Debriefing (Rick Curtis)

This material is the Group Development and Leadership Chapter from the Outdoor Action Program Leader’s Manual written by Rick Curtis, Director, Outdoor Action Program. It may be freely distributed for nonprofit educational use. However, if included in publications, written or electronic, attributions must be made to the author. Commercial use of this material is prohibited without express written permission from the author. Copyright © 1995 Rick Curtis, Outdoor Action Program, Princeton University.

OA has the potential to be an extremely valuable learning experience for many people. The key to making it such an experience is transference; encouraging the person to transfer the things they have learned about themselves and dealing with others from the trip back to their daily lives. The method for facilitating transference is debriefing. The idea behind debriefing is to get the participants to think and analyze their experience. There are numerous forms of debriefing some which can be done throughout the trip. There also should be a final debriefing at the end of the trip, to bring the trip to closure and allow an opportunity for reflection.

Processing Methods During the Trip

Processing is an integral part of the Thaw-Shift-Refreeze process. It is through processing that participants are able to take the experience and reframe it in a larger context that they can apply in other areas of their life. In order to do so participants will need to reflect upon the experiences they have had, how they felt, reacted, and explore how they can use this new knowledge and experience. The essence of processing is self-disclosure, either to other participants or to oneself. Processing through shared group discussion is a symmetrical communication process which creates rapport and bonding. Through self-disclosure students learn more about themselves and learn how others experienced things similarly or differently. All of these insights can help lead to personal growth. You should think of processing as a regular part of your trip planning process, just like laying out a route or buying food. It is important to have some time each day for reflecting on the experience and tapping in to how people are doing and feeling.

When to Process

Leaders need to be sensitive to when to utilize processing techniques. Both for the group as a whole and when individuals in the group may need to process an experience. Here are some guidelines:

*    Daily basis – on a multi-day trip there should be some form of processing on a daily basis. This can involve informal discussions about the day after dinner at night. This will help the leaders track where participants and the group are and help them plan what sorts of challenges and activities they may be ready for the next day.
*    Before a Challenging Activity – when the group is going to be doing something readily identifiable as a challenge (rock climbing, high ropes course) it may be useful to do some processing about the experience that is coming and how people are feeling about it.
*    After a Challenging Activity – after a challenge participants may need to sit down and process what happened to them. Depending on logistical issues this might happen immediately afterwards or sometime later.
*    When an individual is having difficulty – recognize when an individual is in a high stress situation and needs processing to deal with it immediately. This may need to be done outside of the group.
*    At the end of the trip – as a time to bring the whole experience together.

Processing Techniques

1.    Open Forum – with this approach you bring the group together and provide an opening statement in anticipation that the group will volunteer their perceptions and insights. An example of an opening statement that you might want to use is “I’m interested in hearing peoples’ reactions to today’s peak ascent”.

2.    Questioning – this entails the development of a set of questions that you would like participants to respond to after they have completed the activity. The value of this pre-planning is that you establish specific objectives that you would like to achieve for the session. Through the identification of objectives you can develop questions that focus in on the specific issues that you would like to see addressed at this time. The sequence of questions that you use will vary according to your personal style. However, we suggest that you begin with the concrete and slowly *move on to more insightful types of questions. A general sequence that you may want to consider involves the use of three simple questions: ‘What happened?’, ‘What did you learn?’, How can you use this knowledge in the future?’ Additional questions that you may want to consider appear in the section on questions for the levels of processing on pages.

3.    Rounds – a round is an activity in which every member of the group is asked to respond to a stimulus that you have presented to the group. Rounds are a very valuable tool to make use of. When time is an issue the use of a designated word or number round or a word or phrase round is useful for getting people to reflect and communicate in an expedient manner. It also gives the leader some important information about individuals that you can use as you transition from activity to activity or can follow up on at a later time either individually or with the group. Other advantages of using rounds are that they can be used at the beginning of group discussion to get members focused. Rounds give each person time to think about what they are going to say and also they get to hear what other people think about the topic of discussion. They also get individuals to think in greater depth about a specific issue. As will be discussed later in the section on reluctant individuals, rounds allow you to get everyone involved and finally the use of rounds permits you as the group leader to survey the group to get a general reading of how people are thinking and feeling. This can provide you with a quick survey of how things are going and provide stimulus for deciding what issues to focus on with the group at this time or in the near future. When using rounds it is a positive practice to vary the starting point so that different members get to speak first and last. At times you will want to begin with the person who you know is comfortable sharing his or her ideas. This will get the conversation flowing with energy and enthusiasm. This train of thought may also be extended to negative and positive energy people who are members of the group. By beginning with a positive energy person and trying to end with a positive energy individual, you can avoid the pitfall of allowing the negative energy member to shift the focus of the group if that is not appropriate at this given time. Finally, you may want to think about where you want to end the round especially if you have an individual that you know is reluctant to talk or who you know is in need of some help.
*    Designated Word or Number Round – this can be done very quickly since each member is asked to respond with either a single designated word or a number on a scale, which is usually from 1 to 10. A few examples include: “I would like each of you to think of your role during the last event and choose one of the following labels to describe it. ‘leader’, or ‘follower.'” “On a scale from 1-10, how would you rate your commitment to the course right now”, or “On a scale from 1-10, how comfortable are you being a member of this group right now. A 1 means that you are not comfortable at all and a 10 indicates that you are very comfortable.”
*    Word or Phrase Round – in this type of round group members are asked to respond with only a word or a short phrase. A few examples include: “I would like each of you to think of an adjective that describes how you feel right now.” or “I’d like to hear from everyone, so 1 would like you to think of a word or a phrase that describes how you think we handled the last initiative.”
*    Comment Rounds – in this type of round group members are asked to share more than a few words either because the question calls for more than word or phrase or because there is a desire to have individuals express more than just a few words. Examples that you may want to consider using are: “I would like to hear a brief reaction from each of you in regards to how you think that we are working as a group.” “How did you feel about your experience on the ropes course? Let’s do a round and hear from everyone.”
*    Rounds – leaders give the beginning of a sentence or phrase and ask for a brief response
*    One word or number (ex. Were you a leader or follower today? How would you rate your feelings about the group today on a scale of 1-10)
*    Adjectives (ex. Give an adjective that describes how today went for you)
*    Word or phrase (ex. How did you do today? Give me a word or phrase that describes your day.)
*    Fill in the blank (I am happy that today I __________.)

2. Writing

*    Free form writing
*    Assigning processing questions for participants to write about
*    Writing Activity Sheets – incomplete sentences to fill out, statements to complete (ex. I am confident in myself because…)
*    Poetry, Haiku – specific forms that create a more focused style for writing that may be challenging in their own right for participants
*    Write letter to yourself, open it in one month
*    Group journals – students can write at will or different students can be “assigned” each day.

3. Dyads – two person conversations, increases the amount of personal involvement, useful before large group sessions

4. Small Group discussions

5. Time Alone

*    Solo – make sure that you have set up proper safety guidelines when doing solos in a wilderness context
*    Solitary hiking – spread the group out enough so that people can’t talk, but you should be able to see the person in front of you, one leader at point one leader at sweep.

6. Drawing – often produces disequilibrium for adults, provides an avenue for those who aren’t as verbal

*    Life Spiral – draw a spiral with your birth at the center, close your eyes and point to a spot. Write or talk about why that spot on the time-line off your life is important
*    Symbol – create a symbol that you feel represents you and explain why
*    Personal shield – draw a shield and add items to your “crest.” Explain why you picked particular items to represent you.

Increasing the Effectiveness of Processing==

*    Structure regular periods of time throughout the trip. Let people know from the beginning that you will spend time reflecting.
*    Vary the style and methods used
*    Alternate times of day (if you always do it at the end of the day, people will almost always be tired)
*    Provide sufficient “wait time” for people to think before responding. Also prevents “quick people” from jumping in all the time.
*    Ask open ended questions (ex. What did you think was most challenging part of the day? instead of How many people thought the rock climbing was the most challenging part of the day?)
*    Ask one question at a time (don’t piggy back questions)
*    Own the questions you as (ex. “I’m curious how people feel about today” rather than seeking a “right”
*    answer)
*    Give participants specific feedback (ex. “I like how we broke camp and got moving today”)
*    Guard against “small talk” by setting a time line (ex. “Okay, we’ll go 5 more minutes”)
*    If people aren’t in the mood, cut the session short. Don’t make everything an encounter group. Give them options an empowerment for cooling out.
*    Move gradually into increasing levels of self-disclosure.
*    Make sure people are relaxed. Group backrubs, songs, etc. can help establish a relaxed atmosphere.
*    Acknowledge each person’s comments with direct eye contact and a nod, a yes, or thanks.
*    Remember that the leader is modeling the self-disclosure. You can help move the group into deeper levels by revealing a bit more about yourself, but, like hiking, go at the pace of the “slowest” member of the group.
*    Remember, this is not an encounter group, just an opportunity for people to remember their experiences, reflect, and hopefully learn.
*    People always have the right to pass. Make sure you come back to them later unless you have a sense that answering the question could compromise the person. If you get strong resistance to answering, don’t force it, the person probably has a good reason for not sharing that information or does not feel comfortable enough with the group.
*    Groups may have a tendency to wander away from your initial question, which is fine as long as you feel the conversation is useful. If they have simply wandered, you may need to help them refocus on the question.

Processing Issues==

In most cases processing is done verbally through discussions or questions asked by the leaders. There are a number of issues to keep in mind while facilitating a verbal processing session.

*    Setting – processing should be done at a time when all participants can be focused on the task. Make sure you have enough time to process. Typically sitting in a circle so everyone can see everyone else is works well.
*    Physical Presence – it is important for the leaders to have a focused physical presence with good eye contact to participants as they are speaking, a focused body posture, and verbal or physical acknowledgment of a person’s comments.
*    Silence – leaders should not be afraid of silence. Silence comes as participants search for an answer to a question or are examining feelings, or feel challenged. Rushing to fill the silence only interrupts the process for the participants. Wait and see what happens. If no one responds, try rephrasing the question.
*    Sequencing of questions – processing is based on self-disclosure. Students need to start at easy levels of self-disclosure and move to deeper levels in a slow, graduate way. Asking questions that require too much self-disclosure too early will only force sharing at a superficial sharing. By carefully orchestrating the types of questions you ask and the order in which you ask them you can “lead” the participants back through the experience and help them rekindle their feelings and thoughts at different points along the way. Then you can ask them to focus on how and why they reacted certain ways. Finally, you can ask then to reflect on what they have learned from this trip and how to incorporate that learning. The general sequence for types of questions is A What? So What? and Now What? Leaders should use this basic sequence to design a series of questions for the group.

1.    A What? Questions that deal with the factual experiences of the trip. These are easy to answer and help bring back basic memories about the experience.

2.    So What? Questions that ask why particular events were important or had an impact. These questions require greater self-disclosure and require participants to think about their reactions to the experience.

3.    Now What? These questions require self-assessment and ask that participants think about what comes next after this experience, how can they take what they have learned back to other parts of their lives.

Here is a sample ordering of questions that touch on a number of areas of a group experience.

A What?

1. Objective

*    What is a visual image that you remember about the trip? Why?
*    What is a sound (noise, word, or phrase, etc.) from the trip that you remember or that stands out in your mind? Why does it stand out?
*    What is an event during the trip that you remember? Why did it Stand out?

2. Subjective

*    If you could remove one thing from the trip what would it be and why?
*    If you could add one thing to the trip what would it be and why?

3. Expressive/Interpretive

*    If you had to describe the trip in one word what would it be and why that word?

So What?

4. Concrete

*    What was the most challenging part of the trip for you? Why?
*    What do you think you have learned from this trip?

Now What?

5. Responsive

*    How would you describe this trip to a friend who didn’t go?
*    What would you tell them they missed?
*    How do you think you can relate this experience to your life back on campus or at home?

Fill My Cup – This can be a good activity to use as part of your final debriefing process. There are a number of different variations. The basic approach is to have one of the leaders start and say something positive about the person to their left. Then you go around the circle with everyone saying something about that person. You continue until everyone has been to focus of the group. Options for the specific statements include:

*    Something I like about you.
*    omething special that you added to the trip.
*    A characteristic you have that I admire.
*    A characteristic you have that I wish I had, etc.

Final Debriefing

The final debriefing should be held at the end of the trip, preferably before getting back to campus. (Once back on campus it is difficult to recapture the mood of the wilderness and to get everyone together). This series of questions is adapted from the Thresholds Program as a method of processing an experience. The group should form a circle and the leader(s) should ask the questions below. (Other questions can be used, but notice the format of the questions below. They begin as easy to answer, without needing much sharing and work up to more intimate questions. Whatever questions you use follow this format). Everyone should answer each question. Hop around the circle asking people for their thoughts. If someone doesn’t have anything to say at that point, remind them that they have the right to pass but you do want to hear from everyone so you’ll come back to them later. Everyone should answer a particular question before you move on to the next question. Make the participants aware that there are no right answers. They should say whatever they feel. Leaders should acknowledge all responses with a nod or yes or some other sign of acceptance. Be conscious of your body language and attitude as you ask a question; often the attitude you take can influence the willingness of the group to respond. Remember that leaders are also participants in the debriefing process and should answer all the questions themselves. Once again, you are serving as role models so model a “pace” of self-disclosure that is appropriate for the whole group. Going “too deep too fast” will push the group back up to a superficial level, whereas, staying too superficial and light may never get people to really examine their feelings and the experience.

Sample Debriefing Questions

A What?

*    What color represents the last six days?
*    What was one particularly memorable moment from today?
*    What has been the best part of the trip so far for you?
*    Were there any events today which you found to be particularly meaningful/enjoyable? Why?
*    Did you have fun today?
*    Close your eyes–what sound comes to mind that would characterize the trip?
*    What was your favorite object from the day? Why?
*    What would be the one thing you would like to take with you from today? It could be a sound, an image…
*    What part of the day was your favorite and why?
*    Today’s favorite time was when I/the group…
*    What kinds of challenges do you feel were overcome by yourself and the group today?
*    Give an image from today that you’d like to remember.
*    What did you most enjoy doing today?
*    What’s your favorite movie?
*    What is your position of the effects of television and music on young people? What, if anything, should be done to correct any problems or ill effects?
*    How did you feel getting back on the trail this morning?
*    One new thing I learned how to do (or learned about) was…..
*    What motivated you to sign up for this trip?
*    I thought setting up camp was…
*    Think of an animal that describes the person next to you.
*    What was your favorite meal on the trip?
*    What word would you use to describe the day?
*    One reason why I decided to come on OA is…

So What?

*    Something I’m looking forward to at Princeton is…
*    What is one significant thing the trip has done for you?
*    What was something that made you stop and think?
*    What did you expect to get out of this trip?
*    Did you feel leaders-of-the-day was useful for you? How?
*    Describe in a few words the real you.
*    The best part of our trip was…because…
*    What was one good discussion or thought that you had today?
*    What is the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you?
*    How do you think today went?
*    Do you think that everyone else enjoyed today? How can you tell?
*    Tell about a fear that you have and why.
*    What were your high and low points of the day? What emotions were you feeling at these times?
*    The most difficult thing about today was…
*    How do you feel about the not-environmentally-friendly attitudes of people that come in here?
*    Were there any challenges that you overcame?
*    Which is one aspect of the group that you thought worked particularly well today?
*    On this trip, have you experienced any event that resembles something from the past? How?
*    What memorable moment could you share with the group?
*    Has there been anything about the trip which you would like to have changed?
*    Have you become more comfortable with the wilderness, or maybe found a greater appreciation for the wilderness by coming on this trip?
*    How do you feel about the trip thus far? How does it compare to your expectations?
*    One thing I missed by coming on OA was…
*    One thing I gained by coming on OA was…

Now What?

*    In a year what do you most want to remember about these few days?
*    Have you discovered anything new about yourself while being in the wilderness?
*    Do you find that an experience which has occurred on this trip has changed the way in which you look at a particular aspect of yourself, others, Princeton etc?
*    If you could have brought one more person on this trip, who would it have been and why? What would they have added to the group?
*    Think of a mood you felt on the trip. What did it feel like and how do you feel about it now?
*    Has any part of this trip brought you a physical or a mental challenge? How?
*    How have you grown as a person from these past few days?
*    Were there any challenges that you feel you still need to work towards before achieving and how would you work towards them?
*    Where do you think this is leading you in terms of values and judgments and how have your fellow participants helped your growing process?
*    Personal qualities I want to work on in myself are….because…
*    What do you think you have learned about yourself from the group and individual experiences of the trip?
*    How well did the group work together today? Did everyone feel satisfied by our performance today?
*    How do you think your experience differed from everyone else’s?
*    What can you carry with you from this trip for future experiences?
*    What would your reaction be if, on returning from this trip, you learned you had missed an important national event?
*    What has been the most important or enjoyable aspect of our week together?
*    One interesting thing that I learned about someone else in the group was…
*    The most challenging part of this trip for me was…
*    What is something that has really been on your mind a lot lately (bothering you or making you feel good).
*    How, if at all, did the week help ease your apprehension about heading into college life?
*    How has this trip been different from your expectations?
*    What is a personal challenge that you foresee in the upcoming semester?
*    What was something you learned about yourself when you’re in a group situation?
*    Would you recommend this trip to a friend and why?
*    The biggest adjustment for me so far on this trip has been..
*    Today was unlike any day before in my life because…

[Category: Leadership Skills|Transferring The Experience]


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