Monday, December 1, 2014

Seeing Through Their Lenses

I've been writing about a facilitation workshop I recently attended--a workshop to learn how to be a better facilitator and how to teach others to do the same. It was organized and led by Jeffrey Cufaude of Idea Architects. I got a lot of takeaways that are relevant to the work I and my staff do with our association's Board, committees, and task forces. Here's another.

When facilitating a meeting of members, be aware of the unique mix of perspectives (or “lenses”) that participants use to make sense of the world around them.

We all have them. To help illustrate this point at the workshop, I was asked to reflect on my own way of viewing the world and to record some of the lenses that I look through that color my interpretation of things compared to someone with a different set of lenses. In doing so, I came to realize that I had three kinds of lenses.

First were the ones that were readily apparent to myself and to those around me. I'm male. I'm a CEO. I'm going to look at problems (and their potential solutions) differently than people who don't have these lenses, and that's going to be obvious to me and everyone around me. Your members have these kind of lenses, too, and you and they both know what they are. Sometimes they align with their membership type, or with their level of experience. The point is, every interaction they have with your association is going to be viewed through these lenses, and it's going to be fairly simple for you to predict and plan for them.

Second were the ones that weren't obvious, but which revealed themselves to me as I took a step outside of myself and reflected on some of the assumptions that I make about the world around me. I'm a parent. I'm an introvert. I'm a midwesterner. These are just as real as the first kind, but they lurk just below the surface of my conscious thoughts. They definitely affect the way I view things, especially compared to others that don't possess them or that possess conflicting lenses. Your members have these kind of lenses, too, and unless they are especially contemplative, they are probably just as unthinking about them as I am about mine.

And third were the ones--as yet still unidentified--that surely exist, but which are so ingrained into my way of thinking, that they will remain unconscious no matter how hard I try to expose them. Maybe you can tell me what these lenses are. Or maybe, since they form the foundational edifice of thinking, it would be better for both of us if you simply noted them for yourself and didn't challenge me on them. Especially if I'm your member and you want to engage me in some volunteer task, it may not be productive to give me the impression that you're psycho-analyzing me.

The larger point is that these lenses exist, some are more apparent than others, and they can all either impede and promote progress in a group situation.

One interesting exercise to try at your next meeting of members is to raise this topic of lenses, and rather than ask people to identify their complete laundry list (which may cause some discomfort), work to ensure that everyone acknowledges their presence, and to disclose only those that they feel may help the group complete their assigned task. I'm I marketing professional by trade, someone might say by way of example, so I'm going to be looking for member value at every turn of our discussion. Or, I specialize in conflict resolution, so I'm going to step in if we seem to be going off track.

This could both increase everyone's awareness of the often-times unstated and conflicting premises that exist in any group of people, and help each individual more consciously apply their areas of strength while accepting the areas of strength that others bring to the table.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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