Facilitator Empathy – Balancing your enthusiasm

Insights from a butcher on balancing empathy with enthusiasm when you’re a facilitator…

“Don’t worry if your glass is half full or half empty, be glad you have a glass.”

This is a quote from Vince Gareffa’s autobiography. A fantastic story written by a butcher from Perth who started out life as a young immigrant living in poverty.

Vince is one of my favourite types of people. He’s a self-made man who has achieved huge success and continues to help others along the way.

Vince offered us sage advice when we started our first café business almost 14 years ago – his impact has been long lasting.

What’s this got to do with facilitation?

Yes, this article certainly isn’t a practical tips and ‘how to’ guide.

But it does give a hint about facilitator empathy.

The quote got me thinking further about my role, as most of the time it’s people-based. Often I’m dealing with people I’ve not met before, which means that I need to get a handle on life from their perspective, right at that moment.

I’ve tried a few approaches over the years…

Early on it was all about boundless enthusiasm and unchecked positivity. To quote Tom O’Toole, my mantra was “Every day above ground is a good day.”

In our café business and in my facilitation role, I came to realise that for many people, this was not the case.

I mostly didn’t know why – I just had to be perceptive enough to know it was; and temper my response to them accordingly.

The unchecked positivity would be very, very annoying for people experiencing seriously bad days. Glass half-full was not going to help them. Knowing they still had the glass may have.

So that’s where I reckon we need to focus our efforts as facilitation and community engagement professionals.

We need to be looking for signals about the ‘status of their glass’ and be thinking through how we can show people where they have influence or control and help theme to tap into this.

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Andrew Huffer

Andrew Huffer has over 25 years experience in working with organisations, businesses, managers and communities and at a state, national and international level. He designs and delivers specialist engagement processes, with a focus on facilitating open decision making processes and skill development of clients. He has delivered presentations and workshops at a number of state, national and international conferences.

Reader Interactions


  1. Carmela says

    indeed we should not be cheering up those who want to stay at the doldrums at the moment. it is not the facilitators role to force or push people out of their preferred state of mind…our presence can be our greatest gift….or our journeying with the other even in silence…

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