Creating True Connection
Anytime we humans meet as a group to discuss a topic, manage a project, plan an event, or even just informally talk, group dynamics come into play. Each of us has a distinct personality. Some of us are comfortable in larger groups and have no problem speaking up about our feelings or ideas. Others might be more shy. Plus, everybody will arrive at a group meeting with a host of recent personal or professional experiences that might be contributing to their mindset that day.
The goal is to create a safe, inspiring environment for participatory discussion, where people who want to talk feel heard, and people who want to listen feel comfortable. We’re not trying to fix anyone or advocate points-of-view when there is disagreement. We want to help people connect with one another and hold stable ground for exploration. Kindness, respect, and equality are paramount. See the Challenges Chart in the Appendix F of the Learning Circle Toolkit for more guidance on moderating.
One of the most common issues in group settings is balancing the needs of people who enjoy talking and participating on a frequent basis with those who may not talk as much. Keep in mind that there are many ways to participate in a conversation or gathering, and deep listening is just as valuable in a person’s learning as talking and verbal participation.
Please refer to our Community Commitments for reference on creating, holding, and sharing space.
When the setting feels relaxed, safe, and comfortable, you can trust that those who are more quiet will speak when they feel the need. Likewise, by reminding participants of the agreements (i.e., no interrupting, listening from the heart, etc.), you create opportunities for the group to check its own tendencies if one person is dominating the conversation. For now, as you’re starting out, consider using the following approaches to serve the needs of the personalities in your group:
Make it a group agreement that each person will use awareness to help self-regulate. This is a community practice, meaning that everyone will attend to the needs of those who need to listen or talk. At the end of the meeting, ask the group to bring awareness to their participation that day and do an internal self-check.
If the conversation becomes unanimous or one-sided, consider shifting the focus to include other perspectives that may not have been addressed. Name those who have spoken and ask others to contribute. Ask for an opposing viewpoint, or for someone to role-play a devil’s advocate.
Allow for time and space (silence) during discussions, this sends the message that there is an opportunity to speak without forcing it. Be on the lookout for body language that indicates a wish to speak, and issue an invitation.
ENCOURAGING TALKERS TO LISTEN
To prevent conversation from becoming too narrow or uncomfortable for others, consider implementing a structured “go around the circle” style for your discussions which will invite everyone to contribute and everyone to listen.