When difficult topics are brought up just before the workshop is over
Q: My dilemma is when five minutes left to the workshop, somebody brings up a very “difficult” question or topic when they’ve had over an hour to bring it up, but they waited till the end. What do I do?
A: My guess is you can relate to being that participant who has asked a powerful question at the end of a session. Maybe you didn’t quite trust the group, and it took you almost the hour to (a) find the courage or (b) to trust that this facilitator and the group could handle you having the difficult conversation.
So, the first thing is to change your thoughts so that your energy is encouraging rather than judgmental or punitive. I would change my thoughts from, “WHY???” To “how fabulous – that someone felt they could bring this up even though we have five minutes, I’m delighted”.
And, some proactive ways to try to mitigate this is to start the workshop by saying,
“Here’s my experience. We only have an hour and sometimes it takes a while to warm up and so, sometimes it’s the last five minutes when people bring up the questions or comments that we really want to spend more time on. So, if you’re one of those folks, I want to invite you to have courage. And so, ways to choose courage is everybody’s got several 3×5 cards near you. So, you could actually write those down now and just stick them in your pocket. You may not want to say them ever and you may not want to ever give them to me, but I’m going to be walking around every time I have you in small groups and you can just reach over and hand me a card.”
As you are wandering around, just remind them that you’re collecting cards and will address a couple of those before going to the next activity. If it is a longer workshop, you can ask to collect any cards prior to a break and then answer a few of when folks return.
About a third of the way through, you can have them share questions & dilemmas that haven’t yet been mentioned. And then you can chart them out in small groups to keep some anonymity. Its important to clarify,
“I can’t guarantee we’ll get to them all, but at least we’ll get to a good number and then maybe we can come back together for another conversation and keep this work moving for the group.”
You also may say in your opening,
“If it comes the last five minutes, I may or may not be able to address a question because if it’s something that is complex or challenging, we won’t have enough time to do it justice and be able to leave so we can go into our next meetings. So, I might address it personally, but I may not be able to open up to the whole group.”
These proactive steps are important because you don’t want to have people so wound up, triggered when they leave that it may be impacting their ability to move into the next part of their lives. So, I like to have the bulk of the conversations around “difficult” issues or engaged conversation during the first ¾ of the session and relatively resolved so the last ¼ can be action planning: What do you want to do moving forward, what other questions do you have in general that I might do in a further session. So, they’re helping you plan the future.
Additionally, I always plan at least 30 mins to hang around afterwards for folks who what to come up and talk one-on-one. This way if it’s the 5-minute mark when someone raises a hand and asked a powerful question, I can say,
“Great question, though because of time we’re not going to address it as a group, but here are my quick thoughts….and I’ll stay around to talk more.”
Depending on the energy of the room, you might choose to work with them for a minute, “tell me more about what’s going on for you”. And maybe a whole group wants to stay. But be sure to offer
“I want to honor our time, but I also want to honor the question, so I’ll stay at least another fifteen and let’s just keep talking for whoever can stay and wants to keep going.”