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Powerful Graphic Recording Habit #4: Take Advantage of the Non-Passive Nature of the GR Role

In an effort to further the graphic recording field and support our clients in getting the most from their visuals, we present our blog series, Powerful Habits to Maximize the Benefits of Graphic Recording in Meetings. 

The tips we offer are based in context of a scenario where a meeting facilitator is partnered with a graphic recorder to serve a client, and where either the facilitator, the client, or both are new to using graphic recording. We strongly believe that graphic recordings are meant to be a thinking tool, not just a recording device.

Working visually is both a process and a product. We also believe that optimizing the use of graphic recording rests largely upon 2 factors: 1) the quality of the partnership between the facilitator and the graphic recorder and 2) their collective repertoire of strategies for engaging participants to interact with the graphic recordings in a way that produces new insights. Powerful Graphic Recording Habit #4 speaks largely to the former. 

Powerful Graphic Recording Habit #4: Take Advantage of the Non-Passive Nature of the GR Role

To some people, the term graphic recorder suggests a passive role because it implies the laborious task of scribing and being a handmaiden to the participants. Despite the fact that GRs are predominantly silent during meetings, they are active contributors to the process in many ways. When you learn to see your GR’s true function, not only can they be a valuable co-designer of the process, they can also be a beneficial co-navigator during the meeting.

My facilitator partners see me as a co-facilitator, even if I am not doing the talking. They value my perspective. They seek my feedback, ideas and opinions. They pressure test stuff with me. They know they can be curious about my take on things without necessarily committing to act on my ideas/change things as a result.

Julie Gieseke | Map The Mind

As David Roche explains in his book, The Church of 80% Sincerity, the principle of delayed understanding “states that you cannot understand what is going on when it is going on.” During a meeting, the facilitator can’t see him/herself because he/she is focused on the group and following the agenda. (Facilitators have many balls in the air at the same time and their job is like solving a real-time puzzle.) Sometimes they can get caught up in the process, or triggered by participant behavior. Similarly, the group is involved intellectually and emotionally in the conversation, and is often not able to objectively observe or manage their own dynamics.

Although they are also involved in the real-time action of the meeting, GRs have a unique vantage point that differs from that of the facilitator or the group. As a silent witness to what the others in the room are experiencing, the GR is able to hear/see the content of conversation, objectively observe the group’s behavior/dynamics, and objectively observe the facilitator’s performance.

This is a benefit because when invited, the GR can provide gentle, insightful reality checks, validation or affirmation for the facilitator, as well as for the group at large.

As a GR, I can fully listen and watch the situation. I can point out things the facilitator can’t see. It’s like the facilitator is on stage and the GR is in the wings. It’s a completely different vantage point. At the appropriate times and in the right way, I can point out what’s missing in the conversation. Tapping into this is smart.

Dana Wright | Take Action Inc.

GRs have well honed listening skills and comprehend information on many levels. As an objective, trained observer and synthesizer, the GR listens to your meeting in a different way than anyone else in the room. GRs listen using their logic and intuition. They are trained to pay attention to the unspoken and pick up on feelings/tensions that are not expressed verbally. Hearing many layers to the conversation, GRs not only receive the content of what’s actually spoken, but also the emotion with which it’s delivered.

The insights your GR obtains based on what is or is not being said can be valuable for the facilitator to tap into, and they can be held privately for the facilitator’s own awareness during the rest of the process or made public for the group’s understanding/consideration.

My facilitator partners like my synthesis (the way I connect the dots on the map). Sometimes I catch stuff/comments they might miss. My reflections can sometimes change the trajectory of the meeting conversation. When I am invited to re-cap what I heard, then the group can own the observation.

Sophia Liang | Graphic Footprints

Similarly, the GR can offer useful reflections during a debrief session after the meeting. Ask your GR for suggestions on process improvements for the next time, observations on how the group responded to the visuals, ideas for how the process could include a higher level of interactive reflection with the visuals, or thoughts on how the F and GR can “do the dance” or be more effectively in sync as partners. 

Here are 5 tips to help you take advantage of the non-passive nature of the GR role: 

  1. Recognize that by virtue of their roles, the facilitator and participants are in the land of complexity. No one person has “the answer” and for some portion of the process it’s okay to be in the space of not knowing. However, when contemplating where the group needs to go next, the GR can be a useful thought partner as an observer of the complexity of the conversation, (especially if they have facilitation skills themselves).
  2. Introduce the GR technique at the opening of the meeting and explain that the GR will interact with your group. Set the norm that the GR may appropriately push the group to clarify a point or define something they’ve said.
  3. Make your interchanges with the GR audible during facilitation. This role models working as a team/doing the dance. It demonstrates to the group that the GR is there in service as a resource that can be tapped into.
  4. As a facilitator, build in checkpoints with the GR throughout the meeting. This could be during a break or ebb in the process when participants are engaged in activities. Ask the GR: How do you think it’s going? What are you seeing?
  5. If appropriate, plan time during the meeting to invite the GR to reflect on the charts/conversation/contribute to the group’s sense-making. Plan the GR reflection at a point in the meeting process where it will add value and at a time when the GR can stop recording and review the chart(s) themselves beforehand so they can make meaning.

When planning how to integrate your GR’s reflection into the meeting process, it’s important to decide:

  • How much time is appropriate to dedicate to a GR reflection.
  • When the GR’s input would be most valuable during the process.
  • What exactly you want your GR to reflect on. (i.e., themes they heard, patterns they noticed, places where the conversation seemed vague, important terms they suspect the group may lack a shared definition for, the significance of the visuals/layout used, feedback on the accuracy of their capture, and so forth.)
  • What, if anything, you might need to coach the GR on specifically NOT saying to your group.

Remember: while the GR is listening intently to your meeting, their brain is simultaneously occupied with many other tasks and they often are not processing the content thoughtfully as it’s going on the page. They need at least a few minutes (perhaps over a break) to reflect and consider the information so they can formulate thoughtful comments.

As much as the listening role requires the GR to be silent for the majority of the meeting, they play a resounding role in the way they express and give voice to the group’s thoughts. It’s important that you don’t forget the fact their contribution can extend well beyond the paper. Invite your GR to share his or her insight as a valuable resource for the facilitator to tap into as the meeting unfolds and afterwards as the lessons from the meeting facilitation are harvested, to benefit fully from their non-passive role.