The Suppers Way of Sharing a Table: Help for Facilitators

Prepared by Karen Nathan, Suppers for Weight Loss Strategies

Anyone who can make the time and is passionate about helping people through food-driven health challenges can become a Suppers facilitator. I should know, because that is what I did about a year and half ago. After going through the well-run, high-quality training program I began facilitating my very own meeting. It’s exciting and rewarding. But, honestly, as I started facilitating my own meeting I experienced some daunting moments. I have learned that getting through those tough, sometimes sticky situations is what differentiates a good facilitator from a great facilitator. It’s a process that I am still honing, that’s for sure.

So what makes a great facilitator? It certainly is not about how big or well equipped your kitchen is. It is not even about the theme of your meeting. Assuming a basic competence at food preparation, what it really comes down to is, how well you can create the “safe settings” that Suppers promises in its mission statement, and help people adhere to Suppers’ well-defined behavioral expectations around the table. In other words, how can you create a positive Suppers table experience for each person at your meeting that incorporates unconditional support and non-judgment? As a meeting facilitator myself, I have discovered that it is easier to declare these intensions than to actually implement them. Just because I say it doesn’t make it so! However, with proper support and active practice (sound familiar?), we can hone our facilitation skills. We all have the potential to be great facilitators.

While at the Suppers table we have likely all been tripped up by a behavioral quandary at some point. Particularly for newer facilitators, it's hard to decide what to do in the moment. You may be asking yourself, "should I intervene or let it go?"  

Here is a list of some of the most common behavioral challenges:

  • Letting everyone get a say once around the table at the beginning of the meeting, without any cross talk.
  • Interrupting when someone else is speaking, at anytime during the meeting.
  • Making “you” statements instead of “I” statements.
  • A quieter, more introverted personality getting swallowed up by a more persistent, extroverted one. (Some people need help speaking up for themselves. Others need help remaining in “listen mode.”)
  • Promoting of a particular product, diet, or service.
  • Judging others (this often looks like one person telling someone else what he or she “should” do).

Review this list for a snapshot of common behavioral dilemmas and ideas on how to respond:

Common behavioral mistakes you might see or hear --> What you can say or do

“You” statements --> Dispassionately ask the member, “please turn that into an I statement.”

Breaking with the once around the table with no crosstalk sharing --> Dispassionately remind people we can do follow up once we get around the table.

People not ready to speak --> Offer the option of passing or speaking at the end.

People talking more than their share --> Introduce a 3-minute egg timer on the table. It’s a group decision whether or not to use one. Decide ahead as a group to avoid making an individual wrong.

Promotion of any kind --> Dispassionately ask the speaker to stick with sharing personal experience.

Promotion of private business --> Keep it simple and neutral and say “we can discuss our private business at a separate time.”

Someone telling somebody what to do --> Dispassionately ask the speaker to stick with sharing personal experience.

Any brutal language --> Ask, “Can you share that in a gentler way?”

It is our job, as facilitators, to gently and lovingly steer the conversation back to the Suppers way. Here are a few suggestions on how we can safely practice doing this:

  • Thoughtfully observe a more experienced facilitator at his or her own meeting.
  • Talk to other facilitators, ask questions, and get their advice. 
  • Review the list of the most common behavioral dilemmas (above) and notice which ones get in your way most often.
  • Reflect on your meeting after it happens and ask yourself what you would or could do differently next time. 
  • Rehearse how you would respond. This means turning to your meeting members and asking them to help you get the Suppers discourse just right. 
    • Ask members to volunteer to intentionally make mistakes, allowing you to redirect the conversation.
    • You can devote a whole meeting to this exercise or decide to do just a few minutes of it over several meetings.

Creating a safe setting for behavioral change takes practice. One of the most meaningful ways your meeting members can express their support of you, their facilitator, to give you a chance to practice and hone your facilitation skills.