Techniques to engage people when you facilitate change

Dutch actor, coach, trainer and speaker Juanita Coble kicks off session #W110 on change and the importance of engaging people in the process. Welcome to ASTD2014 day 4…


According to Coble, Neuroscience tells us that when people are uncertain, they move into an “away state”. This accounts for many of the negative reactions to whatever change is going on.



Starting with a role-play, Coble took the stage as an actress, playing the role of interim director, Mrs Smith. “She” wouldn’t answer my questions, “she” was very direct, seemed to think she knew it all and was overly positive, but in a strange fake way. Telling us a story about making lemonade, “she” just talked, talked, talked…

Following Coble’s stage moment, session participants were invited to play a role and discuss their reactions to the change with “colleagues”. My character (who I will call “John”) saw it coming. He had already been looking around and had an interview planned for a new job. Other participants played other roles (although I still don’t know what instructions they received).


Thinking about one of our own changes, Coble asked us to make notes in answer to 3 different questions: “What has to go?”, “What should stay” and “What is needed?”

As the session moved on, participants were really encouraged to express their feelings about those things. For the “go” things, we wrote them on a piece of paper, crunched them up and threw them at the speaker (I was thinking of Mrs Smith 🙂 screaming “good riddance”. For the “should stays”, we simply discussed with our neighbours.

For the “what is needed?” question, we were invited to think of a “happy ending” to the change story. This could be more or less creative, either a literal ending to the story or a more figurative, romantic, novel ending. For my own “home-selling” change story, I thought about some kind of fairy-godmother coming to me in the night to reassure about how things we’re go. When our speaker asked me what my story-ending was, I told her. She asked me how I could get that. I answered. She asked me what I was going to do about it. The “coaching approach” got me thinking for myself and really helped me to identify the real problem going on.


How do you convince leadership that this kind of dialogue is necessary?

Coble says that the proof is already there from NeuroScience. Davis and Rock from the NeuroLeadership Institute told us that people need “certainty” and “relatedness” (as well as other things) to be able to really integrate new change and new learning. If they don’t feel sure about things, or feel misunderstood, they will probably not get onboard. If they don’t do some “metacognition” (thinking about thinking) it won’t be anchored as it should be.

I have heard many people say that “coaching is a luxury we can’t afford”, yet the benefits of getting people to think for themselves have been widely documented and include better retention, satisfaction, creativity, responsibility…


What other things can we do to get people involved in the change process, or to facilitate sessions when change is happening?

A distinction must be made between involving people in initiating and defining the change, and helping them to face a change that is going to happen in a certain way. During the session, I was mostly focussing on the second type: How can you get people onboard for a predefined change, getting them engaged and responsible?

Coble gave a list of several options and we brainstormed more:

  • Use of social-media platforms to create discussion and sharing
  • On the job training
  • Classical discussions, one-or-one or in group meetings, really taking the time necessary
  • Rehearsal sessions with managers, helping them play-out the communication with people role-playing different reactions
  • Role-play
  • Multi-platform communications
  • Sound fragment dilemmas – essentially this involves recording the change-agents involved if defining the change as they explain what’s going on as they think about the change and drive the process forward. Those who are “following” the change are then invited to listen to those recordings as podcasts to get more insight on the feelings and motivation of others. I see no reason why this could not be done for recordings of anyone in the organisation, as this would help everyone to get a better sense of what is going on with others.
  • Fast-forward theatre – the idea of having actors come in to play scenes showing what things look like in the future, when the change is properly completed
  • Corporate “family constellations” which I do not feel I can do justice to in text on this blog. Please follow the link.


We then focused on one other specific technique that got my attention

A friend and colleague of mine, Oisin Varian, has occasionally talked to me about the value of visualisation techniques. In today’s session, I experienced the power of this first hand. Juanita Coble asked us to close our eyes and think about a future 10 years from now, when our own personal “change example” is properly completed.

With a few guiding words from the speaker, I imagine myself coming home one day from work (new home), opening the door and seeing my eldest daughter (now 18) on the sofa, talking to a friendly looking boy. My other 2 daughters were in the kitchen with their mother, doing homework, chatting and making food. I walked in relaxed and smiling and greeted everyone at the start of the evening. As I did this visualisation exercise, I started to yawn and relaxed the tension that had been in my shoulders all morning. Now, admittedly, I have been very tired at the end of 4 days of conferencing, but as I saw this new environment and my family, I had a tear of happiness in my eye.

Coble then asked “future Dan” to imagine he was looking back at himself today and think about what he would say to him about the change. My answer? “Relax. Don’t worry about all the details. Stop running around trying to make it all perfect. What you are going to get is nothing like you can possibly imagine today, and it’s going to be great.” I yawned some more.

I found this exercise very powerful and listening to other participants saying what they would say to themselves from the future, I could see that this technique wasn’t only working for me. Many people were feeling more (self) understood and self-assured. They also named quite clearly what it was they needed to focus on in the current moment of (difficult) change.


Put all these techniques together in a good way and you can create engagement

I believe that. We all know as managers and trainers that we have to take time to listen to people when facilitating change. Coble gave us the tools. First class session.


See also:



Published by Dan Steer

For the last 17 years, I have been helping businesses and individuals to achieve their goals through delivery of tailor-made learning and development initiatives. Most of the time, I deliver training, coach individuals, facilitate brainstorming sessions, round-table meetings and workshops. As a consultant, I help my clients to promote and profit from the infinite learning opportunities within and without their own organisation, drawing on my L+D management experience, strategic approach and creativity, As a speaker, I inspire through story, humour and pertinent little bits of theory. I believe that the world would be a better place if people were happily working on their mission with competence and alignment to personal values. As a freelance worker since 2008, I have helped more than 11000 individuals to improve their presentation, communication, commercial, leadership and negotiation skills. I confront people with their own behaviour and convictions, facilitating and giving pertinent feedback and clear ideas on where to continue good work and improve. I seek to satisfy my clients with creative and to-the-point solutions… …and I make music, but no-one pays me much for it yet :-) First single here:

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