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How to Connect with Participants when Facilitating a Workshop

Updated: Oct 3, 2019

by Thandie Balfour

One of the biggest challenges of running a workshop is to ensure that there is connection between the facilitator and the delegates. The assimilation of the content delivered is to a large extent more influenced by the relationship established in the classroom than the content itself. If the facilitator fails to establish a connection then the session becomes compromised and the delegates will remember how they felt about the session more than what they learnt in the session.

So how does one ensure a connection?

We can look at Eric Berne’s theory of Transactional Analysis to help us understand what actually takes place in the minds of the people in the classroom. Berne defines every interaction that people have as a transaction and that there are three basic ego states that human beings transact from.

The Three States of Transactional Analysis

The Parent State represents the part of an individual which keeps and sustains the rules one has been taught about life. These are rules learnt from early childhood, influenced by the parental figures one was exposed to. In this state one is always conscious of what the rules are, how to not break them and also uses this state to keep others in check as well. The key motivator when one is operating from Parent State is to not go against what the parental figures have defined as right or wrong thus not inevitably displeasing the parental figures.

The Child State is the part of an individual which stores emotions or feelings experienced in one’s early childhood. In this state one is alert to and tries to avoid any stimuli that may cause negative emotions and seeks or move towards any stimuli that promotes positive emotions. The biggest motivator when one is operating from Child State is to maximise one’s experience of pleasure and minimise the experience of pain.

The Adult State is the logical and rational part of an individual which drives decision making and relies largely on the facts presented. The Adult State continuously monitors and may also act as an arbitrator between one’s Parent and the Child States. The biggest motivator when one is operating from Adult State is to always feel in control of self.

Summary of the Three States

  • The Parent State is about what one was taught

  • The Child State is about what one felt

  • The Adult State is about what one learned

What does this mean for a workshop/ facilitation setting?

Firstly the facilitator has to be aware of his/her own ego states and how they may influence the interactions in the classroom.

Facilitating a session when one is mostly in Parent State assists in ensuring that there is order in the room. It may however lead to one imposing their own values and principles on the delegates instead of allowing the delegates to be fully free in their interaction with the content and with each other on their own. For example, a facilitator may respond rather harshly to talking or use of technology by the delegates during the session, as the facilitator may feel strongly that rules being broken is totally unacceptable.

Facilitating a session when one is mostly in Child State creates a pleasant and positive atmosphere in the room. It may however lead to the facilitator being more concerned about the ‘fun’ and ‘positive vibes’ in the room and whether delegates like him/her. He/she may therefore not want to do or say anything that may evoke discomfort in the delegates. The problem with this is that at times the nature of the content delivered requires challenging the delegates and making them uncomfortable. The reality is also that one is not able to please everyone all the time.

The ultimate state to therefore facilitate from is the Adult State. This state will ensure that there is a good balance between one’s use of the Parent State (i.e. the rules are kept) and the Child State (i.e. there is positive energy in the room) whilst ensuring that the process is followed and there is progress in the room. In Adult State the facilitator will ensure that he/she appeals to the delegates at an intellectual level as well and that learning does indeed take place.

For the delegate to feel the connection in the room they need to feel safe with the facilitator.

They need to feel that the facilitator respects their Parent State i.e. the rules they feel strongly about. For example, a strongly traditional older male delegate may need the facilitator to respect him and acknowledge him as he would be in his own culture.

The facilitator also needs to show that they respect the delegates’ Child State by making them feel free to express themselves without feeling ‘judged’.

Ultimately the delegates will use their Adult State to evaluate if the session is worth their time, that they are indeed learning something of value and that the facilitator is not offensive to their Child or Parent State. In this state the delegate is likely to feel a strong connection with the facilitator.


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