10 Facilitation Techniques For UX Designers: How To Lead Better Discussions

Why should we care about facilitation skills as UX designers, you ask? I do think that this skill becomes more and more relevant. As UX Designer we take a role of a translator (and sometimes mediator): our goal is to understand and balance needs from users, the business and the context (technology, processes, environments).

A big part of our work is, therefore, to bring people together, lead discussions, create alignment, and share information.

Facilitation skills help make teamwork more effective and break communication barriers. Examples are:

  • Managing team meetings
  • Improving participation and engagement in group settings
  • Increasing clarity and alignment for groups
  • Managing a diversity of opinions
  • Evaluating choices and creating action plans as a group

Here are some techniques that will help you grow your facilitation skillset.

Listening

Girl listening

This is actually where every good communication starts: with listening. These techniques will help you to make more out of “listening to another person’s words.” Most of us are probably familiar with active listening, so I won’t include this here (but it is a very basic listening technique, so start there first :)).

1 Listening for common ground:

  • Description: If discussions are getting stuck because there seem to be polarized opinions and nothing is moving forward, use your neutral position as a facilitator to bring the team to common ground. Summarize what has been said, state the differences, and then state the commonalities. Check for accuracy.
  • Example: Facilitator: “Let me summarize what I am hearing. I’m hearing a lot of differences, but also similarities. It sounds like…(share what you have heard). Is that right?”

2 Listening with a point of view:

  • Description: You might get in situations where you are leading a conversation as a facilitator, but you are also an expert and can contribute helpful insights. Make it obvious to the group that you are stepping into another role for a moment to share your expertise before returning to the neutral facilitator role.
  • Example: Facilitator: “I have some expertise I would like to share. Let me step out of the role of a facilitator for a moment to contribute to the conversation..”

3 Intentional silence:

  • Description: When you feel that people need some time to warm up or the topic is really complex and requires more time to think, give 10 seconds of silence after you have asked a question or after a comment. Stay focused on the speaker or the group, pay attention, but don’t say anything
  • Example: Silence can work magic. In some situations you want to start with an invitation: “Let’s take a few moments in silence to think of some examples.”

Askin Questions

Girl thinking, asking questions

Knowing how to ask questions is not only relevant in research. Good questions will move discussions forward and bring uncovered topics to the table—another essential section in your skills box.

4 Open-Ended Questions:

  • Description: Open-ended questions are helpful whenever we are looking for feedback. They force you to hold back with any assumptions (don’t you like my solution?), but invite people to provide detailed responses, promoting discussion and exploring ideas (what do you think about the solution?).
  • Example: Facilitator: “What are your thoughts (on xyz)?”

5 Probing Questions:

  • Description: Probing questions help to delve deeper into a person’s response, seeking more information or clarification.
  • Example: Facilitator: “You mentioned you wanted to see more information on this dashboard. Can you share more about what information you think would be useful and how this will improve your work?”

6 Balancing Questions:

  • Description: Balancing questions helps the group stay open, broaden the discussion, and ensure everyone is heard. It’s especially useful when we are looking for creative inputs.
  • Example: Facilitator: “Are there other ways of looking at this? Does everyone agree with this, or do we have other opinions in the room? “

Guiding Communication

Smart girl, summarizing

Besides listening and asking questions, we also need to ensure that we are guiding the group to a desired outcome. Some techniques here are:

7 Linking:

  • Description: Linking involves connecting different ideas or contributions made by participants, helping to show relationships and build a cohesive narrative.
  • Example: Facilitator: “Building on Sarah’s point about improved collaboration, John mentioned earlier that better communication is key. It seems like there’s a link between effective communication and collaborative problem-solving. What are your thoughts on this connection?”

8 Redirecting:

  • Description: Redirecting involves gently steering the discussion back on track if it deviates or addressing off-topic conversations to maintain focus.
  • Example: Facilitator: “I appreciate the input on that topic. Let’s bring our focus back to our current discussion about project milestones.”

9 Consensus Building:

  • Description: Facilitators can guide the group toward consensus by highlighting areas of agreement, facilitating compromises, and helping resolve conflicting viewpoints.
  • Example: Facilitator: “It seems like we have common ground on these two proposals. Can we explore a compromise that incorporates the strengths of both ideas?”

10 Summarizing:

  • Description: Summarizing involves providing a concise overview of key points, decisions, or outcomes from a discussion. It helps reinforce understanding and clarity.
  • Example: Facilitator: “To summarize, we’ve identified three main challenges and proposed solutions. Let’s ensure we’re all on the same page before moving forward.”

Takeaways

These techniques can be useful in a variety of situations. You might want to try some in your next research project, in a kick-off meeting or in a feedback session. You’ll realize how often you can support and lead communication, be it with one other person or a group of people.