Handling Challenging Facilitation Moments with MAGIC®:  Part Two

By Jean Marie Johnson

Note: This is part two of a two-part series. In Part One, we explored how MAGIC principles and behaviors can be applied to your challenging facilitation experiences. Now, we discuss how MAGIC applies to a particularly thorny matter: participant venting.

What is Venting?

Venting can be best described through a common example: you are facilitating a MAGIC class (perhaps doing an exercise such as “What creates an impression?”) and participants are responding with their ideas when suddenly, someone says:

“But you know what really creates a bad impression? When we don't have enough staffing. People are on hold forever. I don't know when management is going to do something about this.”

At which point, another associate adds:

“And if you think that's bad, you wouldn't believe how often our system goes down. And there's nothing, I mean nothing we can do when it does. Customers think it's our fault, but the fact is…”

At this point, the snow ball effect kicks in. As facilitators, we often find ourselves thinking, “How did this happen when the class was going so well?” Or, “This is not what we're here to talk about today.”

It is inevitable that issues unrelated to the task at hand will come out. The challenge is getting the participants back on track. One of the quickest ways to lose credibility with participants is to ignore or judge one of these venting moments. A situation like this is the perfect opportunity to enhance your credibility by modeling The Five MAGIC Steps in the way that you respond.

Step 1. Make a Connection

Use visual cues to demonstrate that you are really listening. If you are standing at the flipchart or in front of a table, take a step or two into the group so that you are physically closer to participants. Place your marker on the table. Really look at each participant as he is speaking. Nod your head to acknowledge that you hear what is being said. Reduce movements, be calm, and listen.

Use verbal cues to demonstrate that you are following what is being said. Words such as “I see” or “Mm-hmmm” suggest that you are engaged in the conversation.

Once you have a sense of what participants are really saying and how they feel about it, respond empathically. When you acknowledge with empathy, you model the spirit and substance of what it truly means to Make a Connection. For example:

  • "I can see that you feel very strongly about these barriers and how they impact your ability to serve customers. It can be very frustrating to feel that no one is listening.”

  • “The issues you are bringing up are very important. It's not easy to do a great job when your systems don't fully support you.”

  • "It sounds like there is a lot of pent up frustration about all of the changes you've been asked to deal with. It's been really hard on your group.”


Step 2. Act Positively

At this point, you may be thinking, “But I need to get on with the session. Besides, they need to take ownership for how they respond to these concerns.” Which is exactly right, but you need to do so in a way that is positive for the participant and not only acknowledges, but addresses their issue. To do so, transition your thoughts and your tone of voice from empathy to coaching.


As a coach you might say:

  • "While we can't fix these issues here today, one goal of this class is to help you develop the skills to communicate more effectively with customers and with managers.”

  • "One way that I can help you with this is to encourage you to consider how you might communicate these concerns in a way that your managers hear them as constructive input.”

  • “Because you interface with customers continually, your experience is a vital source of information on what's working and what's not in the customer experience.”


Step 3. Get to the Heart of the Matter

Facilitate a discussion around the issue and guide them to a constructive next step. Ask questions that move associates to a sense of ownership and action, such as:

  • “Who needs to hear the concerns that you have voiced here today?”

  • “How might you communicate these issues without blame or accusation?”

  • “How could you document these concerns so that you highlight the financial impact they are creating?”

Questions like these will help the group focus on a constructive next step, instead of more venting.

Step 4. Interpret the Facts

Summarize the choice the group makes in how they will deal with their concerns. For example:

“Your idea about bringing up these concerns in the next Team Huddle sounds great. And positioning these as a way to help the customer shows that you are focused on contributing and getting to solutions.”

By summarizing the next steps you gain buy in, demonstrate that you have been listening, and it allows you to move smoothly to the last step...

Step 5. Close with Agreement

Use MAGIC phrases and recognize participants' willingness to consider positive ways to address their concerns.

"Thank you for being open with your concerns--sharing them and considering a MAGIC approach to dealing with them.”

“I appreciate the fact that you care so much about your team and what it needs to do to really serve customers.”
With agreement on the next step, you can now put these issues behind you and transition back to the content you were facilitating before the venting occurred.

When you use The Five MAGIC Steps as a process for responding to venting, you have the opportunity to enhance participants' experience in the class. Like customers who voice a complaint, venting participants want to know that they have been listened to, heard, and shown empathy. You can do this, and more—with just a little MAGIC.

Jean Marie Johnson is a Communico facilitator and has helped clients with their MAGIC initiatives. And for 20 years she has specialized in cultivating the customer experience as a key competitive advantage.

Before and After
Before and After
Just one "tragic" contact can influence your customers' perception of your company (and their buying decisions). Listen to the difference MAGIC® can make.