In this section I offer an A/R game format that has worked very well for me in a group size of between 6 and 10 participants in a 2 hour meeting. It’s a variation of the Hot Seat game. Be aware that 10 participants is stretching the game in terms of the time that each participant has on the hot seat, you will have to be disciplined with the time. If there are more than 10 participants, you may need to try something else than presented .
The ultimate resource on A/R Games is, of course, is Sara Ness’s Authentic Relating Games Manual. I am going to go more granular here, presenting the exact language and format that I have used successfully. If you are leading a Circle rather than an A/R Games, see my Circling Introduction Leader Format.
Overall leadership guidelines
It is normal to be nervous when you start leading. My advice is as follows:
- DO be transparent. This is the best thing you can do, and actually the only way you will be successful as an A/R leader. You have to “practice what you preach”. Share your nervousness, and also vulnerably-share any challenges you are having, i.e. “I feel like I am trying too hard to make something happen here“. I am always nervous leading a new group, yet I frequently get feedback at the end of how much people value my leadership.
- DO be very aggressive on the appreciations. Sincere appreciations will have an impact on the group way beyond what you imagine, plus of course they will start modeling you. If you feel the group is very present or mature, if anybody demonstrates real empathy or expresses leadership, or you see anything at all that makes you feel warm or smiley, SAY IT.
- DON’T talk too much. A spoken intro should be no more than 5 minutes. This is the #1 mistake I see leaders making, even experienced ones. It’s highly unlikely that people are there to hear you talk! Give them an immediate experience of connection with each other, instead. It’s not very difficult and will be way more fun for them.
- DO frequent popcorn-style impact or reflection rounds. Tell them: “we are going to do an impact round now“. They will be curious about “impact”, so explain to them: “it’s an opportunity to share your felt experience about what just happened or where you are at right now“.
- DON’T be shy about giving negative feedback or redirects. Just do it respectfully and with permission. This happens most commonly when people are giving advice, coaching or excessive personal story-telling on an impact/reflection round. Say: “Can I challenge you on something, is it okay?” And after permission: “that felt more about you than about her. Do you agree? Would you be willing to try that again?“. Or “did you [speaking to the circlee] feel gotten by that? What would have helped to make you feel more seen?“. Or “I notice that people seem to be giving Joey advice. I wonder what that is about?“. It creates group safety when you intervene on communications which are distancing or not-related. Plus, it’s 90% probable the target of your intervention will be grateful to you. In the unusual event in which they seem upset, ask them if they are okay and circle them around it. Always thank them for gracefully taking your feedback, of course.
- DON’T feel an obligation to be a great leader. Understand that 80% of your job is to witness and affirm, 15% to show vulnerability, and 5% to challenge or redirect. Anybody can witness and affirm, so if you feel stuck, do only that until you get a better idea, or something bubbles up in you that demands to be said.
- DO be humble and trust the process. Gracefully accept any feedback they might give you, even (and especially) if it’s negative. If you feel something is off, probe the group for negative impact: “am I being too bossy or directive here?” or “let’s do a quick temperature check. Is anyone not present or engaged here, and if so, what could we do that would help?”. I can guarantee you that will wake them up.
- Remember: “trust that people move towards wholeness, and we just have to follow” [Alexis Shepperd].
I usually start with an introduction round of: (1) Name, (2) Why you are here, and (3) Something unique or unusual about you (or: anything you would like the group to know about you).
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.
- 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, Guerrilla Circling which is circling people invisibly and without agreement, but that’s too complex to explain in an intro)
- Finally, I do short “popcorn-style” impacts on my context-setting
Here is what has worked for me:
- Set them up in pairs. You can do an inner and outer circle (which rotates for the 3 games) or you can just ask them to find a partner. It tends to reduce anxiety if you set a clear structure of who they will be with (i.e. an inner and outer circle, don’t give them a choice).
- I do one round of “best friends” game. Here is what you tell them: “First, pick a person to begin. Then, you are going to explain to this person what they would need to know about you to be your best friend. Who you are, what you value and enjoy, what you hate, and all your personality flaws that your best friend would need to know and accept about you. Start now, you have 3 minutes“. If they seem to be having fun, you can give them a bit more than 3 minutes. Then switch.
- One round of Noticing Game. I say: “Okay so now we are going to get more relational and more present-moment”. I bring out a participant or my co-lead and I model the process: “The structure is as follows: First person says ‘I notice (bla)’. You could notice something about their physical experience, an emotional reaction you are having to them, or something completely unrelated to them, like your wife is leaving you and you just lost your job and so you are feeling distracted. Second person says: ‘On hearing that, I notice (bla)’. And so forth“. I say: “This is a one of the basic A/R exercises and you can go wherever you want with it. Specifically, you can go for depth, or you can go for fun and playful, or both”. I encourage them to move their body (I won’t kick them out if they want to do a dance). “Start now, you have about 4 or 5 minutes for both people to share”.
- Then I might switch partners and do a second round of Noticing Game. If the group is strong I change the final Noticing Game to eye-gazing, telling them: “Eye-gazing simply honors the fact that connection can happen non-verbally, as a felt experience. You have at least two choices here. You can either send direct love and appreciation non-verbally, or you can just be non-judgmentally aware and appreciative of what arises in the space”.
- Then I will do a “popcorn-style” impact round (debrief) 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 2 hour meeting, each person would get (excluding the introductions, context-setting and checkout) roughly a 7 minute hot-seat and a 3-minute impact/appreciation round (which is a bit short, but it works). 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 or advice-giving.
- 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 similar, but rather than a hot-seat I do mini-circles of 15 minutes or so, each one ending with an impact round. This is explained here.
- 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 20-30 minute refreshment and socializing break 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 2 hours. Plus they appreciate the informality of the break.
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 or I get feedback that the group wants something different.