I am writing this article to share some reflections of a 3-city A/R tour I just completed (Philadelphia, Baltimore and Silver Spring MD), leading 4 events in 5 days. The topic is the marketing of A/R.
About the groups
All the groups were small, between 3 and 8 people, averaging around 6. All the groups were “home-runs”, which I define as everybody leaving happy and smiling and wanting more. I filled the groups through contacts I had in the different cities, plus I made websites (sample Philadelphia and Baltimore), Meetups, Facebook groups and mailing lists for each city (this a fair amount of work, but it’s what I do for my bread-and-butter business, so it wasn’t a big deal). I charge $10 for an A/R game and $15 for a Circle, which is well below market rates, but I don’t care because I only need to supplement a small income from other sources, and because I am committed to keeping my groups affordable.
The success of the groups, frankly, blew me away. I did not realize I was that good. I had been telling myself, and saying publicly (partly in response to push-back from the global community, which I will say more about below) that I am a “good enough” A/R leader (and not a great one). But what I realized on the trip, is that it doesn’t take a genius to lead A/R. All it takes is an intelligent structure and some level of humility, surrender to the group and to “trust that people move towards wholeness, and we just have to follow” [Alexis Shepperd]. I am not actually doing the work, or at least the hard work; I am just setting up the container and witnessing. People are not there for me, to be wowed by what a genius leader I am. The best I can do is get out of the way, in fact that is the main problem of being an A/R leader, managing one’s own reactivity and leading from and expressing vulnerability. Plus, there are no geniuses anyway (or very few, I do think of John Thompson and Sean Wilkinson as geniuses, Decker Cunov and Guy Sengstock), we are all works-in-progress. My only caveat to this idea of “getting out of the way” is that I am quite aggressive on the appreciations, my style is a bit “yang”. I am also very strong on vulnerability. I actually suspect that those traits (appreciations and vulnerability and “finding people right”, as I write about in my book) are the key to mine, and maybe to anybody’s success here. Just thinking out loud here.
Format of the groups
I used more-or-less the same group format throughout, which is kind of a hybrid between an A/R game and a Circle.
I always start with an introduction round of Name, Something unique or unusual about you (or anything you would like the group to know about you), and What you hope to get from the evening
Then I do a brief context-setting, saying something along the lines of:
- To talk about A/R is not actually doing Authentic Relating, so need to keep it brief
- Nonetheless, a little bit of context is helpful
- The best context I have for A/R is this: A/R is the invitation to bring more of ourselves into interaction with people, to stop cloaking our humanity or pretending to be something different than who we really are. To actually have the courage to say things like “I would love if you could talk less and pay more attention to me” or “I just got angry there and realized that you are talking to me like my mother used to do. It’s not really about you”. Etc..
- I tell them we are going to play some communication games, but that it is very important that they don’t do anything they don’t want to do, or feel any pressure to show up any way other than they are currently feeling. They can sit-out any game and if they have an objection to anything that’s going on, they should voice it.
- If the group is truly engaged (this is rare, they are usually sitting there in a panic waiting to find out what is going to be expected of them), I tell some of my story, the impact on me, my journey through the A/R movement that began a very short 18 months ago, the spectacular results of that journey, specifically in terms of my discernment around “recovering asshole” and/or “constant compulsive search for love and affirmation”. They seem to like that
- And finally, I almost always give some history, even brief, explaining that the A/R movement started in California (of course!) in 1999 as the Circling practice, which has now spread into “Authentic” communities in 60+ cities, 3 major schools, two online platforms, thousands of people impacted and a very active global community, etc. I also explain that the A/R movement has two primary practices, A/R games and Circling. (there is also a third practice, my favorite actually, Guerilla Circling which is circling people invisibly and without agreement, but that’s too complex to explain in an intro)
- But generally, like I say, they are usually in such a panic at the beginning (or worse: one participant shared she was 3 minutes away from walking out the door. Needless to say I circled her, she stayed and left all smiles), they are in such a panic that they won’t take in more than 25% of what you have to say at the beginning. This is a problem I am still working on, because I feel you need to give SOME context before starting, in order to build trust in your leadership. Maybe it’s a problem that can’t be entirely solved, one just has to live with it.
- Finally, I do short “popcorn-style” impacts on my context-setting
After the introductions round and context-setting I have been following more-or-less the same pattern:
- I do 2 or 3 rounds of Noticing Game. I tell them the beauty of Noticing Game is that you can go for fun or depth, they can do what they want with it, and also encourage them to move their body (I won’t kick them out if they want to do a dance). If the group is strong I change the final Noticing Game to eye-gazing, telling them they have at least two choices: they can either send direct love and appreciation non-verbally, or they can just be non-judgmentally aware and appreciative of what arises in the space.
- Typically I then do a short “popcorn-style” impact round on Noticing Game
- Then I give everyone a hot-seat and an appreciation/impact round. This has worked EXCEEDINGLY well. For instance, in a group of 8 in a 1 1/2 hour meeting, each person would get a 5 minute hot-seat and a 2-minute impact/appreciation round (this is a bit short, if there are 8 people it should optimally be a 2 hour group, the problem there being they start to fade after 1 1/2 hours). My experience is that people understand the meaning of “impacts / appreciations” immediately and provide quite powerful appreciations and reflections to each other. Occasionally (very occasionally) I do a redirect in the impact round, specifically if the impacts start to look like coaching.
- Here is how I explain the Hot-Seat role: they are going to get all of the attention in the room for X minutes (this is why we call it a “hot seat”, it can get rather hot to receive all that loving attention!). People will be invited to ask them questions, which they can answer, or not, as they please. Indeed during their hot-seat they are going to be the undisputed King or Queen of the evening.
- Here is how I explain the “Questioner” role in Hot-Seat: they can ask any question that they have genuine curiosity about, even questions that might seem risque. They should not shut-down or dampen their genuine curiosity, because the person on the hot-seat does not have to answer if they don’t want to. I also tell them that they should say “Thank you” when the person finishes talking, OR when they have heard enough. This completes the cycle and we can take another question, either from them or somebody else.
- When I am running a Circle (as opposed to an A/R game) what I do is very similar, but rather than a hot-seat I do 3 or 4 mini-circles of 15 minutes or so, each one ending with an impact round. I personally much prefer this format over a full-on birthday circle, especially in a new group, as it gives more variety of experience and interactivity (and its surprising how much can come out in a 10 or 15 minute birthday circle — this is my re-write of Murphy’s law, “the work accelerates to be done in the time allotted for its completion“).
- I think this format could be adapted to a large A/R game as well. They would only need to breakout for the hot-seat part into groups of 4-6. I have not yet run a large A/R game.
- I always end with a checkout round, How are you feeling and What are you taking home from this
- I will be experimenting with another format as well, a 3-hour meeting with a 30 minute refreshment and socializing after the first 1 1/2 hours. This requires snacks which is an added expense, unless you can (ideally) get someone to bring the food. The benefit is that it’s hard for people to sustain the intensity of attention for more than 1 1/2 hours.
That’s it. I do not have a need to do something different every time (as I see happening sometimes in the A/R game space). If I find a format that works every time, I will just repeat it until it gets boring to me. This will probably not be happening any time soon, because all of my groups so far have kicked-ass; and if they’re happy, I am happy.
Marketing of A/R and the problem of private Circling and A/R brands
I get now into the “meat” of this article into some controversial subjects. As a preamble, I will declare upfront that there are some elements of “not-yet-recovered asshole” here (especially my own reactivity to being dismissed and ignored). I will say, in my defense, that A/R leadership is inherently “a swamp” (to quote Jason Digges on his Authentic Life podcast), because it’s in the nature of the game that our own shit comes up in the process of becoming a relational leader, indeed that is the whole point. Furthermore, as a wise friend of mine told me recently, you have to be some kind of egotist, or traumatized person, to even want to be an A/R leader (treat that claim as pure projection, of course. I am not talking about you! 🙂 ). In any case and as is to be expected, the relational swamp gets multiplied many-fold when questions of power, prestige and money come in. Plus, once you get “professional” and start to charge money for it, you end up “competing” against other brands, brands who will highly probably (since they are more established) be charging more money than you, and might feel threatened.
(On a separate but loosely related topic, I need to say that hitting the street and starting to lead, has been extraordinarily liberating to me in terms of some negative feedback I have received in the global community about my leadership. The problem there being not the feedback — from an enlightened perspective all feedback is useful — but my own reactivity to it. As it turned out, however, getting into the street and testing my leadership there was the only way to clear my distress around the feeling of being dismissed in the global community. I had to stop looking for attention and affirmation in the global community).
Anyway, let me give my somewhat off-the-cuff, not-yet-fully-recovered-asshole thoughts on this. With the caveat that my ideas on this may change with time.
I have a strong belief that A/R is such a compelling brand, that it is so easy to sell, that there are so many untapped markets and so many benefits in collaboration, and “the rising tide floats all boats” — that I don’t have a lot of sympathy for people who create private brands with “Authentic” in them (“private” means they won’t collaborate). I recognize my arrogance and judgmentalism in this as about 75% of what I am saying here (why should anyone who has created a private brand feel an obligation to collaborate with me?). But it’s not entirely my own shit, because I have a passionate desire that “Authentic XXX” (i.e. “Authentic Baltimore”) should be an open-source brand as well.
To note that Circling is already an open-source brand, meaning I can legally call myself a Circling leader despite my lack of formal training. I am not saying this is necessarily a good idea, but I am doing it, at least for now, out of expediency and lack of cash for the high-level training (I recommend Circling Europe SAS training and Boulder Integral T3). “Authentic Relating” and A/R Games are private brands owned by Authentic World, but they are very loosely enforced, current trainings consisting of Authentic Revolution’s Authentic Leadership and Facilitation Training, and The Connection Movement in NYC.
But back to my desire that “Authentic XXX” brands be open-source as well: I can’t really claim any “rightness” in this belief, or truth; let me just say that is what I want to happen. There needs to be, in my opinion, one over-arching group in each major city, with one website and one facebook group, which will promote any reasonably credible A/R offer. This is what I have done in Philadelphia and Baltimore, and it’s about to happen in Washington DC as well (DC is not my initiative, but I am a part of it). To note here that I have no objection to private-brand Meetup groups, on the contrary I think that people should create their own Meetups, and that these meetups should be promoted from the single, area-wide website or facebook group or mailing list (as in an “event digest”). I do passionately believe that each area should have a single website and single facebook and single mailing list representing everyone. Of course leaders should still create their own sites, facebooks, meetups and mailing lists. But everyone should have marketing access to the primary “authentic” brand. I also think that the “authentic” brand should include compatible event listings like NVC and New Culture. Maybe it’s too much to ask for or expect, but this is what I would like.
That’s the first thing I want to say, and let me expand now on “the rising tide floats all boats”.
There are IMMENSE opportunities for marketing A/R. We have barely begun to tap the potential here. There is of course the entire professional or semi-professional markets (schools, workplaces, community centers, entrepreneur groups, social-change activists, LGBT, etc. etc), I am not even talking about those markets. I am talking about the potential of the “shared humanity” market: we all have relationships and we all stand to hugely benefit by learning these skills. That would include the Singles market, which is huge, in desperate need of this, and which hardly anyone has even touched, as far as I know (outside of AMP and AWE, which are geographically-specific offers, and pricey).
Perhaps the clearest way I can articulate this is to say: I feel the tension between moving forward my leadership, which includes marketing activities (specifically reaching out to Meetup organizers and community-centers, offering free or low-cost events), as well as supporting other up-and-coming leaders; versus supporting existing leaders with their own “Authentic” brands. We did solve the problem in DC, and with a minimum of fuss, by creating the open Authentic Relating DC brand, versus the private Authentic DC brand. But it would be tough to do this in every city (how many variations of “Authentic” can you make? THE BESTEST MOST AUTHENTIC RELATING GROUP IN PARIS, TEXAS, lol), and I find it quite painful when existing brands don’t want to collaborate with me, and I specifically tend to get reactive and asshole-ish (and afterwards I feel guilty and stupid at my self-righteousness — like I say, “work in progress”).
Please let me know your thoughts on this in the comments below, as I don’t claim to own the truth here.