Update Nov/2019: I now prefer leading Mastermind Circles which inherits some of the ideas below (such as the idea of doing short birthday circles, which makes the group more interactive and exciting). Also my new leadership style is to minimize context-setting (it tends to put people to sleep, at best) while adding an “agreements” section which operate in-lieu of context setting. I generally give at least the following “agreements”:
- Show up as you are (warts and all). This is a place to be “you”
- Don’t do anything you don’t want to do (all games and processes are optional, and if something is bothering you, speak it)
- Confidentiality: what is said here, stays here
- Have positive intent (assume the best of people)
- Own your experience (or communicate responsibly). Generally this means making “I” statements from a feeling-place, and avoiding not-owned judgments.
Note: it is actually Okay in circling to give “owned judgments” i.e. “I have a judgment that ___, and I wonder if it is true”; however this is perhaps too fine a distinction for an “agreement” section.
- As the leader, I may interrupt you, ask questions or generally redirect the group attention.
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 above.
Overall Leadership Guidelines
These are the same guidelines as for the A/R Game Leader Format above. When leading a circle (versus an A/R Game), you can be less inhibited in giving feedback on communications which you judge to be “not connecting” (i.e. you might circle people who make communications that are not real impact statements, such as coaching or advice-giving).
You can use the same introduction given in the A/R Game format above.
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 contexts 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”..
- Circling is being more deliberate about how we approach relationships. That most of us yearn to connect with people at deeper levels of sharing and truth, 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.
- 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.
- Finally, I do short “popcorn-style” impacts on my context-setting. (“What lands here for you? What dissonates or makes you feel resistant?”)
You can use the same warm-up as for the A/R game, above
- 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.
Checkout round is same as for the A/R game.