Five Key Clarifications for Circle

It’s true that I like these flowers for their roundedness. They are a type of hydrangea (snowball). The ones in this picture grow on bush near my home. I think there are near five hundred blossoms now. It’s impressive.

I’ve been thinking a lot about rounded things over the last weeks. I’ve been thinking a lot about circle. That’s not particularly new, but there is a new clarification that feels like it has been on the tip of my tongue in my circle teaches. I also have a group I’m working with that has asked for a four-week online program to learn circle. So, yes, roundedness.

It was for this four-week program, and with my colleague Quanita Roberson, that I began thinking about some clarifying points for circle. I was seeking one sentence on a few aspects of this beloved process methodology that goes so much beyond methodology into ways of being. I’m giving myself permission to dwell with the short descriptions that I shared with that group, and that became quite a powerful invitation for us all learning together.

1. The what of circle is connection. People relate too connection. With a good friend. With family. With an idea. These are good stories to surface that create doorway into the essence of circle that is more than technique.

2. The “how” of connection (and circle) is container. There are some structural aspects of circle that are intended to help to “do” circle. It’s more than just moving the chairs. But it doesn’t have to be a lot more. The container is for growing presence that both comes from, and contributes to, a connection.

3. The “why” of circle is health and vitality. Healthy self. Healthy team. Healthy community. And sometimes health is synonym for learning. In the spirit of, “if you want a system (a group of people) to be healthy and in learning, connect it to more of itself.”

4. The “where” of circle is where you are. That may sound a bit cheeky, but I don’t intend it that way. I continue to learn that I can be circly anywhere. It is often in subtle ways. For example, I can be circly just by my orientation to a figurative center, that most often I will reference indirectly, or not at all.

5. The “when” of circle is, whenever. OK, that is a bit cheeky. In more detail, the when is when it is important to shift from social interaction to a more deliberate kind of listening and speaking that isn’t cross-talking banter.

I believe we live in a time when we must all get better at having difficult conversations. Or at having important conversations. Who are we now? Who to we choose to be now? What does that begin to look like in our shared behaviors?

I believe the times call for us to cultivate more kindness and consciousness together, to cultivate more flow and harmony with life itself. Yes, that is inherently messy. Yes, a pandemic has a way of surfacing these kinds of questions.

I believe we live in a time when we need to get more rounded in our instincts and in our expectations.

I’m glad that hydrangeas and good friends remind me of this.

From a Few Questions

It has always been important to ask good questions, hasn’t it. The questions that reach deeper into what is really going on. The questions that add just enough clarity that they move us just a little. The questions that stop us in our tracks and that reshape everything.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about good questions. Actually, that’s not completely true. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what might help the people that I’m with (and me) in the circumstances that they find themselves in. These are work contexts in which teams are trying to stay healthy. These are some more personal contexts in which individuals are trying to make sense of very raw material.

Perhaps it is all raw. The check-ins that I’ve been a part of lately have all had a noticeable amount of sorrow in them — because of the shootings in New Zealand, or the unrest in Paris, or animated disputes that are national and local politics, or the shooting without cause of another black man, or the fires that burn in Australia, or the continued revelations of abuse within church systems that lay covered for decades. Or, or, or. There is rawness.

There are two particular questions that I’ve been noticing are helpful for these intense times — again, in my search for what helps. And these questions, though they can be very useful at scale and in more formal program within organizational systems, are what I’m thinking about that can help in a more horizontal way. These are questions that can be asked more vitally with one another, even in casual circumstances.

  1. What do you feel is the essence of what is happening here? The key word in this is “essence.” Well, that and, “you feel.” The layers of complexity that continue to grow, the layers of interconnectedness, the layers of soundbites and manipulated communications — these are all leading us to an even more paramount layer of reclaiming essence. What is at the core of this? What is most central? What is at the crux of it? The “you feel” is important in that it’s welcoming the subjective — because complexity requires us to expect the subjective. It’s not “the truth” that can be manipulated and marketed that matters. It’s “a truth” that comes from awareness that matters and from good listening together.
  2. Are there improvements your can offer or suggest? The key word in this one is “improvements.” And, “offer.” Improvements aren’t about a complete fix. They aren’t about magically taking on the whole dragon with single-handed bravado, expecting to conquer. That’s good mythological material, and I suppose, some imprinted DNA of expected story. But what seems to matter more these days is some of the incremental movement, and from a chosen value. Is there something that you feel we could do slightly better here? Is there an essence to your improvement? The “offering” here is about a needed capacity to experiment. It’s giving us all something to try and to work from a spirit of proposals.

These questions aren’t that complicated. I’m not even trying to wordsmith them too much. The questions are simple. The values — essence and improvements — are deliberate. The simple questions are often what helps us move, any of us as individuals and in teams, in some rather complex, intense, raw, and shock-filled domains. In my most simple impulses, I imagine that these questions asked with some deliberateness — whether in the coffee room, the staff meeting, or in the company-wide — these questions animate an energy that brings some wisdom and aliveness back to our endeavors. They are life-lines to help in what feels like drowning in complexity.

It was my friend and colleague, Toke Moeller, that I most remember speaking a simple principle from our work together in the early 2000s. “Purpose is the invisible leader.”  Toke was pointing to the clarity of purpose needed, that if animated, has a way of guiding all of us. It is my sense, as I think it was for Toke and many of us back then, that a focus on first, essence, and then, improvements, get us to more of a shared purpose these days. And, well, with that, perhaps some hope too.

All from a few questions.

Thanks in particular to colleague and friend Kathleen Masters, and a recent conversation in which some of these points of awareness became a bit more clear.