workshop by workshop, team by team, network by network.
Let’s think about this together!