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:

  1. To what extent do you intend to get value from being at this conference?
  2. To what extent are you prepared to engage personally to achieve this?
  3. To what extent are you prepared to take risks to learn at this conference?
  4. 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?

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Upcoming opportunities

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.