Facilitating Question

Posted by deathdoulavt on Aug. 25, 2017, 12:16 p.m. 2 comments

Hello, I facilitated my first Death Cafe last night and it was a great turnout for our rural community.  The evaluation forms were very helpful with great feedback.  A few people suggested promts or topics to help with structure, which I know we don't do, I will explain that more clearly next time.  The other comment was regarding a person who 'dominated' the discussion and constructive criticism that I could have facilitated the conversation better.  My thoughts are this: it was our first meeting.  I think a lot of people initially feel a need to share their story with death.  As the group progresses, I believe the conversation will as well.  Further, the person repeatedly said that others refuse to discuss the death so I can understand the need for this person to discuss, or perhaps it is their personality type to self-direct conversation, I don't know.  Does anyone have any feedback on how to facilitate a situation like this?  



First of all, congratulations on facilitating your first Death Cafe! I don’t know how large of a group you were trying to facilitate. That can make a difference when you’ve got an individual dominating the group. I find it’s a little easier for me to redirect the conversation to allow others to speak when the group isn’t too large. We get between 15-30 people but we break down into smaller groups of 4-8 depending on how many facilitators I have helping.

In my intro to the whole group at the beginning, I try to set expectations. The wording I use comes from the guidelines about respecting others views and letting folks know what will happen (we go around and introduce yourselves and say why you came to a Death Cafe). One thing I did add after one of our early cafes (and a situation or two like yours) was ‘We ask that you speak leanly to make sure we get completely around the table before we dive in.’ Putting that out there both as the words and the intention seems to help. At a minimum it gives me a common reference point to move things along if needed.

That said, there are two types of people who have shown up who can be a bit challenging. The first are folks who have slipped the moorings of conventional reality. Interestingly enough over 16 Death Cafes (and over 200 attendees), we’ve only had 3 people who fit in that category and they came once and didn’t return. Sometimes you just have to weather these people. The second group—folks who are just a little tone deaf to reading verbal and non-verbal queues to share the conversation space—simply take a bit more of your attention. We have several of these folks who do return. They often end up at my table or we make sure that they do. I work to read all of the non-verbal queues to create space for others. I’ll use anything, including them taking a breath :-) to say something like, that’s very interesting Jane — Beth what do you think about that and I use my own body language to turn my attention and the attention of others to another person. And if necessary I do that repeatedly so that others have a chance to speak and be heard.

I’m not sure which category your person fell into. If you’re in a small rural community and this person comes to other Death Cafes that you do, it might be worth a private conversation with them. You have to wonder about someone who keeps saying others refuse to discuss death when they’re sitting at a Death Cafe. A redirect to the effect of, I think that’s very true of our culture in general but the folks here today would really like to explore the topic.

Also, regarding your first point while there aren’t specific topics, if a theme or themes crops up as we go around the table doing introductions, I make note and will use them as prompts if the group doesn’t just run with the conversation on their own (which they usually do). That way they’re organic to the group that day. It is okay to use an open-ended question or two as a prompt if the conversation stalls (or as noted in the guidelines, if the group-directed approach doesn’t work).

Good luck!

Posted by Angela Lucia Mennitto

Sounds like you had a really rough time! That happened to me the first time I hosted Death Cafe, too.
Here's what I say at the beginning of every death cafe, in addition to instructions about confidentiality, not giving advice, speaking from the heart, etc.:
"If you get carried away and talk too much (I'm guilty of that myself sometimes); I will gently remind you to listen more and give others a chance to speak." This gives me permission to stop someone and it usually works to prevent the problem.
Don't give up! Keep refining your skills at facilitation and take the upper hand if you need to. It will make a better experience for everyone. There are some people who just don't read non-verbal cues no matter what!

Posted by Merilynne Rush

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