by Steve Roche

Managing people’s states

Part of your job as a facilitator is to keep people in the right mood or frame of mind to participate effectively in the event. This is really about managing their states. And if you are thinking ‘I just run a few meetings, this does not apply to me’, think again. If you want good results from your meetings – and people to like attending your meetings – you need to know about this.

So what is a state? It is the way a person feels, both emotionally and physically, including their mood and their energy levels. All this together makes up a person’s state. There is a lot more in the section on States.

Why is group state important?

The state of individual attendees, and therefore the group as a whole, is important because the way people perform is based on their state. If you are feeling just OK – kind of neutral – that is how you will perform, just OK. If you are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and really up for whatever is happening, then you will be much more effective in what you are doing.

As a facilitator, you can help people with their states so that they are contributors to the event and get more from it. If they participate well, they will feel good about themselves and the event. The opposite is also true – if people participate very little, they will feel bad about it – so if you want to achieve the event outcomes, it’s really important to manage the states of the people attending.

What you need to know first

In fact you can’t manage people’s states directly, any more than you can walk up to someone who is sad and make them happy by saying ‘Be happy!’ But what you can do is set things up so they react by changing their state.

In order to intervene in this way you need to answer two questions:

  • What state would be most likely to move the group towards the event outcomes?
  • What state(s) are they actually in right now?

If the event outcomes demand lots of creativity, you need to help the group to get into a creative mood. If the outcomes require a lot of decisions to be made, you probably need a no-nonsense businesslike mood. For a longer event, the optimal state will probably change, according to the task in hand.

Assessing the current state of the group is something we all do naturally anyway, but often unconsciously. When we get a sense of how a group is feeling, what we are actually doing is noticing the way people are moving, the way their voices sound, the words they are using, the expressions on their faces and also how we feel in relation to the group. From all this we conclude that the group is happy, bored, motivated and so on.


You may need to check in regularly with yourself to explicitly ask the question, ‘what is the state of the group?’ Without making this a conscious task for yourself, you may fail to notice significant changes in the group mood because you are wrapped up in facilitating content.

How to manage group states

One of the best ways to learn this skill is simply to start noticing what happens at meetings and events you attend. Make your own assessment of the state of the group and monitor it for changes. When you sense a change, backtrack a little and figure out what caused the change.

One thing you will notice is that any change in the group activity levels will bring about a change in state, so you can easily change the state of a group with anything that creates activity. You might say ‘turn to your neighbour and discuss this issue for three minutes’ or ‘let’s all get some fresh air and walk outside for five minutes.’ Generally, you would use activity to raise energy levels (this may be particularly important after lunch, when many people have a low energy cycle as they digest their food).

Another way to change state is to get people either thinking about something different or thinking in a different way. If you want move the group into a creative state, get them to cluster in groups of three or four (to create activity) and then come up with as many ideas as they can on how to use a paper clip, no matter how zany these ideas are.

If you want the group really focused on getting through a number of points, set up a visual target by writing the points up on a flip chart and crossing them off as they are dealt with. Your own demeanour while you do this needs to be a model of how you want them to be. Use phrases such as ‘Let’s get down to business here and get this stuff done and crossed off the list.’

The individual state

The group is made up of individuals, each with their own state. It is the average of these that makes up the group state, but of course some members of the group could be in a state that’s very different from the group as a whole. As well as being sensitive to the state of the group, you need to be aware of the states of individuals, noticing if they are out of rapport with the group. This is easy if it is an energetic state, such as overt anger, but may not be so easy to spot with something like boredom.

Dealing with the state of an individual within the context of a group, especially when the individual is disrupting the group, is one of the toughest tasks for a facilitator. Frequently, the easiest option is to take a break and deal with the individual on a one-to-one basis to find out what needs to be done to ‘bring them back’ to the group, so the group can get its outcome for the event.

There is no particular formula for this – each situation will be different, and the underlying cause will be different. Your skills here will rest on your abilities with people, so anything that improves your skills in this area will help. We recommend the following topics:



Questioning Skills

Listening Skills

Emotional Intelligence


Body Language