The Delphi Technique — How to Disrupt It

Ground rules for disrupting the consensus process (Delphi Technique) — when facilitators want to steer a group in a specific direction.

1)    Always Be Charming.  Smile, be pleasant, be courteous, moderate your voice so as not to come across as belligerent or aggressive.

2)    Stay Focused.  If at all possible, write your question down to help you stay focused.  Facilitators, when asked questions they don't want to answer, often digress from the issue raised and try to work the conversation around to where they can make the individual asking the question look foolish, feel foolish, appear belligerent or aggressive.  The goal is to put the one asking the question on the defensive.  Do not fall for this tactic.  Always be charming, thus deflecting any insinuation, innuendo, etc, that may be thrown at you in their attempt to put you on the defensive, but bring them back to the question you asked.  If they rephrase your question into an accusatory statement (a favorite tactic) simply state, "that is not what I stated, what I asked was… (repeat your question)."  Stay focused on your question.

3)    Be Persistent.  If putting you on the defensive doesn't work, facilitators often resort to long drawn out dissertations on some off-the-wall and usually unrelated, or vaguely related, subject that drags on for several minutes – during which time the crowd or group usually loses focus on the question asked (which is the intent).  Let them finish with their dissertation/expose, then nicely, with focus and persistence, state, "but you didn't answer my question.  My question was… (repeat your question)."

Remember…

always be charming,

stay focused, and

be persistent.

Never, under any circumstance, become angry.  Anger directed at the facilitator will immediately make the facilitator "the victim."  This defeats the purpose which is to make you the victim.  The goal of the facilitator is to make those they are facilitating like them, alienating anyone who might pose a threat to the realization of their agenda.  [People with fixed belief systems, who know what they believe and stand on what they believe, are obvious threats.]  If the participant becomes the victim, the facilitator loses face and favor with the crowd.  This is why crowds are broken up into groups of seven or eight, why objections are written on cards, not voiced aloud where they are open to public discussion and public debate.  It's called crowd control.  It is always good to have someone else, or two or three others who know the Delphi Technique dispersed through the crowd; who, when the facilitator digresses from the question, will stand up and say nicely, "but you didn't answer that lady's/gentleman's question."  The facilitator, even if suspecting you are together, certainly will not want to alienate the crowd by making that accusation.  Sometimes it only takes one occurrence of this type for the crowd to figure out what's going on, sometimes it takes more than one. 

If you have an organized group, meet before the meeting to strategize.  Everyone should know their part.  Meet after the meeting to analyze what went right, what went wrong and why, and what needs to happen the next time around.  Never meet during the meeting.  One of the favorite tactics of the facilitator, if the meeting is not going the way he/she wants, if he/she is meeting measurable resistance, is to call a recess.  During the recess, the facilitator and his/her "spotters" (people who wander the room during the course of the meeting, watching the crowd) watch the crowd to see who congregates where, especially those who have offered measurable resistance.  If the "resistors" congregate in one place, a "spotter" will usually gravitate to that group to "join in the conversation" and will report back to the facilitator.  When the meeting resumes, the facilitator will steer clear of those who are "resistors."  Do not congregate.  Hang loose and work the crowd.  Move to where the facilitator or "spotters" are, listen to what they have to say, but do not gravitate to where another member of your team is.

This strategy also works in a face to face, one on one, meeting with anyone who has been trained in how to use the Delphi Technique.

With thanks to Sandy Vanderberg, Peg Luksik and others

©March 1996; Lynn M Stuter