One of my favorite moments while facilitating a group of people that are engaging with each other is when I call on someone before they make a gesture to speak. They often say, “How did you know I was going to speak?” And I just smile.
The secret is I am listening and observing all the time. And there are a lot of clues to be heard. For example, when someone looks up in deep reflection or has an index finger resting on their face, you know they want to say something. Or they might be sitting up eagerly in their chair, smiling or scowling in that way that says, I have something to say. These are important clues in the facilitation process and it helps the facilitator tune in and develop an environment that is conducive to sharing and learning.
To create that safe space where participants feel comfortable disagreeing or giving each other both affirming and adjusting feedback, you have to listen —- to what people say, how they say it, and when they say it. You also have to be aware of how well the group listens to each other. When you see signs that the group is not fully listening (indicators: asking people to repeat things that have already been said or the more obvious like multitasking on devices or daydreaming), you have to fill the gap and interpret. That means paraphrasing, repeating what someone has said, turning someone’s comment into an opportunity to survey the room and thanking participants for their thoughtful contributions.