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.

Hosting Circle Online — Resources

Lots of good resources included in The Circle Way’s April Newsletter. It’s a good one to subscribe to if you haven’t already.

As I find myself sharing a lot these days, the limit to connection in online formats isn’t typically technical. The core invitation online is as it is in face-to-face gatherings — presence. The articles below are good guidelines to encourage that presence.

With many people finding themselves suddenly shifting their in-person circles and meetings to virtual/online, here are some previous blog posts and resources that might be useful:

I also got to include a piece, “5 Tips for Re-humanizing Meeting Structure and Process.” It complements an article by Slovenian, Natalija Vrhunc on using circle with medical teams.

For inspiration. Reach out if you want / need help with online circling.

Practice Found In the Detail, and, In the Disposition

I’m prepping for today’s online class that I co-host with Amanda Fenton, The Circle Way: Introducing and Nuancing The Components Wheel. Today is the fourth of four classes. The theme is “Integrating Practice and Learning.” I love the class. I love the showing up with presence in virtual space. I love the insights that come.

In prepping for today, Amanda and I invite questions from the group — “Is there more that you would like to give attention to?” It’s done in advance so that she and I have a few days to mill over what we would like to offer. It’s intended to help people harvest some of their learning, which is often, a next set of questions.

I’ve noticed a pattern of questions, having offered this class with ten groups over the last three years. On the one hand, people ask “how-to” questions. They want detail. They value stories of application, both successes and failures. I continue to find that there are specific and practiced skills that are important to cultivate. I have a few versions of quite direct “just do this” and “just don’t do this.” I’m still learning to articulate all of that. And on the other hand, people ask what I would call “disposition” questions. They want to get something that is underneath the “how-to.”

I suppose I love both kinds of questions. However, I find that if “how-to” is dislocated from “disposition,” and the deeper premises, then the responses to how-to questions never seem to quite last. 

Here’s one of the deeper premises, for example, behind how to ask good questions. As “how-to” I would suggestions questions that are as simple, and short as possible. What is important in what we do today? What matters now? What are you learning (that influences who we are as a group)? These are all rich with potential.

As “disposition,” I would suggest that good questions are the ones that give individuals and the group a chance to reveal more of themselves, or itself, to each other. They provide opportunity and invitation to speak with honesty and vulnerability. It’s not a dare to share. It’s not juvenile bravado. Rather, these questions invoke and legitimize a deep longing to belong. When honesty is contributed to a center, or witnessed from a center, the health of the group and its people is generally strengthened. I would suggest that people hunger for honesty, and wisdom together — because we as humans are coded to be such. Societal pattern may block us in the simple practices of that. Or shame us. But that isn’t to be confused with a wrong or silly approach that invites more honesty. It is my observation that when people are given opportunity to be honest, and often in the container that is circle, they recognize and respond in more life-affirming ways with self and with each other.

There is gold in the details and the how-to. Let’s not forget that there is also gold in the disposition. When we change (or experiment) with who we are and what we think on the inside, it changes so much more of what we do and see on the outside.


Nuanced — In The Circle Way Agreements

One of the things that I most like about teaching / offering a 4-week class on The Circle Way, Nuancing The Components Wheel, is that it’s not just offering the nuances “out there” to others. It’s also getting very moved by nuance in my understanding and practice. So glad for Amanda Fenton, co-teacher and co-host for this one. So glad for the people that show up to the class — for their practice, learning, curiosity, and playful presence.

Some of that nuancing for me this time is with The Circle Way Agreements. I’m aware that “Agreements” is a term that requires some attention and doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. Is it “consensus?” Is it a “vote?” Is it “guidelines” for helpful and shared space holding? I’ve worked all of those layers before, depending on the setting. For this post, I’m not trying to sort through the process differences. I am sorting through some of the nuancing that is awakening in me from this class on offering nuances.

Ask for what you need: offer what you can. — My nuancing for this is, “Be willing to make visible what you need so that the group might adapt or adjust together, in the name of shared healthy tending. Offer what you can in support of the well-being of the group in such expressed needs.” This guideline isn’t a promise to fulfill every need. It’s not placing an order at a restaurant to be fulfilled with expediency. It’s invitation for shared tending.

Stories we share are confidential. — I’ve always felt that learning in a circle is and should be portable. Anonymized, of course. Or, carried with permission from the story teller, of course. Or universalized to principle rather than the story details. My nuancing here comes more from images. If I saw flowers growing in your garden, as much as I enjoy the flowers, I wouldn’t presume that its ok for me to dig them up and plant them in my garden. Stories, like flowers, belong in the story-garden of the person who shared them.

Listen with compassion and curiosity. — I love the invitation to be curious here. Lately, my nuancing has been to invite “curiosity” as a kind of connective tissue among us. When a compassionate curiosity is present, with others and with self, it’s like having good soil from which we can grow many good things in a shared garden. Compassion and curiosity are a kind of compost.

From time to time, we pause. — The nuancing for me is that “pause” is about welcoming silence as a participant. It’s about knowing that there will be moments of integration, when there are no words. It’s about everyone being able to request when pause is helpful. Pause is about orienting attention to the center and all that is moving in it (insights, questions, wonders, ahas, challenges). Pause is about honoring lots of kinds of knowing, and welcoming that in moments of silence.

So glad to be nuanced. It is one of the basic ways that I orient to the journey that is practicing circle, and for that matter, the journey that is life. So glad to be in nuancing with a community that wants to learn and offer such things. With agreements. And with a lot of other juicy bits.