The first time I entered a circle was with professional women – each of a different background, industry and rank as they shared their experiences, each one of them was different, but gave me profound insight and more empathy for what others were going through. It truly introduced me to a new leadership style- one that focused less on top-down, and involved empathy and seeking first to understand.
The second time I joined one was to make some big, complicated, and highly polarized decisions for a committee I was on. In this format, each person on the committee had equal time to share uninterrupted which emphasized that each person had the same value, despite communication style. In this circle, they shared their opinion, story or facts without being interrupted and by the end of the facilitated circle, we came away with an MDS that would not have been possible without the thoughtful art of circling and valuing all opinions.
For centuries we’ve seen the power of the circle, from King Arthur's court to Peacekeeping circles.
Circling is a way to gain insights into yourself, develop richer connections with those around you, relate to the world around you and make good decisions - FAST.
This is not therapy, (which aims to improve one’s psychological health and to reduce symptoms or destructive patterns and is practiced by licensed professionals). This is not coaching, (which is goal oriented and often focused in the future).
This is a dynamic group process that is skillfully facilitated, and where you can share what’s going on in life for you in that moment (like a check-in) without any judgement, comments, suggestions or tips. Unlike many of our relationships where people try to tell us what to do or “fix” the problem for us, this is conscious space with the full intention just to listen to you share, process and transform. And those listening/holding space get just as much out of it as they learn mindful communication skills and how to relate to others by empathetically listening and learning from new perspectives.
One person plays the part of facilitator, who kicks off the circle, keeps time and ensures that everyone is heard. The facilitator might set rules, such as the order and how long each person gets to answer.
There are many ways to host a circle and I’ve been through a few variations, but in most, the facilitator poses a reflective question to the group, and each person has the opportunity to share their answer knowing this is a highly confidential outlet for expression. When you share, no one else talks. The participants have the opportunity to not share if they wish. And after, no one is allowed to offer judgements, opinions on how to handle, tips or suggestions.
Why it’s so impactful:
1. Honesty: Circling will harness your ability to vulnerably express your thoughts and feelings as they arise, by helping you practice moment-to moment awareness.
In conversations people might ask, ‘How are you?’ and you respond with an autopilot ‘Great’. Meanwhile, your life is falling apart and you hate your job.
When you are given a space that fully accepts you and all your flaws (and non-filtered moments), time to be truly seen and heard, you will be shocked at the truth that comes out of your mouth. The truth and shadow parts you usually keep hidden effortlessly start spilling out-and that kind of honesty with yourself feels good. You will find yourself no longer wanting to operate on autopilot or even showcasing a “filtered perfect life” on social media.
2. Insights –blind-spots are the difference between how you think you show up and how you do. Either through sharing in a circle, listening and relating to others or during reflections, you wake up to the ways you’ve been blind, and become more self-aware. I call this the awakening of the “inner teacher”. The insights help you make changes in your life as a natural byproduct, rather than a battle.
This doesn’t mean you’ll be perfect or cured, but you will be more self-aware.
3. Connection. Embodying true presence when mindfully communicating, listening, and relating with others, you start to become aware of when you are not truly connecting with others. Because you will experience a different level of intimacy and connection from our touch-screen society, you’ll start to demand it outside of circles— from loved ones, to clients, to strangers on the street.
4. Relating. Through circling, you’ll learn the art of relating to someone else’s world in a way that has them feel seen, known and appreciated, perhaps more deeply than they ever have before. When people share their life’s challenges, experiences and circumstances, we exercise empathy as our mirror neurons fire. Soon, we begin to get a sense of what it’s like for others, even if we ourselves haven’t been through that experience.
The most impactful circles consist of 5-8 people and who make them up (demographically) can be determined by the goal of the circle. But for the most part, diverse groups make for healthy and thriving circles for growth.
For instance, having a person early on in their career in your group will remind everyone what it’s like to be at the start of their career – the challenges and hardships of a huge growth curve. Having someone more senior in the group shows everyone what it’s like to feel like you aren’t valuable anymore or maybe to have significant stress and responsibility. The circle benefits from inclusions of all races, ages, identified genders, etc.
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