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Levels & Permission

Trish Blain December 16, 2020

As you facilitate it is important to think about the level that you are inviting people to work at. This will impact what kind of container you need to build and what kind of permission/willingness you are asking for. As situations emerge, it is really helpful to acknowledge a shift of the level and invite a deeper level of permission consciously.

While the levels have distinct applications and agreements, they also work to enhance each other. Most people need all three, but the order or way they unfold is unique to each person and group.


Skill Building

At this level, we are teaching, leading exercises, and inviting people to experiment in order to create tangible experiences and results. Often the skills solve a particular problem or enhance our life experiences in practical ways.

Individual Example: The client wants to feel more connection with their partner. You can teach them the skills of feeling their partner through a variety of experiments such as eye gazing, softening their field, bringing their attention to all the parts of the person that they love rather than the parts that they dislike. You can teach communication skills, and steps to work out conflict.

Group Example: You offer a workshop about the 3 skills of creating connection in your relationships. You talk about each skill and offer an exercise to experience and practice it.

Permission Needed for Skill Building: For this level, the person or group needs to be willing to be taught or guided. It means that you are in the role of teacher or expert and that others are willing to have you in that role. Without permission, people can experience us as “preachy” or “know it all” or talking down to them.

Individual Example: Your friend is complaining about their relationship and you know a technique that could help. If you start teaching it without permission, it is going to potentially feel like you are being superior or preaching. However, if you ask for permission “I have a technique that I think could help you guys….are you open to my showing it to you?” there is a more clear shift in dynamics.

Group Example: I was at a small conference of leaders and experts and noticed that the container was encouraging people to critique ideas and there was a lot of debating of approaches and power dynamics. I was asked to lead an exercise. Given the container, I acknowledge that everyone there was a leader and expert and asked permission to step into the role of teacher and facilitator for the next hour. As I asked the room, I noticed that people visibly relaxed, smiled and nodded. The session opened up a lot of easy conversation and gave skills that were then used throughout the remainder of the conference and enhanced conversation.



Here we go deeper and work with feelings, beliefs, patterns, strategies and what is underneath them.  This level requires a holistic view and being able to parse out and untangle various aspects of what is happening.  Understanding the four forces is particularly helpful here, giving a diagnostic framework and way to start to look at overall strategies to try and get needs and desires met. At this level, we are inviting a connection between feelings and cognitive understanding.

Understanding the cause, underlying beliefs, or untangling the forces to have a clearer way to get what they want can be enough to shift their experience. Skill-building is enhanced in the context of deeper understanding and awareness that untangling gives.

Individual Example: The client wants to feel more connection with their partner. You’ve given them some skill-building experiments, and they are finding a lot of resistance and resentment. Working with these feelings, you may find that they believe that connection will mean that they will have to do what their partner wants, or that connection means they give up Expression and their individuality and freedom. After exploring further, they realize that in their family it was expected to conform or else they would be shamed. As you reframe connection as being able to feel your partner (connection), and still being able to be at choice about what they wanted to do (expression), they are able to start practicing the skills and learn/experience a new way of connecting with their partner.

Group Example: You offer a workshop looking at relationship patterns. Why do you keep attracting the same kind of partner? During the workshop, you engage in looking at beliefs, family patterns and strategies around love, and relationships.

Permission Needed for Untangling:
At this level, the person or group needs to be willing to reveal themselves and have parts of themselves exposed. They need to be willing to be uncomfortable and look at things that might be hard or challenging. Emotion will likely come up at this level, and is an important navigation tool to be able to untangle. A common indicator that you have not gotten permission is when someone says “geesh, I didn’t realize this was going to be therapy / group therapy.” They are indicating that they did not agree to look at the underlying causes and are feeling uncomfortable.

When we don’t ask for permission when these deeper dives, people can feel vulnerable (a power dynamic), pressured and even violated. Even if it happens spontaneously it can be helpful to stop and acknowledge that there has been a shift and see if the other person/  group is willing to continue to explore at this deeper level. Reset the container and fill in any gaps that might be needed to be able to do the deeper work (a change of agreements, physical space changes, agenda, and time shifts)


Emergence Work / Process Work

At this level, we are choosing to work with parts of ourselves that we may not be aware of and that are likely linked to deeper beliefs, somatic (body) memory, forgotten experiences, cultural fields and trauma (of all kinds). Here we engage the body, subconscious, soul, cultural fields and even our immediate environment to lead us. While all levels of NonOrdinary facilitation use process skills, when we are consciously inviting people to work at this level specifically, we want to make sure we have a solid container and intention. Your stance and energetic posture is incredibly important at this level. Your client or group will entrain to you. If you are overly structured and trying to create safety out of fear, it will create the opposite. The NonOrdinary facilitator stance provides the energetic safety that you are in with the client/group and that you can handle whatever shows up and that it is all welcome within the agreements of the container — and that you will uphold the agreements (such as no physical harm to themsevles or others for example).

Emergence work is most powerful when there is a symptom, pattern or feeling that the client or group has not been able to shift through untangling. It is also a powerful process to expand capacity and reset the nervous system.

Process / Emergence work can be done one on one but is mot powerful when done in groups.

Individual Example: Client wants to feel more connection with their partner. They are doing the practices, skills and have looked at the patterns and understand them but still feels resistance or disconnection. Can’t seem to shift or change it. Could also be that they keeps starting to shift then a curciut breaker goes off and they disconnect again. With permission, you invite them to a day or weekend reatreat where they have the opportunity to do an individual piece of work with a group of others that are also doing their own process work sessions.

Group Example: Leadership of a community is struggling to work together even though they have done communications training and talked through all the tangles. They can’t seem to break through power dynamics and find coherence as a group. You facilitate a process session to see what is wanting to emerge and be seen.

Permission needed for Emergence Work:
Permission at this level, is a willingness to be in the unknown and see what happens. They also need to know that they are commpletely at choice. You as facilitator needs to be willing to let the client lead and choose moment by moment –at the same time that you are facilitating and making invitations/suggestions.

When you don’t set the container before hand, or ask permission when things shift, it can cause intense outbursts and reactions.

Group Example: I was holding a day long skill building workshop. Towards the end of the workshop I thought it would be a fun idea to give a sample of process work and asked for a volunteer. The experience itself when well for the volunteer, however I did not properly set the container and proper permission level for the group to do the deeper work. One of the particpants got triggered, which triggered another participant and the whole room suddenly errupted. In that moment, I realized what I had done, and quickly shifted to idenify what was happening and invite people to stay and clear together. In this case, it was the very end of the day and people chose to leave. I ended up following up and doing individual process session with each individual.