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Facilitation Climate: Reduce Stress in Meetings

by Jane Haskell

Is cleaning the bathroom toilet or the yucky refrigerator shelf more appealing than putting up with ridiculous or stressful meetings? Maybe it is time to think about changing the climate of the meeting and at the same time reducing stress – yours and that of other participants.

As I engaged in a stressful eight-month period that included changes in my personal [family situation, moving (three times), divorce,] and work life [job relocation], I realized that I was the only one who could intimately impact my stress level. At work, I am in lots of meetings, as a trainer, facilitator and group member. I can reduce my stress, as the facilitator or trainer, by reducing the stress factors in meetings. I reduce stress factors by first becoming aware of the meeting’s climate and then changing it.

Meeting climate is sectioned into three general areas: physical, social and emotional, and cognitive. The physical climate involves the room type, size, organization of space, light, color, acoustics, ventilation, etc. The social and emotional climate impacts the group’s dynamics, trust, safety, support, meeting emotional needs. The cognitive climate approaches, respects, values and works with the diverse learning styles, cultures and abilities.

What can I do for me? In looking at all the factors impacting the meeting’s climate, there are many. Here are four easy things that I regularly do. [Note the word ‘do’ as opposed to ‘think about’ or ‘try to’.]

Move. As I plan a meeting, I sometimes can feel a block, a resistance. Move. Do not mutter, “It will work out.” In a meeting, the energy dips. Do not sigh and think, “It will get better or be over soon.” Move. As you are planning that difficult meeting, walk down the hall, out the door, up the stairs. Breathe in and out, concentrating only on that breathing in and out. When the energy dips in a meeting, move people, if appropriate, into small groups. Have them move from place to another. Call a break, if necessary. Have them move. Push against the static inertia.

Splash of color. You can control the space you work in – and meet in. You might not be able to change the color of the walls or the desk or the chairs you have been issued. You can make color changes in your work or meeting space in the color of the file folder, color of paper handouts, add one or more bright colored flowers, a brightly colored table covering, or colorful fruits and vegetables (full of antioxidants). Color can improve your mood and your productivity – as well as that of other group members. A combination of reds, blues, yellows and green is better than dull white, black and brown. One study showed that those muted colors made people duller, too, scoring lower on IQ tests.

Hydrate and nourish. Even time for a cup of tea, especially black, which is full of polyphenols, can reduce stress. So those breaks (that it is so easy to consider skipping) benefit everyone by providing time to move, stretch, hydrate, nourish and replenish chemicals that can reduce stress hormones in our blood and help the body shed tension. If you can, consider having a supply of water, fresh fruits and vegetables, and protein rich snacks for meetings that last more than an hour or two.

Laugh. When planning meetings, include time for non-work activity. That’s those breaks. If possible, include a time for non-traditional activity that stretches our thinking and provides a venue for a laugh. Laughing reduces tension and stress and provides an opportunity for different thinking. In one meeting I recently facilitated, I had people introduce themselves with a 15-word or less snapshot of what they did. Then as a group, I had them line up along a continuum that gave them information about how many were in administrative vs. non-admin roles, how far they commuted to work each day, which county they lived in, number of years served as a volunteer, etc. It provided movement, chances for lightness, and opportunities for laughing!

Managing your stress can make you feel better about yourself and what you do. It can also make those meetings more pleasant when they include movement, brightly colored snacks, humor and other climate altering techniques!

For more information on effective facilitation techniques or training opportunities, go the UMaine Cooperative Extension Strengthening Your Facilitation Skills website.

Credit: Material adapted from Jane Haskell, and Gabe McPhail, Strengthening Your Facilitation Skills, Level 2 Curriculum. (Orono, ME: UMaine Cooperative Extension, 2012) and Reduce Stress at Work for a Healthy Heart.

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