Recognizing that there may be unwilling, malicious and indifferent archetypes, the enabling dialogical space created by the willing seems to be in danger. In many of the embryonic dialogues and initial attempts at compassionate communication that I have experienced, there have been conveners or facilitators. Bohm (1996) and Isaacs (1999a) both recognize the need for facilitation in dialogic engagement. If there is an authority to enforce rules and to help keep the Giraffes safe from Hyenas while trying to communicate with Jackals then this authority is some new archetypal role.

My experience of facilitation is that good facilitation emphasizes two very different behaviors. One aspect of good facilitation is advocating the process, creating boundaries, enforcing group agreements and otherwise containing the activity being facilitated. Another aspect of good facilitation is creativity, humor, being able to see when the rules and agreements are causing difficulty and being able to find new ways to do things or to express things for the group.

The importance of skilled facilitation is something I've experienced while engaged with academic seminars, Study Circles (Study Circles Resource Center, 1997), Jim Rough's Dynamic Facilitation (2002), Compassionate Listening (Hwoschinsky, 2002), Large Group Interventions (Bunker & Alban, 1997), Axelrod’s terms of engagement (2002), Fisher and Ury’s principled negotiation (1981), dispute resolution through co-mediation (DRC, 2003) and narrative mediation (Winslade & Monk, 2001), Senge’s learning organizations (1994), transformative leadership (Heifetz, 1994), Isaacs' notions of dialogue (1999a) and of dialogic leadership (1999b), as well as Bohmian dialogue (1996).

For this new archetype, I suggest the Rhinoceros. The Rhinoceros is an animal that while a non-hunting herbavore, has both a thick hide and dangerous horns. Thus, the Rhinocerous is a mediator between peace and violence in its own behaviour, and can archetypally represent the role of mediator and facilitator.

While I’ve suggested that some dialogues require the presence of a facilitator to begin, it is also apparent that if the facilitator exits the process too soon the project fails. Both Bohm (1996) and Isaacs (1999a) recognize that the faciliation can become a limit on dialogue. In mediation (DRC, 2003; Winslade & Monk, 2001) and study circles (1997), for example, facilitation primarily focuses on process in order to not interfere with the participants. Within a dialogue, a facilitator creates a place of safety, where there is a kind of social contract, either implicit or explicit. This social contract offers one way for the willing to cross their threshold to meet with the other in a way that would otherwise be too dangerous or threatening.

Whether this percieved danger or threat is matched by actual danger or threat does not change the psychological need for safety, However, the possibility of actual danger or threat is likely a heavy disinsentive to testing the verasity of the perception. A Jan 26, 2006 article “Monkey cops keep peace among groups,” references a study that shows not only do “appointed” peacekeepers resolve conflicts, but that members of a social order are afraid to apporach others when peacekeers are absent (Carey, 2006).

Another important point about the facilitator is that to some extent the Rhino defines the project. So, the archetypal role of the faciliator is not just that of a lifeguard but is also that of a swim instructor. The facilitator not only observes but also models behaviour.

This is explict in models like co-mediation as used by the Dispute Resolution Center of Thurston County (DRC), where two mediators model collaboration for the clients (2003). Co-mediation of disputes offers not only the container in which the clients can engage with each other in relative safety, but is also a venue in which the co-facilitators demonstrate and teach the participants how to resolve disputes.

Extending the diagram to include the archetype of Rhino, the facilitator offers a container and training ground in which the willing can engage with each other:

Figure 6. The facilitation principle

Figure 6. The facilitation principle

Posted by John Bell on December 10, 2006
Tags: The Fifth Principle of Dialogue

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