Judges, referees, mediators and facilitators are trained to be neutral. But neutrality is often misunderstood. We think neutrality looks like a distant, overly rational character with horned-rimmed glasses sitting back like a pondering judge, or the oh-so-nice peacekeeper in comfortable shoes smoothing everything over to the point of obsequiousness. The word neutrality can be conflated with the idea of being neutered; that is, lacking life force, energy, or being just plain bland. And the truth is, nobody wants that person in front of the room leading a discussion, particularly if it is about something you care about.
Actually, true neutrality is completely enlivened state of mind. It is not detached, emotionally removed, indifferent or static. Rather, this neutrality involves an acute ability to identify with each perspective in a conversation, to see the truth in each comment, however partial or incomplete it may be. At the same time, it is fluid; true neutrality is equally able to detach from an idea or let go of a position in order to include more truths. In this way, neutrality is a form of flexibility involving the art of picking up the truth, then shifting gears and letting a perspective go momentarily in order to keep the conversation moving.
This is one way in which neutrality when facilitating groups is a practice akin to meditation. The practice of meditation is not absent of experience. Rather it is a full experience of experience—and then the experience of letting go. When we are truly neutral, we can engage viewpoints and pick up perspectives. But we don’t react to them, and we can set them down just as easily when the next moment calls for something different.
True neutrality is dynamic. It requires full, embodied engagement. Nothing is left out. Not our mind, our emotions, not our body. Neutrality requires us to feel. The more we feel, the more we can let go. We learn to bring our feelings online; our sensitivity to energy, engaging from position of involvement rather than observation. In this way we engage our own life force as a facilitator — our own dynamism — which in turn enables greater participation and involvement from everyone around us.
Diane Musho Hamilton
Co-Founder and Lead Teacher, Integral Facilitator®
Author, Everything is Workable, a Zen Approach to Conflict Resolution.
Listen to the recording of a Ten Directions’ live call with more on this subject: Neutrality is Not What You Think