“You don’t have to get what you want if you can express what you want” – Strephon Kaplan-Williams
Developmental Circling is a “flavor” or sub-modality of Circling that we use in a men’s group that I have been running for over 2 years, and which has been very transformational for all of us. It is a big topic which I will expand on in a future edition of this book, but I want to at least mention it here and to give the goals and the format.
Developmental Circling is basically a topical circle (as defined earlier) in which the “topic” is our own personal and professional development, with the primary goal of clearing developmental trauma and moving out powerfully into the world as leaders and change-makers. Developmental Circling works best in closed containers (i.e. long-term committed groups). All three of the long-term groups I have run in the last 3 years have led to significant changes in everyone participating, and often important personal and business collaborations. One of these groups (the men’s group) is still running, although we only meet occasionally now as I have declared that everyone has “graduated” (meaning, all of us are rocking it in real life). Note here in terms of the “developmental circling” name, that all Circling is developmental, just as all Circling is “surrendered”. The distinction is that in Developmental Circling we put comparatively more focus (compared to a traditional circle) on our desires and work-in-the-world, and also keep a tighter container in terms of the time. In Developmental Circling, we come together with an explicit personal- or business-developmental intent, for ourselves and for the group as a whole.
My view on Developmental Circling – and indeed any form of Circling – is that Circling is a training camp for going out into the world and practicing what I call “Informal Circling” 24×7, which is basically relational intelligence (some people just call this Authentic Relating as a 24×7 practice). As already mentioned, Circling is the largest and fastest-growing movement for learning relational intelligence and emotional communication in the world right now, outside of NVC. The idea of a Developmental Circle is that it allows group members to take risks in their communication and push their edges in a format that gives them a high likelihood of success within the group, and opens the possibility of showing up more powerfully in the world by metabolizing those lessons, especially the ones that occur afterwards as “mistakes”.
Impact of Developmental Circling
The developmental circling modality evolved out of a men’s group that began in January of 2018 and is still ongoing. The group consisted of one regular 75-minute weekly Zoom meeting between the 5 of us, and hundreds of hours of individual conversations outside of the group.
The potential impact of Developmental Circling can be any of the following: deeper and more satisfying connections with the people around you; higher levels of pleasure and collaboration in your life; more rapid resolution of problems or blockages in all aspects of your life; increased flow states; more money coming towards you and higher-level people wanting your attention and appreciating you; and more interesting sensual or sexual opportunities, should that be your desire. You may even begin to feel into your life as an unfolding miracle, start generating “effortless success”, and wonder what has happened to you and why the hell you did not start doing this sooner. You may also greatly increase your level of physical and emotional self-care, leading to the gradual reduction or even disappearance of physical and emotional symptoms. All of these things have happened to me and everyone in the group, although in my case, 2 years was just enough to get me started, as I came in from a fairly traumatized state and a history of depression and alcoholism. The fact of my success here, despite my being a “wounded healer”, has shocked me, and one of the reasons I have become such a fan of Circling.
These are bold claims, and of course the work is not easy, will take some time, and you must be prepared to take your work of relational intelligence out into the world. In this you WILL experience push-back from the people in your environment, and at times you will fail miserably. There are several possible reasons for failure, but these reasons tend to fall under two main headings: either you are circling poorly, or else you are circling people who don’t want to be circled, at least by you. In the first case you can apologize, integrate the feedback and try again. In the second case you can also apologize, try a different tack, or just move on. Just be aware that if you are never failing, you aren’t trying hard enough and hence you will not get the results I am describing.
Format of a Developmental Circle
This below is bare-bones. Obviously, a Developmental Circle is still a circle, and so your success as a leader will be dependent on the skill that you have acquired in previous circles and bring to the game. However, we have found this to be a very powerful format.
There are five different “rounds” in a typical Developmental Circle, as follows. This format works well in a 75 to 120 minute virtual (Zoom) group or a 2-hour in-person group (depending on the number of people – 5 to 7 is optimal, and with more people you will need more time).
- We “drop-in”, typically with a 5-minute T-Group, or a meditation, or a minute of silence, or a “Connect to self / connect to other” exercise. Lately I have been doing a 5-minute “Noticing game” and this has worked very well (“Noticing game” is similar or identical to T-Group). In beginner groups I give “context”, but usually no more than 5 minutes. I explain there, that Circling as an integral emergent practice has an an infinite number of “contexts”, that contexts tend put people to sleep and hence need to be limited, but that a few core ideas can be useful to share. Sometimes and especially with first-time beginner groups I give “agreements” which are described in the Circling Introduction Leader Format (that link also has a few helpful contexts that you can share). In an ongoing private group (as opposed to an open group where I don’t know or control who is coming), and especially a more experienced group, I do neither. That is the benefit of an experienced private group, that the context and “agreements” are known and hence we can get right to business.
- We check-in. The ideal check-in is under 2 minutes. I don’t enforce the time but I sometimes do set a 2-3 minute timer (when it goes off I don’t say anything but make sure everyone hears it), so that people can start to wrap-up when they hear the timer go off. The purpose of the check-in round is to presence ourselves to each other and to clear anything that might be stopping us from being present by naming it. Sometimes we do quick impact rounds after each check-in, other times we save the impacts for the beginning of the next segment, the “aliveness round”.
- An “aliveness round”. In this round we say what is present (or alive) and state desire to be circled or to circle someone else in the group, or else desire for an organic circle. The aliveness round is the first opportunity to share impacts and desires and to go deeper. The aliveness round is not timed, but I do ask that everybody speak and I push for closure (i.e. I don’t allow “unaware circlee-ing” in the aliveness round — this means circling without permission, as in taking time for detailed story-telling or processing. If you want attention or want to the circled in the main session, you should just declare it in this segment without going into too-long a story). Essentially, the aliveness round is the “negotiation” of the rough plan for our time together. At the end I usually propose a plan (i.e. “I propose we circle David, Robert and Amy for 15 minutes each. Agreed?”).
- The main session. This is the bulk of the meeting. In a new group I like to give people 15 minute birthday circles which I time at 8-10 minutes on the first round and 4-5 minutes on the second round, while clarifying that the second round is ideally for group impacts (i.e. they should stop talking after 10 minutes and listen). To my surprise, people often have powerful experiences in a 15-minute birthday circle. I am flexible on time extensions, but I will almost always end a 15-minute circle if it goes to 20 minutes, out of respect for other people’s time. In an experienced or already strongly dropped-in circle I don’t time the birthday circles, I let the group evolve organically however it wants to, and call a group-conscience decision if the timings are not working out.
- A check-out This can be quick (1 minute each) or longer, I don’t time this round either, but I like to leave 5 to 10 minutes or so, depending on the number of people. Everyone speaks and gives their overall impact and takeaways for the circle, with a particular focus on appreciations. The check-out round is often very powerful.
That’s it. Easy-peasy, at least at the level of structure. In the more advanced circles I run, I barely even lead any more, my role is more of the time-keeper, which I enjoy doing. Even in beginner circles, once they really “drop-in” and get it, and I see powerful circling and circlee-ing (aka “clienting”) happening, I tend to drop out of the leader role, relax my vigilance, and declare it, telling them they don’t need a leader any more (since they are circling each other perfectly) and to just continue what they are doing. When this happens it tends to be a blissful experience, of watching my “children” circle each other and barely intervening except in a role of appreciation or providing gentle feedback or reflections if anything seems a bit “off”. “Gentle feedback” means that I will fully own my sense of “off-ness” and say something like “it seems to me that [XYZ] is happening, but I may be totally off here (or, I am not fully tracking y’all and this may be my limitation), so if you are all happy here just carry on and ignore me“.