In this section I offer a Circling Introduction Leader Format that has worked very well for me in a group size of between 6 and 10 participants in a 2 hour meeting. If there are more than 9 or 10 people you will, in my experience, need to break-out (so you would need a qualified co-lead).
This approach involves giving people short birthday circles, normally 10 minutes plus a 5 minute impact round. The goal here is to give as many people as possible an experience of being birthday circled (of being the designated circlee) and as many people possible the experience of giving impact statements (being the designated circler). These are the two basic roles of Circling, in my world. Having them formally put in to the structure helps to clarify an important distinction. Short birthday circles can be very powerful, and they also distribute the air-time better.
Alternatives to this are organic circles, SL-style circles, or long birthday circles. My preference as a leader to beginners is to get them excited and enrolled through an initial (and hopefully powerful) experience of being circled, even if it be short. In later groups with people who have gone through the format I am presenting here, you can dispense with all instructions and pre-set structure (other than paired-share warmups) and just flow into an organic circle, a single birthday circle, multiple mini-birthday circles, or whatever you feel the group needs.
I will go now into the precise languaging I use, with the caveat that Circling is a presence practice, so you need to “come from being” rather than a pre-set structure, and to be open to feedback from the group of how you are occurring to them as a leader. If you are leading an A/R Game rather than a Circle, see my A/R Game Leader Format.
Overall Leadership Guidelines
These are the same guidelines as for the A/R Game Leader Format. Note that in a circle (as opposed to an A/R game), you can be less inhibited in giving feedback on communications which you judge to be “not connecting” (i.e. you circle people who make communications that are not real impact statements, such as coaching or advice-giving).
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 Circling is not actually doing Circling, so need to keep it brief
- Nonetheless, a little bit of context may be helpful
- The are many context that you can set for a Circle. If you are leading to mixed beginners and more experienced people (who might have heard your context before), you can vary or rotate among some of the following (or include several of them):
- Circling 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..
- Circling is being more deliberate about how we approach relationships. That most of us yearn to love and be loved, to see and be seen; and yet we tend to approach relationships with people we care about or that we are interested in, in an overly timid or haphazard way, perhaps achieving success only by accident
- Circling is an explicit invitation into having the deeper level of conversation that most of us yearn for, but that few have the courage to ask for directly. Thus, in Circling we will enter into an explicit agreement that it’s okay here to speak from (and listen for) our experience of what it’s like to be us, alive in our bodies in this moment
- Unlike the conversations that happen in bars, at church, at work, and at your average party, we come together in Circling with the explicit desire to know and be known, and permission to express what is true for us, outside of social rules or political correctness
- Circling is about “being present to what is”, especially in the space between us (relational / emotional reality). Listen to Guy Sengstock on this.
- Make up your own context?
- Then 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. (“What lands here for you? What dissonates or makes you feel resistant?”)
Plan on 15-20 minutes for the warm-up and the warm-up impact round (debrief). The warm-up is very important because it tends to “drop” people into connection immediately, and enter a place of presence from which the actual circle will be way more powerful. If you start a circle without a warm-up, it will be more difficult to “drop in” later.
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
- I like to decide in advance how many people will get mini-birthday circles and announce, say: “we are going to do 4 short birthday circles. A birthday circle is where one person gets all the attention of the group for a certain amount of time”. Ask who would like to begin, or (better) if there is someone that piques your interest and attention, say so and ask them if they want to start.
- Time the birthday circle. Try not to go over. You can hold up fingers to indicate how many minutes left (3, 2, 1, 0). Don’t worry too much about cutting them off. Trust that they will say what’s important to them in the time that they have. Don’t be inhibited about imposing structural time-constraints. Most people feel relieved and grateful and that they can relax into a structure that feels safe and fair.
- Time the impact/appreciation round. If necessary give some context of impact/appreciation: “it’s an opportunity to either say something you appreciate about someone, or else a way in which they have affected you, in case you have a felt experience or reaction to them“. You may need to remind them to keep it brief in view of time constraints.
- Then on to the next.
This is a format that works well for beginner circles. With more advanced circlers, once they get the basic concepts and the vocabulary, you can relax the structure, and you can also probe the group for how much structure they want.
- I always end with a checkout round: “How are you feeling and What are you taking home from this”