The COEUR Model: Facilitating Transformation

It takes a lot of heart and fierceness to facilitate groups that seek social change. At the root of the French word coeur (heart) is the word courage. It takes courage to sit in the fire with people as they uncover their passion and rage, and rise out of the ashes to co-create a better future. We start by creating a safe place for people to come together to connect across differences and make choices that benefit all of us. I trust that people want to open their hearts to each other, even when they claim they don’t. This is not business as usual, because we engage people at a deep level, using more than just their brains. We breathe magic into the process just by focusing on the wisdom of our hearts. Our role as facilitators is to step into the fire by creating opportunities to:

Connect – create awareness of our shared humanity

Objective – clarify the shared purpose or aim

Empathize – discover the feelings and needs of each contributor

Unify – open to the collective desire for transformation

Respond – take actions that meet the needs of the group

Connect: How do we create awareness of each and every person’s full humanity? Our role as facilitators is to open the group to their innate wisdom, so that we can appreciate the essence of each soul and open to the magic of the group process. We start with self-connection which makes it much easier to connect to the aliveness of each individual in the group. Becoming grounded and attentive to what’s alive in every moment helps us facilitate deeper connections. From that place we generate curiosity, trust and openness. Even when a group member is deeply conflicted, wants to leave the group, or is filled with anger, we can hold the tension as an expression of passion and a desire to connect. Some of the things we do as facilitators are:

  • Use breath work to notice that we all share the same air and the same universal desires
  • Create safe space to practice radical self-honesty in every moment
  • Do the inner work and the outer work simultaneously
  • Tear our hearts open to the people we find most challenging
  • Transform judgment into compassion

Objective: How do clarify the shared purpose and open the group to their shared vision? In this stage, we break things wide open by helping people express their passion, determine their desired direction and clarify what they really want to get out of their time together. They open to the great mystery, fresh possibilities and new pathways. We want to know what makes their hearts soar, so we explore both the short and long-term goals of the group. Collectively the group defines specific outcomes they wish to achieve. Even when a group has a clear purpose before the gathering, we invite them to talk about their hopes and dreams so that the group attunes to each other now and co-creates a shared sense of direction. We invite people to step into their full power – not power over others – but shared power where everyone can flourish. We all have our natural styles, but we encourage everyone to expand their range and step out of their comfort zone. In this stage we:

  • Clarify the group’s direction and then stretch into the unknown
  • Set the intention of how we’ll use our time and then let go
  • Fill ourselves with curiosity, welcoming yearning and longing
  • Encourage expression of passion and open the group to fresh discoveries
  • Invite people to take risks and avoid editing themselves or censoring others

Empathize: How do we support empathic communication? To deepen awareness, we reflect each speaker’s feelings and needs with compassion. Radically different from reflecting the content, we acknowledge each person’s underlying motivation. Empathic reflection starts with a focus on the heart, or the positive intent behind every action and every expression. The beauty of this part of the process is that we transform judgment into awareness of the positive intent. In this way, we create an environment of acceptance, where every part of each person is welcome. Rather than focusing on what the group does not want, we attune to their hopes, dreams and deepest longing. As we identify the needs of the group, we check for shared understanding, which primes the group for action and movement toward collectively honoring and meeting the needs of the group. No matter how repulsed we are by the way they express themselves, we recognize that everything they do or say is an attempt to honor a value. So we identify their motivation and connect with the stirring in their souls. In this phase of the moon, we:

  • Listen from the gut and take in people’s essence
  • Practice self-empathy by giving voice to what’s happening right now in the present
  • Nurture the scary, freaked out parts, giving them room to breath and come alive
  • Hold space for a shift to intimacy as people discover that all parts of themselves are welcome
  • Allow everyone to be fully heard, to deepen the understanding of each other’s desires

Unify: How do we open to the collective desire for transformation? By creating safe space for people to explore the shadow, they show up, express themselves fully, and connect with their desire to contribute to a better world. We welcome divergent viewpoints and explore how they can co-exist. Often this stage seems mired in frustration, darkness and chaos, but in the shadows of despair, people connect deeply to their own humanity, and recognize their desire to change their inner and outer world. Here we look under the surface, notice what people are busy avoiding, and get people to talk about what really matters. When people start to feel utterly hopeless, or become mired in doubt, if we stay with the process, new possibilities emerge. Even if someone hijacks the group, calls people vile names, or threatens to walk out, underneath the antics, we hold a core belief that every person wants to contribute to the good of the whole. As people are deeply seen, heard and valued, their facades melt and they offer their gifts. Each individual comes to trust that they matter and that they belong. Inclusion does not mean compromise. We continuously sense and intuit what the group needs, and put our attention on what wants to be born. Everyone is activated and tuned into what is emerging because we invite them to put their attention on the heartbeat of the group. In the facilitator role, we:

  • Create space for silence to support people in finding their voice
  • Stay with the sexy turned on places and the dark scary places
  • Point to what’s wanting to be born or what’s emerging now in the spaciousness
  • Simultaneously honor the impatience to move forward and the desire to slow down
  • Notice how spirit moves through the group – everyone contributes to the magic

Respond: What actions can we take that meet universal needs and move the group forward? It’s as simple and as complex as getting people to ask for what they want. We encourage people to offer a proposal, but instead of being attached or rigid, they have an alternative strategy in their back pocket. In this way, they take a stand without getting locked into a position. With our attention on the needs of all, we tweak the proposals to honor the values of the group. Incorporating every wish can be a daunting task, but as long as everyone knows that their needs matter, they’ll open their hearts to what is emerging. Ultimately, the group collectively creates an action plan that identifies who will do what by when. Everyone knows their part in implementing the solution. Not everyone gets their first preference, but the alternative is even sweeter because everyone’s ideas, suggestions, and contributions are considered in the outcome. Some are excited; others are more cautious, but the entire group can live with and support the decision to move forward. We ask if anyone has a serious objection, or we can raise the bar by asking if anyone can’t live with the plan. The willingness to dialogue and co-create solutions transfers into responsibility during the implementation phase. Everyone shares responsibility and knows their part in enacting the decision. Some are excited; others are more cautious, but every individual owns the outcome and supports the decision to move forward. In this phase we turn compassion into action and support the group to:

  • Ask for what they really want, without holding back
  • Generate inclusive alternatives that synthesize the needs of all the stakeholders
  • Weave together requests so that the plan honors everyone’s contribution
  • Identify sustainable agreements and get clarity about who will do what by when
  • Create empowering structures to confirm progress on the plan

Using this model awakens the heart and soul of the group and simultaneously moves people toward personal transformation and social change. Every step of the way we embody both compassion and fierceness. That’s how we get people to step into the fire and stay there until the flame of group wisdom burns brightly. Supporting human evolution is challenging, sometimes heart-wrenching work, so it helps to have solid values we can rely on as a foundation.

Excerpt from Facilitating with Heart by Martha Lasley. 

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