A Facilitator’s Tip: How to Encourage Discussion without Judgment

304798106_ab8a9d1c26_zIf you’ve ever led a discussion or taken questions after a presentation, you’ve probably used the phrase, “That’s a great question,” in an effort to give positive feedback to the person who asked the question.

It seems like a normal response and facilitators use it again and again.

Good (or Bad) Judgment has a Chilling Effect

But if someone else in your audience is thinking about asking a question, your “that’s a great question” response may actually discourage them from asking their question.

When you say that the question just asked was a good one, it’s likely to plant the notion in other people’s minds that you might not think their question is good.

Even though you’re trying to be encouraging, when you publicly evaluate someone in your audience, you may inadvertently suppress the discussion.

Description is More Powerful than Evaluation

Respond to questions in a way that doesn’t make good or bad judgments. Instead, build on the content of the question itself.

For example, instead of saying, “What a good question,” you might say:

  • “Your question makes me think about…” or;
  • “That question is probably on a lot of people’s minds right now. Thanks for asking.” or;
  • “I’ve wrestled with that question myself.” or simply;
  • “Thank you for asking that question.”

These responses appreciate the question but don’t express any judgment.

Descriptive Feedback Works with Friends, Too

Descriptive feedback also works better than judgment when you’re offering feedback to a friend.

When you tell your friend that he or she did a great job, your evaluation is a subtle reminder that they you are judging them.

On the other hand, specific descriptive feedback that’s based on fact has no negative judgmental underpinnings.

For example, if someone were to say to me, “Andrea, you bring such energy to the room when you speak,” I would know they had observed a strength of mine. I strive to be an energetic speaker and I’d be happy to know that someone else senses it.

That kind of descriptive feedback feels good and never carries with it the undertone of being judged.

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Praise Someone by Describing What You Appreciate in Them

This week, pay close attention to the things you appreciate in one of your friends. Share with him or her something specific you notice without any judgmental undertones.

Whether you’re speaking to an audience or simply sharing your thoughts with a friend, by looking for specific things to describe and note in your feedback you can connect with them more deeply.

What are the characteristics you have that you’d be happy to have someone notice? And what have you noticed lately about your friends or partner that would make them feel great? Tell me in the comments.