Empathic Facilitation

"Empathy is the most mysterious transaction that the human soul can have, and it's accessible to all of us, but we have to give ourselves the opportunity to identify, to plunge ourselves in a story where we see the world from the bottom up or through another's eyes or heart." — Sue Monk Kidd


The word facilitate means to make easy, and facilitators are engaged exactly for that reason: to avoid friction and argument, to smooth the way, to help groups arrive at decisions swiftly and painlessly. A good facilitator will be skilled in managing conflict and will come armed with many tools and techniques to move things forward. In our results-driven business culture such movement, quickly followed by decisions is what we seek, and what satisfies our need for determined action.

It's what we seek, but is it what we need? Perhaps not.

There's another way to facilitate, a way that actually isn't easy and doesn't focus on outcomes and decisions, but rather holds space for silence, for listening to the inner voice, both our own and that of the group as a whole. The Quakers, founders of the sociocratic method of governance, call this discernment. Discernment requires empathy, and empathy requires a slowing down, sometimes even a stillness. It is our collective stillness that allows us, as a group, to reflect and refocus, to make our choices more mindfully, and without coercion or compromise.

This one day workshop looks at how we can show up as facilitators in a less pressured way, to be open to what is, releasing expectations of what must be. Empathically facilitated sessions may result in no decisions, offer no answers, provide no fixes, and yet will still move a group closer to its own truth.

How does it work?

An empathic facilitator listens more than she speaks, asks questions more than she provides answers, embraces silence rather than fears it and thus fills it, and gently guides a group to where its heart leads it. An empathic facilitator works with exactly what is occurring at the moment, whether that be high energy, awkward discomfort or sheer boredom. Every human emotion and behaviour is considered to be important, and worthy of attention. An empathic facilitator becomes a mirror to the group, allowing it to first look, and then make its own choices as to what to do next.

With a focus on whole-body/somatic learning, this workshop uses storytelling techniques to hold space and guide; it incorporates Clean Language questions to encourage others to explore for themselves, rather than to be led; and it uses Naikan and Invocation techniques as a way to self-reflect and open our hearts to the experiences of others. Mostly though, empathic facilitation will be modeled rather than taught, and participants will be asked to stay aware, observe what's happening in the room, and use the energy and interactions as material to learn from, and with.

Learning Outcomes

Participants will have experienced a less common way of being within, or leading a group. This will affect different people in different ways. Ideally the self-refection that occurs will be carried forward, perhaps as a bonding and supporting experience between two or more participants. My hope is it will slow people down, create a little more pause in the workplace. This remains to be seen.

About the Facilitator

Tobias Mayer has been facilitating groups for almost thirty years. Starting with school leavers on government training-for-work programs his facilitation career has encountered such diverse groups as the long-term unemployed, newly arrived refugees, young people on probation, teenagers excluded from schools, pensioners, middle managers, software developers, lawyers, user researchers, city development groups,


See the events home page for upcoming Empathic Facilitation workshops.

Workshop Cost

The cost of this one-day workshop is £300. Discounts are offered to those on low income. Email Tobias Mayer for discount information.

ScrumMaster Journey

This is a required workshop for completing Phase 3 of the ScrumMaster Journey.