Video and transcript from Hassan Ghiassi’s talk at Control the Room 20222

Control the Room 2022 was an absolute success! We hosted our annual facilitator summit last week, and our makeup sessions this week, alongside our partner MURAL. Our wonderful connection between the live event and the virtual world, hosted by Mark Tippin, Director of Strategic Next Practices, Mark facilitated “Mind Shift” sessions, where he guided our attendees through a dialog about how everyone was impacted by the talks. He engaged both in-person and virtual attendees through our various activities in our conference mural. It was inspiring to have so many people joining in different ways and everyone getting the chance to communicate.

We also partnered with SAFE this year to support and honor a lost colleague, Jenni Robertson. The dedication of this summit comes after losing a coworker, mother, and friend to family violence and Voltage Control has pledged to work with SAFE to stop family violence for everyone. We wanted to take a moment and look back on all of the moments of insight, knowledge, and growth we all took part in over the course of the summit. 

This year’s summit theme was SHIFTS, and as we move into 2022 we have seen shifts in the way we work, the way we connect, and the way we honor one another.

This year we hosted 18 facilitators in a hybrid space. We were live in-person, on Zoom, and even created our own Control the Room VR space, and we must say the event, even with a few technical issues, turned out to be a hub of idea sharing and growing with each other. 

Each speaker delivered a 20-minute lightning session, and each session was filled with a sense of community, play, and story-telling.

Difficult Dialogues

If you believe in powerful questions you can change the world.

Hassan Ghiassi

When you are faced with a difficult question, often the immediate response is to take the easy route and disengage. When you believe in that question and open up the conversation there is true transformative power you can tap into. Dialogue should be a habit, not an intervention. Hearing someone in the room ask a difficult question, or share an opinion and watching the validation that happens between peers opens up the conversation to solutions. Belonging is important, and while taking the negative route is often easier, if we want to arrive at actionable solutions and create a sense of belonging, the difficult route must be explored. 

Watch Hassan Ghiassi speak on Facilitating Difficult Dialogues:

Whatever it is, take a step back and see how it’s unfolding. And then you pick something that stands out to you. In the example I gave, it was the fact that people had this really strong belief, but it wasn’t so clear where it came from. And I had my own curiosity about that. And so this all depends on who you are and what you’re pulled to. And my recommendation is don’t overthink it, go with it.

Hassan Ghiassi

Read the full video transcript:

Hassan Ghiassi:

Dialogue should be a habit, not an intervention. Dialogue should be a habit, not an intervention. I’m going to say something and if it applies to you, I want you to clap just one time, just one clap. And for those of you online, I want you to write, “Yes.” Or if you’re on MURAL, go ahead and type something in. Clap if you’ve ever stopped speaking with someone over politics. That was more than I thought it would be. I appreciate you. That must really be hard. Next one, clap if you’ve ever feared speaking up during team meetings. Okay, I think I heard a little bit more on that one.

And with those claps I’m just thinking about all the lost ideas, all the tension that you might feel during those meetings and really the fact that these organizations might not be optimized to work how they should work, because the best ideas are probably in that room. Now clap if you’ve experienced a discussion that went poorly. Okay. Now we’re really making some noise. I’d also like you to clap if you believe powerful questions can change the world. One more time. One more time. Okay. So it looks like all of us know the importance of this topic. And I agree with you. I know the power of questions and I know how they can change things. I’ve seen it happen.

My name’s Hassan Ghiassi. I’m VP of relationships here at Voltage control, and I’m a facilitator. I started my facilitation journey back 16 years ago. Let me be more specific. I decided 16 years ago to facilitate discussions each and every week. So I have a lot of reps. And out of all those experiences, I’ve really seen some beautiful things, but there’s one key moment that really changed everything for me and a tool that I think I’ve found, and I want to share that with you today. And there’s no better way for me to do that than to talk to you about the time when I had a little bit less gray hair and I was a young kid at the University of North Carolina.

So that’s me. As an 18 year old, I raised my hand to volunteer with a group of students that were going to facilitate discussions with other students. And the professors in charge didn’t really give us really strict guidelines. Something about having people talk, being in the room together, that just that in itself would be helpful. And they told us, “Make it happen.” And so I had these loose parameters about what I was to do. One of the first ideas I had as a budding facilitator was that I would come up with really great starting questions. It was about me. I would go each week, I would look up current events. I would think of the best questions to ask. And I knew that they were going to be awesome. I knew that people would love them, just like my favorite professors did each week, right?

Well, time would come, I’d ask my question, a few brave people would speak up and then it would be crickets. And we all know how that feels, pulling teeth through these discussions. One day, out of frustration, I was like, “They can write the questions and then they can vote on the question and then it’s off my shoulders.” And I didn’t really know what was going to happen, but it worked. It actually worked. So the discussions were better, people were more engaged, questions led to more questions. And suddenly there was all these sparks and all this different stuff that was happening. I was feeling good. I had the stress of that off my shoulders, people were able to throw in those ideas and discuss on their own and participants in groups that I was leading were giving feedback. They were writing them in like, “Why don’t we do this more? This was amazing. Can I lead these?”

And my professor was like, “What are you doing with these groups anyways? Are you paying them to say this stuff or what’s going on?” So when she figured out what I was doing, she had me teach what I was doing to the rest of the students. It was pretty easy. People just anonymously write down questions, facilitator reads it off, we vote, they have buy-in and the discussion sparks that way.The program was so going so well, we ended up training other students and then the freshman experience coordinators as well. So it was really taken off. And for me, it was this volunteer opportunity that turned into this thing that was creating the impact that I really was wanting to see in my life and in the world. And all these different students that I was able to meet with these different ideas.

And then one day it happened. I was leading a group and someone wrote in this question, “Is God real?” And then the group voted on that question to start with, “Is God real?” So I asked the question. Person one, “Yes. And Jesus died for our sins.” Person two, “No, God isn’t real. It’s just made up so people have rules.” Person three, “Maybe it’s a bit of both. God is real, but people make rules.” And I noticed at that moment that there was a lot of energy in the room to share. There was a lot of opinions. And as a facilitator, I was listening to all these voices and I knew how important it was that everyone during this experience and how to make it easier for them to share, to be understood, to understand themselves and to understand others. And we never really had a question that’s difficult before. It was really the time to figure this out.

So I was running through all these different ideas in my head of what to do. And I kind of thought, “Well, this initial question is tough. So maybe I should take them on a bit of a path, make it easier for them to get into this together and help them see their commonalities.” And I knew I wanted to create the best possible process to lead to the best possible outcome for their group as a whole. I also knew that I wanted to help that shift happen, and then it wasn’t about me, it was them. And what I wanted to do was to get people in the room to see their commonality and what they shared.

And for me, it looked like this. So we started with that question, “Is there a God?” That’s when all the energy happened. But this wasn’t enough. We needed more to dive in so that they could elaborate and understand some other points of interest that they might share. So, “Can you elaborate?” Is the next question I asked. And this actually turned up the heat. There was two people that were getting really angry with each other. And I don’t know if you guys know what cornbread is, but one of the guys was a real big guy, he ate his cornbread. North Carolinans would say. And he was getting red in his face and there was a more academic guy with glasses on who was really good at talking down to people in a very academic way. It was not looking that good. I was really worried that a fight might break out.

But I didn’t want to ask them to stop because I thought that at least they could have that conversation in a managed environment as opposed to it being outside somewhere else. And I wanted that tension to take place so that they can work through it together. So I asked a question to calm things down. I asked them a really boring question, “What is the textbook definition of religion?” And that let everyone move from their heart to their head. And it brought the temperature down. And as they were talking, I myself got curious, “Where does this real strong belief come from about God? Did they wake up one day at three years old and decide that Jesus was real? Did the person that was atheist find out about the club on campus?” Whatever their beliefs are, it’s all fine, just where did they come from? Where did they originate from?

And so I asked that question, “Where does your belief come from?” Person one, “Myself. I’m my own person. I make my own decisions.” Person two, “Well, my parents are Christian and I’m Christian. So I guess my parents.” Person one again, “Oh, actually, I’m also the same religion as my parents.” And there is this interesting call back to that first question that we asked where everyone really was holding strong in their beliefs and let them see a different line of thinking along those lines. And this new connection about parents and how that connected with their belief system. And it made it a little bit easier for them to all come together. And it was a really big turning point.

I looked around and people were like, “Huh. Wait a minute. That’s true for me too.” So the whole group had this moment. For 45 minutes, they dug in and they were really strong. We all know how that question would turn out. And now they had this epiphany and this new way of thinking of things. And while they did have faith in a specific way, they also understood that there’s maybe a commonality there and a shared pathway that they found. And as time started winding down, I was a little bit worried. This discussion did not go smoothly. They were really about to fight at some point in time. I did my best. I was kind of stumbling. There was high emotions. These two were about to fight.

And then I ended the session and then they clapped. And I was like, “Whoa. No one ever clapped before.” And then when the session ended we stood up to leave, they came up and they shook my hand. These were other students, I was a student, that’s not what we really do typically. And on top of that, a lot of them, I think, were there because it was an extra credit assignment or something. They were forced to be there. So that’s when The Epiphany Question Method was born, that I created. This trail of questions that allows people to come to softer understandings and gives them time to understand and be understood at the same moment. It eases people into ideas. It facilitates behavioral change and innovation.

I’ve taken this method with me into boardrooms, conflict resolution situations, debriefs. And I often use it as the starting point for decision making processes. There’s all sorts of ways you can use it. And for those of you that are interested, I did a long session yesterday, but this is how it works. So you start with that question. This is where the magic happens when you let people vote and choose their own path. Then we listen. We really listen as facilitators. We try our best to hear what’s in the room and we do our best to be neutral and not really put ourselves into it too much. We sit back and we have that chance to observe. Then we find a pattern. Maybe everyone loves barbecue. That’s possible. Or you might see polarization on certain issues. It could be that people aren’t thinking outside of the box. Whatever pattern you see, it’ll develop organically in the process. It’ll be emergent and you’ll find a way to work with it.

Whatever it is, take a step back and see how it’s unfolding. And then you pick something that stands out to you. In the example I gave, it was the fact that people had this really strong belief, but it wasn’t so clear where it came from. And I had my own curiosity about that. And so this all depends on who you are and what you’re pulled to. And my recommendation is don’t overthink it, go with it. Don’t don’t stifle yourself. And then you’re going to ask a question, just like we did, and move people along that journey. Then you’ll repeat. So listen, find a pattern, pick something, ask a question. And you keep repeating that.

There are some best practices that I want to share with you. It’s tailored to what the audience says. So this is, again, all about them. Don’t bring in outside ideas. It’s who’s in the room, they have to be able to grapple with it on their own. It’s not about your opinion either. It’s about them. Next, your questions will never be perfect. After 16 years of doing this, there are sometimes that people just say, “That was a stupid question. I’d rather ask this.” That’s fine. That’s great. That means that group is coming together in a way and taking ownership of their experience and they actually feel safe enough and brave enough to do that. That means you did a wonderful job.

Next, it’s a mindset, it’s a philosophy, it’s not rigid. So for those perfectionist in the room, it’s not that every time you have to see that aha moment, it’s just a journey, it’s a pathway, it’s the way that you want to take them. You’re not going to get a star if you get it every… Just work with it. It’s about uncovering assumptions, both the group’s and your own. So you should also be open to those moments. And it’s an eye to shed light on the minority opinion. So if the majority of the group is thinking one way, I’m always looking to give light and give voice to the group that’s a minority in that room, whichever that might be.And that’s it. That’s the single most important thing I’ve learned leading groups over all these years. So I leave you with one final question. How will you approach your next discussion? Thank you.