All-Star Facilitator Series

Compassionate Curiosity

The Safe Zone Project Team

All-Star Facilitator Series

This is an one of the many lessons in our All-Star Facilitator Series, designed to help social justice educators improve their skills. Click here to see the rest of the posts, or if you have an idea for a lesson get involved. Note: this series spun off into our book, Unlocking the Magic of Facilitation — where we expand on some of these lessons, and include others.

Compassionate curiosity is a style thing.  Like wearing your hat sideways or matching your shoes with the rest of your clothes (which this kid told me was fresh).  Ok perhaps its not exactly like those styles of style things but it is a way you approach a situation, kind of frame of reference that informs your interaction.

What you ask is compassionate curiosity!

Its a combo of compassion and curiosity.

Compassion is about identifying with what a person is saying (or going through) on a level that says not just “I get you” but “I’ve totally been there/had that thought/know what you’re thinking.”


Curiosity is about probing for more information without judgement about maintaining an interest without deciding before you find out more.   Little kiddos are super good at this.  When they start picking at the dirt or attempting to eat that flower they aren’t like, “I’m going to do this because I think its a good idea” or a bad one for that matter, they are just curious and they wanna find out more.

= Compassionate Curiosity the ability to dig for more information without judgement while simultaneously identifying with how that person is feeling/thinking.  Sounds complicated, but stick with me here.

If someone in a workshop were to say, “I don’t see the difference between gender and sex.”  Cool.  That makes sense to me a lot of people don’t understand the difference between gender and sex right? (Seriously almost everyone doesn’t which is totally normal). I used to be one of those people like not super long ago.  Those words are used so interchangably it is a wonder they haven’t just become one.  Like gex or sender. Anyways.

Let’s say a participant just said that, here is how I would approach that with a compassionately curious style.  “That totally makes sense, I totally have struggled with that too. tell me more about how that works for you/how you see them as similar/what sparked that thought in you.”

I haven’t jumped to conclusions about why they think that.  I haven’t come up with a story about how they are never going to get it. I am simply looking for more information, digging in to find more information.  I am also saying, “Hey there, you are not alone in this feeling,” and that’s mad important.  That person might have felt self conscious about saying that thing (or maybe they didn’t.) Regardless, they know you’re not going to rag on them for saying it, because hey you’ve felt that way too.  That’s what compassion does, ensures they don’t feel threatened or alone.

Asking more questions without judgement allows the conversation to go farther than it would if you simply replied with a statement.  This can be kinda counter intuitive to ask more questions, particularly if they led with a question, but the beauty of facilitation, its not a normal conversation, its a facilitated one.

People are often trepidatious about entering into social justice conversations, cuz a lot of times they may have had a previously negative experience.  I find that experience is often from a feeling of being judged.  People are going to think I’m not the brightest crayon in the box if I say this thing that I’m thinking or wondering.  The best way to combat that is to be curious not judgemental about what they are saying.  Treat them like the little kid treats the flower they wanna eat.  Wait no. Don’t do that.  But do be curious.

This is some advanced level stuff

You’re being asked to consider how you do, not just what you do with this one.  Being compassionate and curious can be things we are really out of practice doing, and when you’re rusty you often feel… rusty.  Compassion for someone who is in a place or struggling with a thing that you no longer struggle with can be challenging, and also totally connecting.  Being curious about something you could totally go judgemental on can take some time, and will typically reveal new things you would have never previously thought of.

Best case scenario, if this technique, this style permeates the workshop, you’re more likely to have waaay more of those uber productive conversations throughout.  When you dig deeper, give people space to make mistakes, the conversations get better, and thus the workshop is better.  And that’s what being an all-star facilitator is all about, making those little changes that can make all the difference.