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Exploring The Trust Fall

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During the past few years, the Trust Fall has received a lot of attention, much of it negative. Legitimate concerns about physical, emotional, and social risks associated with the Trust Fall have led many to shy away from its use. Still others have made changes that can significantly limit the Trust Fall’s potential. These changes aren’t necessarily wrong or misguided. The general black eye that the Trust Fall has earned, however, may be.

I happen to love the Trust Fall and have been blessed to learn one approach that can be powerful and profound for participants. This article highlights this approach. Please read this as informational and as a conver­sation starter, not as a carte-blanche endorsement of the Trust Fall or as a cut-and-paste blueprint for its use.

Two Falls

This approach to the Trust Fall includes two falls, one metaphoric and one literal. The first “fall” hap­pens when a participant stands on a platform (the faller) about three to four feet above the group and enters into a dialogue with his group members. No literal fall happens here, but most elements of a physical fall (being/feeling vulnerable, entrusting oneself to the group, letting go, being caught) are present.

The first fall begins with two or three questions to prompt the discus­sion. These questions might include a combination of the following:

·         Why have you chosen to be a member of this group?

·         What gifts/strengths do you bring to this group?

·         What is your greatest fear/ concern about your role/ef­fectiveness in this group?

·         What is the greatest liability you bring to this group?

·         On a scale of 1 to 10, how ef­fective have you been within this group so far and why?

·         Describe your level of commitment to this group.

·         What is one thing that this group really should know about you in order to best be able to support/work with you?


If the Trust Fall is being facilitated in the context of personal workshop versus a group/team development workshop, these questions can be more personal in nature.

As the participant shares infor­mation, group members are encour­aged to listen actively and engage in conversation with the faller. The fa­cilitator coaches and models effective clarifying, empathizing, challenging, and receiving, and empowers the par­ticipants to employ these skills.

Once the dialogue has reached an appropriate ending point (note that participants can be encouraged to continue the dialogue beyond this activity), then the group shifts to the second fall––the actual fall and catch. The participant’s experience of the first fall is often mirrored in the second fall (how well did she feel heard, honored, empowered to speak, challenged to speak her truth, and so on?). In this approach the second fall Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 is highly symbolic of the vulnerability shared and relationship built during the first fall.

The second, physical fall happens when the faller agrees to fall back, in a prescribed manner, into the arms of several of her participants. Once caught, the receiving line is often encouraged to quietly hold her for a moment, then gently bring her back to ground.

During this second fall, you must pay attention to both the faller and the receiving line, looking for verbal and nonverbal cues of readiness or apprehension. Since the physical risk increases significantly during this fall, you must be aware of both the individual and group energy.


Look for the following risks throughout the activity, and be pre­pared to facilitate accordingly:

Social risk is present in the faller’s perception of his/herself within the group prior to, during, and resulting from the activity. Do they really care about me and want to hear what I have to say? How will they perceive me based on the information I share? What if I don’t fall “right”?––what will they think of me then?

Emotional risk is often con­nected to the individual’s emotional reaction to such things as his role within the group, prior history (em­powering or disempowering) with the group, sensitivity to the information he is willing to share, and sensitivity to the information shared by others. Participants will occasionally hold back or step back from information that begins to evoke an emotional reaction. Some will share “too much” information––more than the group is ready to handle.

Physical risk at the Trust Fall ex­ists from beginning to end. From the moment the faller ascends the plat­form until she is safely back on the ground, potential for physical harm exists. The most frequent incidents reported during this activity occur during the physical fall and involve ei­ther the faller reaching out to protect herself while falling and accidentally striking one of her teammates in the head or face; or the receiving line fail­ing to catch the faller, allowing him to fall through to the ground. Stories shared by participants who have ex­perienced either of these reflect the degree to which they can be physically and emotionally traumatic.

It is essential for the facilitator to measure the group’s capacity to ef­fectively meet and manage these risks before beginning a Trust Fall.

Facilitator’s Role

The facilitator’s role throughout a Trust Fall is multi-layered and de­manding. Factors to consider when determining whether to bring your group to Trust Fall include

  • Is there a value placed on tru­ly open and honest dialogue and vulnerability within the group?
  • Who is in the group? What layers of authority or ac­countability are present?
  • How do the group members appear to care about and interact with each other?
  • How will this activity fit within the context of this  Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 program and the group’s  future interactions?


Framing the activity properly is es­sential. Begin by explaining

·         The purpose for coming to this activity

·         The philosophy behind the activity

·         Some of the risks associated with the activity

·         Expected behaviors from the participants throughout the activity


Observation and direction through­out the activity are essential. The facilitator can:

  • Be aware of levels of risk as experienced by participants and reactions to that risk.
  • Focus on the participants engaging in dialogue with their faller. It is easy for the focus of the conversation to shift away from the faller to other individuals as they are reminded of their own experiences.
  • Take note of the energy of the participants––are they staying actively and honor­ably engaged with the faller, especially as the activity progresses?
  • Monitor the individuals and group continuously using visual, auditory, empathic, and intuitive listening. If anything raises a cau­tionary flag, you must intervene. Interventions will vary depending on the situation and should always seek to determine the source and depth of risk involved, as well as the best direction to pursue for both the individual(s) and the group.


Because this approach to the Trust Fall is interaction intensive Normal 0 false false false MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 and frequently includes in-the-mo­ment facilitation, extensive debriefing following the activity is often not needed. This approach may last be­tween four and five hours for a group of twelve, and time and energy may not be conducive to a long debrief.

Throughout the activity, you can look for verbal and nonverbal cues to step in and facilitate in the moment. After each physical fall, assuming the fall and arrest happen without inci­dent, you can invite a quick check-in about that experience. In the event of an incident, the facilitator should debrief the situation as soon as is ap­propriate and prior to moving on (if continuing the activity is in order).


Acknowledgements: Thanks to Michael Srodes, Jim Jensen, Martyn Whittingham, Jasper Hunt, Anthony Curtis, and many wise facilitators for information and in­sights carried into this article.

Last Updated on Thursday, 29 January 2009 04:52  

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