Would You Like a Hint?
Providing hints can facilitate participants' learning, but be sure to respect their autonomy, growth, and self-determination.
Approximate reading time: four to five minutes; 823 words.
“Would you like a hint?”
This simple question can facilitate progress when some people working on a task in a meeting or workshop are stuck, blocked, or frustrated.
I’ve written before about challenge and support and how participant growth and learning can result from struggling a bit. But people who experience too much “time under tension” can shut down, disengage, or possibly even feel like failures.
Hints make it easier for participants to get unstuck and continue learning from an exercise. Including hints also allows for additional insights about learning and teamwork to surface if debrief focuses on comparable situations in participants’ roles, workplaces, or communities.
Six ways to provide hints
1. Offer a hint to everyone at the same time.
When you sense many people have hit a level of frustration or blockage, offer a hint to all participants at once: “Let me give you a hint …”
Debrief should explore how people felt about receiving and unsolicited hint and considerations for anyone thinking about offering a hint to others.
2. Secretly make a hint available to everyone at the same time.
This is a slight variation on #1. Instead of verbalizing a hint when you think it would be beneficial, you reveal a hint on a slide without calling attention to it.
Groups deeply engrossed in their work may never notice the hint even if a slight buzz starts in the room as others do. Once a few groups see the hint, I sometimes say, “By the way, a hint is available on screen if you want it.” Some groups still ignore it.
Debrief how hints often are readily available if we just look up from our work and pay attention.
3. Provide permission for people to ask you for one hint.
“If you find yourselves stuck, you can ask me once for a hint.” You can decide to offer the same hint to anyone who asks or tailor your advice to each group’s specific situation.
Debrief should surface how and when individuals decided to ask for a hint and if any individuals did so without the consent of their group.
4. Provide hints only to those you think need them.
As you float among people in groups, you may notice that some are struggling and choose to offer them a hint. “I’m happy to offer a hint, if you’d like one.”
Debrief should include how you decided to offer hints, how groups responded, the hint’s effect on their efforts, and how other groups react to now knowing you provided counsel to select groups.
5. Allow groups to post a hint or give it directly to another group.
For complex group activities that involve a longer period of time or multiple stages, I often opt for this approach. “Each group may now post one hint in the designated area on the wall or offer it directly to one other group. You can all then review any posted advice.”
When the instruction is framed this way, it may elicit some competitive inferences. Don’t be surprised if some groups confer to decide whether or not to post a hint and opt not to do so.
Debrief should explore how groups decided to post or give away a hint, the quality of the hints offered, and whether or not people looked at (or used) any of the information others shared.
6. Anonymously give a hint to someone in every group.
This works well with activities in which every member of a group receives some sort of individualized instructions.
As part of the instructions, secretly provide one person in each group with a hint to contribute if and when they think the group would benefit from it.
Debrief should include how and when those individuals with hints decided to put them to use … or if they never did, as well as people’s reactions to knowing someone in their group possessed “insider information.”
A hint about hinting
I avoid forcing a hint on people, preferring that they choose to request or receive it.
Facilitators can’t always accurately diagnose how individuals are responding to time under tension and may incorrectly perceive someone needs assistance. In addition, some people have a strong preference to “do it themselves” no matter how what.
Designing hints and deciding how and when to offer them is more art than science, but try to honor the following guideline:
A hint’s content should not give away too much nor impede participants’ autonomy, growth, and self-determination.
P.S. Of course, people are less likely to need a hint if your small group activity is well-designed. Here are seven tips to help you do so.
© Facilitate Better and Jeffrey Cufaude, 2022. All rights reserved.
To affordably license this content for reprint on your site or in electronic or print communications or to contact me regarding customized facilitation skills workshops or consultations, email me or complete this form.