A conversation with Madelon Guinazzo, Co-Founder and Consent Facilitator of Cuddlist.

“The number one foundational principle as a facilitator is to create psychological safety, psychological security, emotional security in the room by informing people and letting them know what the expectations are upfront. So what is the agenda? What is the goal? What is expected of them? Because that helps people relax when they know what I am supposed to be doing here? Because otherwise, they’re tiptoeing around hoping that they don’t stub their toe on something.” –Madelon Guinazzo

In this episode of Control the Room, I had the pleasure of speaking with Madelon Guinazzo about how she became a Cuddle Facilitator, the importance of social agreements, and being more intentional about how we meet. We discuss the consent of self-care and trying to do the right thing for you and your clients.  Later we discuss the distinction between implicit and explicit social agreements and why communication is all about context, context, context.  Listen in to hear actionable tips for creating an opening in meetings that gracefully invites psychological safety into the room.

Show Highlights

[1:40] How Madelon Became a Cuddle Facilitator
[5:45] The Distinction Between Request, Offer, and Invitation
[8:25] The Number One Job of a Facilitator[12:20] Implicit vs. Explicit Social Agreements
[17:30] Strategies for Screening Clients[27:40] The Emotional Weather Report

Madelon on LinkedIn
Cuddlist Professional Cuddle Therapy

About the Guest

About Voltage Control

Voltage Control is a change agency that helps enterprises sustain innovation and teams work better together with custom-designed meetings and workshops, both in-person and virtual. Our master facilitators offer trusted guidance and custom coaching to companies who want to transform ineffective meetings, reignite stalled projects, and cut through assumptions. Based in Austin, Voltage Control designs and leads public and private workshops that range from small meetings to large conference-style gatherings.

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Full Transcript

Douglas:  Welcome to the Control the Room podcast, a series devoted to the exploration of meeting culture and uncovering cures for the common meeting. Some meetings have tight control, and others are loose. To control the room means achieving outcomes while striking a balance between imposing and removing structure, asserting and distributing power, leaning in and leaning out, all in the service of having a truly magical meeting. Thanks for listening. If you’d like to join us live for a session sometime, you can join our weekly Control the Room facilitation lab. It’s a free event to meet fellow facilitators and explore new techniques so you can apply the things you learn in the podcast in real time with other facilitators. Sign up today at voltagecontrol.com/facilitation-lab.

If you’d like to learn more about my new book, Magical Meetings, you can download the Magical Meetings quick start guide, a free PDF reference with some of the most important pieces of advice from the book. Download a copy today at voltagecontrol.com/magical-meetings-quick-guide. Today I’m with Madelon Guinazzo, the co-founder and director of training at Cuddlist, where she makes the world a safer, more connected place through cuddling. She is also an educator for medical students and a self described all around communications geek. Welcome to the show Madelon.

Madelon:  Hey Doug, it’s great to be here.

Douglas:  It’s fantastic to have you. So let’s start off with a little bit of a history of how you got your start. How does one become a cuddle facilitator?

Madelon:  Oh wow. That’s such a great question, and there’s so many answers to it. I’m always like, “Wow. What’s going to come up in this moment around that question?” A couple things. First of all, I think this was a matter of… For me, Cuddlist was a matter if you want to see something done right, do it yourself. That was because I had… Professional cuddling was becoming a thing. This was around 2012. And at that point I had spent years facilitating a workshop called Cuddle Party, which for all intents and purposes is a workshop with like… The first hour is a workshop on consent and communication, and then we have an hour and a half practicum where we practice consent and communication using cuddling. That was really important to me that this training live in the world, that this be part of the therapeutic practice of bringing this individually one on one. So I started Cuddlist because I wanted to see it done the way I wanted to see it done.

Douglas:  That’s so cool. I love this notion of consent. A good friend of mine had shared with me some writings that he had found from the role play facilitation world, like the dungeon master guides and things, and there was this article on consent and gaming, which I thought was really fascinating. It’s like, “Just because you’re the dungeon master, it doesn’t make it okay to make people feel uncomfortable or to acquiesce to things that they don’t necessarily agree with in the real world just because they’re playing this character.” So this notion of consent and the workshops you’re doing, it’s really resonated and made me think of that article.

Madelon:  And for any of us in a position of status or privilege, relatively, whether we’re a facilitator or the authority in the room or more the expert being interviewed or just somebody with more social status based on skin color or whatever, it’s really important for us to be aware of how we even unintentionionally can come across as overriding or overdriving or imposing in a way that’s not welcomed.

Douglas:  Yeah, and that be so tough too, as someone who takes their craft seriously and with all the best intentions, things that can backfire. And I think just as someone who’s really intent on learning and doing the right thing, I think it’s just a constant evolution of learning and trying to do the right thing in the moments.

Madelon:  Agreed. So it’s just the awareness and being curious about, “Yeah, what am I missing? What might I have been missing?

Douglas:  And the dialogue. I think being open to hearing that you might not be good. Nobody’s perfect, but like…

Madelon:  And creating those openings. Yeah, absolutely.

Douglas:  When you talk about creating openings, it makes me think of the word invitation, which you mentioned in our pre-show chat, and it’s a word that I love and I haven’t thought about it maybe in the last few weeks or so just how much I love that word, and how we can be so intentional about when we bring people together and we ask them to do things.

Madelon:  What does that word mean to you? Invitation.

Douglas:  You know, I think that liberating structures maybe opened my eyes up to a whole new way to think about invitation, because before I was just like, “Oh, I’m going to invite you over. Want to come hang out?” And then just using invitation from the perspective of, “Hey, will you come along with me on this little thought moment? Will you come along with me to explore our feelings in a new and different way? Is that okay? Are you you open to that?” So it kind of comes back to your consent stuff. An invitation isn’t a command. An invitation gives them the opportunity to say, “No thanks.”

Madelon:  I’m going to get super geeky on you for a moment here, because love this conversation. So for me, there’s an important distinction between a request, an offer, and an invitation. And it has to do with willing and wanting, which are very different things. So when I make a request, it’s something that I want. I am saying… I’m putting that out there, “This is for me. I would like this. Are you willing?” And when I make an offer I’m saying, “It’s for you. Do you want this, because I’m willing to give this us, if it’s something you want.” And an invitation, what I love about an invitation is an invitation is that middle ground where it’s like, “Hey, I have an idea. I’m inviting you. I think this would be fun, but it’s not going to be fun unless you think it’s going to be fun too.”

Douglas:  That’s really cool. It’s like both parties have to be involved or it doesn’t work. The magic’s not there if both people aren’t into it. That’s cool.

Madelon:  Yeah. And all of them have consent in them because the implicit and important, essential, underlying thing is anyone can opt out at any time, with no negative consequences. It’s not an expectation. It’s not demand. It’s not conditional, necessarily. And if it is, then we want to communicate that.

Douglas:  And I guess maybe similar to conditions, but maybe a little more rooted in the… How do we even respond when someone declines our invitation, knowing that our job’s to get the audience from point A to point B and people are rejecting the invitation and we feel inclined that they hired us to get us there. Sure, it’s fine to say, “I want to be open and whatnot,” but I would imagine a lot of listeners, especially young facilitators, might be thinking, “Well, I’ve got a job to do. How can I just come in and say people might be able to do this?” What’s some advice there?

Madelon:  Well, I’m going to take this back. A little bit is the way real estate people say location, location, location. So for me, communication is all about context, context, context. What is the context that we’re communicating within here? So you brought up as a facilitator, that’s the context, but request, offer, invitation, that could be in any number of contexts. So I’m hearing your question specifically is if the context here is I’m a facilitator and I’m inviting a participant to participate in a particular way, so much of that depends on what am I facilitating. What is the context? I think for me, the number one foundational principle as a facilitator is it’s my job to create psychological safety, psychological security, emotional security in the room by informing people and letting them know what the expectations are up front. So what is the agenda? What is the goal? What is expected of them? Because that helps people relax, when they know what the… What am I supposed to be doing here? Because otherwise they’re tip toeing around hoping that they don’t stub their toe on something.

Madelon:  So to let people know… So for instance, in a cuddle party workshop, we go through the agreements, these are the agreements, and they’re really a set of rules for behavior in this context. So first of all, no one here has to do anything. And if you’re not a yes to agreeing to all of these rules, then you don’t have to stay. But if you stay, you are signifying by your attendance that you agree to these rules, these communication guidelines as we have set forth. So that’s the thing. These are the things that are the rules. You don’t have to do them, but we do need you to opt in if you’re going to stay. Or if this isn’t for you, then thank you. Thank you for letting us know. Thank you for taking care of yourself. Thank you for respecting the rules of the group by not participating.

Douglas:  I also think that can be a conversation in itself, asking the group how they feel about what’s happening and what the group might want to do based on this new information. Especially if it’s some significant portion of the group that’s not accepting the invitation. Was there a misunderstanding with leadership on what was needed of the group so much that they rejected the offer? I think also can be helpful just to have other techniques or other invitations that we might be able to offer up those folks as alternatives should they not want to participate in a certain way.

Madelon:  Well that’s interesting because what I’m hearing the context that you’re describing is, say, I’ve been hired by a leadership team that has certain needs and goals and wants that they’re investing in my services to provide. And then I’ve got the participants who are showing up, which is a third party here. And my job is to, as a facilitator, be clear, “Hey, this is our mission. This is the mission that’s been handed down from leadership, hired me. They’re your leadership team. And this is what we’re here to do. Is everyone on board with that? And this is what I propose.”

Douglas:  That’s right. I think that’s an important question, and especially if you start picking up on any indication that people might be disconnected with the purpose. Even if that leadership is in the room also. Just because they’re in the room doesn’t mean that you can’t read the other signals. And it reminds me of something I thought about when you were talking about the context piece, which is you mentioned the importance of expectations and how people might tip toe around because they don’t know what is expected. I think there’s another version of that, which is equally detrimental, but it plays out a little different, and that is when people come in with the wrong expectations. So it’s not that they don’t know what they are. It’s somehow they misinterpreted them because they weren’t communicated clearly. So the classic example of this is, “I thought we were going to make a decision,” or how we were going to go about making a decision was different than the expectations they had in their mind. So this context setting and these expectations setting, so critical.

Madelon:  Well, it is. I mean, yeah, there’s so many different ways to go with that. First of all, I got kind of excited as you were talking because I love playing with practicing taking what I’m going to call implicit social agreements, which is another way of saying expectations. We walk in with these sometimes. We’re not even aware of them, but we become aware of them if they’re not met. We’re like, “Hey, wait a minute.” And to start with making those agreements explicit in a way. So for instance, something I’ve been playing with lately is saying to people, “Hey, I commit to, in all of our communications, being as appropriately honest as I can be, even if it’s uncomfortable, with as much grace and good will as I have in me. How does that sound to you?”

Douglas:  Sounds awesome.

Madelon:  I’m hearing that. And when I say that, one of the things that I’ve noticed about it is that when those expectations, and I’m going to say when instead of if, because my thing is usually things, if they can go wrong, they will, or go sideways. So when our expectations aren’t met, an explicit agreement like that really helps me say, “Hey, can I be honest with you? Or can I say I’m noticing I’m a little disoriented or put off right now? I thought…” And it creates more of an opening maybe, and an ease for that.

Douglas:  Yeah. The thing that instantly surfaced for me when you did that in our pre-show chat was this almost unburdening of any anxiety. And I wasn’t feeling a ton of anxiety, but any residual anxiety… There’s always a little bit when you’re meeting with someone. But I feel we got enough of a rapport. But certainly when I’m meeting with someone that I haven’t spoken with much or just haven’t connected with at all, and they’re just like, “I don’t know, I haven’t really figured this person out yet,” it can be a little tough to try and have a good conversation because the nerves are a little on edge. And I just felt that any residual resemblance of any of that just went away. I was like, “Oh man. Yeah, this is all good. She just stated how I like to show up and I know she’s showing up how I like to show up and we’re just going to be pals and have a good time.”

Madelon:  That is such great feedback. It really is. So that makes me think of another thing. When you brought up this idea of having this conversation, there was this… You threw out this idea about how people meet and why it matters, and I thought about like… What is it when I meet somebody, when I’m having an interaction with somebody, what is it that I want to get out of it? What is it that makes it meaningful or successful, and putting that in air quotes. What is a successful a meeting? And I thought I would ask that of you, Doug. What comes up for you when I say, “What do you want when you’re meeting somebody?”

Douglas:  You know, it’s kind of funny, I had a conversation with a friend of mine, gosh, 20 some odd years ago. Gosh, it might have been 24 years ago now. And she was making this interesting point, which is the older you get… I guess she was saying the older I get, the more I realize that the more critical I am of who I spend my time with and how picky I have to get, just because time becomes more limited. And I always thought that was really fascinating. And I’m like, “How do you tune that filter? What’s important for you?” And it’s interesting because I think I compartmentalize quite a bit. And on the personal level my rubric is a little different than on the business level. And even in the business world, there’s different rubric for a sales meeting versus someone who wants to be mentored by me or an existing client.

Douglas:  In the sales meeting, I’m looking at it thinking, “What’s the probability, this is going to close, and is this something I really need to be present for, or is this something that Shane can take on by himself? Is my presence really required here to alter things, to change things for the better?” Same thing for the mentorship. “Do I feel like this is someone who is ready for my guidance? Are they at a point where they’ve outgrown my feedback, where they’re just crushing it and maybe someone else might be a better suited mentor? Or are they too early? Have they not had the right epiphanies go off to where they’re going to even understand?”

Douglas:  And sometimes those things are hard to judge on an initial meeting or before a meeting. And that’s something I struggle with quite a bit because I really believe a lot in serendipity, but the busier I get the harder it is to invite all the serendipity. So you have to make some hard choices sometimes of like, “Okay, I’m going to turn this one down.” But I think I tune my filter… I try to let little float through every now and then, that maybe I would’ve said no to just to see what happens, just to keep it fresh and make sure I’m not just closing my mind off to a whole new world that I wouldn’t see just because I’ve created this system that works or whatever.

Madelon:  Yeah. I really appreciate the nuances and the amount of thought you put into that. It reminds me of… So my screening process for clients. I’ve gotten really fine tuned about that, similarly. I mean, this is a very specific context. So I work as a practitioner. So as the co-founder and director of training for Cuddlist, I am about training practitioners to work in a certain way. And that includes being a practitioner. So I work with clients individually. And really this is a form of self care for them.

Madelon:  So they’re investing the way you would invest in a trainer or a coach or a workout person or a massage therapist or something. They’re investing into Cuddlist for their self-care. And that means different things to different people. Different people have different goals of what brings them here. So that’s always my job, in as short amount of time as possible, is what I say, are we a good fit? Are we a good fit for one another? And basically that means do I feel confident that I can provide what you’re looking for out of this? Enough for us to invest time and money and energy into it?

Douglas:  So what was your process for dialing in that filter or that screening? I assume it was something that maybe took some time to dial in or were there any epiphany moments or how did that come about?

Madelon:  Well, it’s interesting. It’s always evolving. Part of it, it reminds me of what I mentioned earlier about willing versus wanting. So knowing that this is about what they want. They’re investing money, it’s their self care, it’s what they want. That I am what I call wholeheartedly willing. Not tolerating, not begrudgingly, not like, “Ah, I can put up with it,” willing. No, because nobody needs be put up with. That’s the opposite of therapeutic in my book. But that I am wholeheartedly excited about showing up in service to this. And we have a code of conduct, we certainly… There are parameters. There are things that… Most of that is about where a session is not going. And if I get the sense from a client that they’re maybe wanting something that is not within the code of conduct or the parameters or my personal comfort zone, I’ll ask them directly about that.

Madelon:  And all clients will say, “No, that’s fine. That’s okay. That’s fine. I understand. That’s not a problem.” And I say, “I appreciate that. And is that something that you want, is that a limitation that you want or is that a limitation that you’re settling for?” And if they say that they’re settling for it, or if they’re not really wanting it, then I say, “I don’t want you to… We’re probably not a good fit because this is your self-care. You should go out and find the thing that you want and not settle for some thing.”

Douglas:  I like that. That’s really profound. It’s probably out there and them settling is probably equivalent to you begrudgingly accepting something.

Madelon:  Exactly.

Douglas:  And the energy that’s going to flow there, it seems like not conducive to what you do. It seems like the whole point of you doing what you do is about positive energy, and it’s just not going to flow if either side’s like… It’s sort of like someone getting a birthday present they don’t like, and they’re pretending like they like it, and it’s like everyone can can tell. Yeah, everyone can tell like, “Oh, they’re going to totally take that back.”

Madelon:  Wouldn’t it be great if they could just say, “This is awesome. I’m going to have so much fun regifting this. This is going to be great.”

Douglas:  This is going to be the best white elephant ever.

Madelon:  Aunt Susie will love this.

Douglas:  So good.

Madelon:  But I thought of that when you were talking about mentoring somebody. Are we a good fit or do they already know what I have to offer, or is it too much for where they’re at? And that’s what we’re looking for is that optimum fit. Is this going to be something that’s just going to feel great, is going to hit the sweet spot for both of us?

Douglas:  The interesting thing, too, is it takes maturity to be able to say no to work. Especially when people are first getting started out there, because it can be hard to get your practice started no matter what kind of freelance or consulting work you do. But I think once there’s any amount of stability in place, it is so worth it to be true to who you are and just understand those values and know where the benefits are so that you can make sure that there’s always a solid exchange.

Madelon:  I struggle with that a lot. I used to joke that that’s first world choices. First world problems. But the chore of choosing, it really is a first world challenge. And that thing about the better life get that’s, the better we get at what we do, the better the things are that we’re saying no to. I mean, that’s just how it works. We have to say no to better and better things. That’s hard. And there’s also, I think, what comes up under this is this is one of those implicit cultural things that we’re swimming in that I think needs to be questioned which is more is better. There’s a lot of more is better operating, and it does us a disservice, I think. Sometimes. It’s a good thing to question.

Douglas:  Wow, yeah, that’s something that folks should maybe just hit the pause button and just think for a moment about how is more showing up for me right now? So now that you’ve returned from your paused reflection on how more is showing up for you, we’re going to shift back to something that you mentioned in the pre-how chat. And I think it was in relation to one of the many variations of how you got your start that you might have dove into, which is your acting background. And you said, “Douglas, any actor will tell you that it’s all about the moment before.” Once you explained it to me, I was like, “Of course. Now that I know this, I can’t imagine an actor not doing that.” It seems critical to imagine what that experience of their character is right before they say action. Otherwise, what are you going to just flip into some random behavior? You need to be poised for what just happened.

Douglas:  It also really resonated for me from a facilitation standpoint because we often… Well, even in our workshop design template, we have learner after, so how we expect the learners to be after the workshop, and learner before, so how were they showing up before? How were they before the workshop started? And you might wonder, “Wait, I don’t teach people. Why are you talking about learners?” And our philosophy is that every workshop’s a learning workshop, even if it’s a problem solving workshop, because you’re coming in creating an environment for diverse thought, they’re learning. Everyone’s taking in new information. So if we’re in a learning mindset, we’re learning. But in the case of an actor, they just got to be concerned with their one character in the moment before. But as facilitators, we had to be considerate of the moment before for all of our attendees, when they’re walking through the door, what happened to them?

Madelon:  Right, and that’s… Creating an opening for that, it depends, first of all, on the kind of workshop. What is the goal? Is this a destination workshop? Do we have a decision to make? Has leadership said… Or is this an experiential workshop where really the invitation is just to be present and curious and facilitate people’s aha moments or self awareness? That’s my favorite kind. But yeah, that creating an opening, I mean, gosh, did somebody just get a distressed text from somebody that they really care about? Does somebody have something happening that is taking their focus that’s important, and to create an opening or a possibility to check in around that. Is that important? Is that going to take the group off course? How do you handle that as a facilitator? Is that something that you create an opening or an invitation for? Or how would you find out about that if somebody did have something heavy?

Douglas:  I think that is critical for good agenda design and comes back to one of my strong beliefs, which is most of the time when people think about agendas, they’re thinking about a list of topics, but we believe agendas should be an experienced design. How are you going to start? How are you going to finish? What happens in the middle? What’s the arc? How do we thread that through? And your opener, how you start, should always usher people in and how we think about gracefully bringing in a beginning. And that should give you the opportunity to acknowledge some of those things, realize some of that’s stuff. There’s many different tactics.

Douglas:  One of the easiest ones is just do a check-in. Everyone does the weather report, whether they intend to or not. What was on the TV last night? Oh man, it’s really hot outside. They start jabbering about whatever’s going on. And then 10 minutes goes by and then they start the meeting. Well, if you intentionally plan the opener, you can make it five minutes, be intentional how about how long it lasts, and if you’re more intentional about that weather report, you can maybe tune the prompt so it really helps them transition into what we’re going to work on, versus it just being random.

Madelon:  Some fun synchronicity here, because I use that phrase a lot. I’ll say what’s the emotional weather report? And sometimes that’s my… As a check-in. So is it sunny? Is it cloudy? What’s the emotional weather report and give people an invitation to check in that way.

Douglas:  So have you ever heard the Tom Waits song Emotional Weather Report?

Madelon:  No, I thought I made it up. Tom Waits.

Douglas:  I mean, you can’t get anything past Tom Waits?

Madelon:  No, I’m proud of that. I’m in sync with him. That’s pretty cool.

Douglas:  It’s really incredible, because he’s like… All the lyrics sound like a weatherman giving a weather report, but what he’s done is he’s twisted it just enough to where it’s a metaphor about his mental state. One of the point is in the Southern regions of my disposition. It’s so good. I highly recommend checking it out. It’s on one of my favorite records of his called Nighthawks at the Diner. It’s pretty good

Madelon:  I will definitely be looking that up. I got the visual.

Douglas:  Especially if you have an activity called emotional weather report.

Madelon:  I do.

Douglas:  You’ll have fun with that. Excellent. You know, I think with that, that might be such a fun way to end. We’ll just end with emotional weather report. And I give you a moment as we close here to think about a final thought for our listeners.

Madelon:  Yeah. I guess the final thing that I want to share is to encourage people to be intentional about what they want to get out of meeting somebody. To think about what makes a meeting, an interaction with somebody rewarding for you. And then how can I front load that in the sense of being intentional, whether it’s being explicit about a social agreement, putting that out there, whether it’s starting with a little… Maybe a level of vulnerability to invite people in. Or just creating a moment before for yourself that’s going to have a really positive impact on how you show up.

Douglas:  Excellent. Well, it’s been a pleasure chatting with you today about moments before and context and social agreements. Such great stuff. It’s always a pleasure. I look forward to many conversations in the future.

Madelon:  Thank you, Doug. Yeah, I always enjoy our hangouts. It’s great.Douglas:  Thanks for joining me for another episode of Control the Room. Don’t forget to subscribe to receive updates when new episodes are released. And if you want more, head over to our blog, where I post weekly articles and resources about working better together. Voltagecontrol.com.