The Wall of Woe

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Intent or purpose: 
To enable participants to externalize their own negative perspectives toward a situation they must manage. This is intended as an opening exercise at the beginning of a workshop, although it could turn up when it’s clear the group is facing what they consider an impossible situation.
Recognizable Components: 
Applying the circle of influence -- to distinguish between matters that I can control and those I cannot
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Facilitation skills required
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Pre-Work Required: 
Provide a very large wall space, sticky wall or whiteboard. At the top, write “The Wall of Woe” and below that the name of the project, phenomenon or event which the participants feel is blocking their way. The Blocker can be anything -- for example: “The travel freeze”, “The new contracting policy”, “job cuts”, “Unfair competition from ABC Inc.”, etc. Do not do this about an individual.

1. Context: introduce the Wall of Woe – here is a place to collect all of the many issues that they have with the Blocker. Take some time now to itemize what your issues, concerns, feelings and problems are.

2. Have participants write as many as they can think of directly onto the paper or whiteboard or post with cards or post-its. Some blues music as background could be suitable here, eg, “Nobody Knows You when You’re Down and Out” Let them continue until they have filled the wall space.

3. When everyone has gotten their woes on the wall, have participants gather their chairs around the wall, and reflect together on what you see:

• What is something here on the wall that strikes you?
• What are some things that are new for you? What’s familiar?
• What touches you?
• We all have matters within our sphere of influence – things we can change – and also things that may concern us but that we cannot change—our sphere of concern. Looking at the wall, take your marker again and underline only the items that lie within your sphere of influence.
• When the group has finished their underlining, ask: What do you notice?

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Judith van de Geer, Maureen Jenkins
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