During this month’s Convening Circle Call, we had a special guest presentation by BJ and James from Inside Circle, an organization that works with the power of human connections through convening circles to transform communities that have experienced trauma and or violence. They recently came out with a new movie called The Work which we highly recommend you all seeing.

We wanted to share our experience working with Inside Circle and hearing them discuss how their methodology works. They’ve learned that when the emotional component is activated through the body, folks discover the hidden agendas that stop them from being as successful as they could be. Their methods allow for neurotransmitters to be released and can prompt people to be motivational and provide an incentive to take a risk to do what you need to do to be successful.

Inside Circle helped us to create a safe space virtually by using a check-in tool they use in their gatherings to help participants feel present and connected to one another called P.I.E.S. where participants share their names and then check in on how they are doing on Physical, Intellectual, Emotional (Happy, Sad, Angry, Afraid, Ashamed), and Spiritual (If you want to refer to a higher power, but it’s about what do you want?  Are you in alignment with your purpose and your mission and vision in your life?) planes.

For many of us, our Circles will not have a direct and explicit focus on emotional vulnerability and helping one another through a more traditional support system.  That said, the topics that many of our groups are grappling with from impact investing, to designing new SDG focused curriculum, to the challenges of being a young development professional – all have an emotional component to them.

Our hope was to explore techniques and insights from the transformative work of Inside Circle to see how we may more proactively address the emotional challenges raised by our Circles, and create safe trusted spaces that will better empower our participants to take action and make a difference.

We wanted to share some of the topics that came up in the debrief that you all can use in your convening circles either virtual or in-person:

The importance of giving permission to people to fully express their feelings

Sometimes when we get together, the purpose of the convening is to get things done, like a weekly team meeting, but if the purpose of the meeting is to get people to connect and open up with one another, stating that space is one of confidentiality, trust, and where emotions might arise and to just let them come is one way to set the tone. If you fail to verbally state and set the tone at the beginning of the circle,  some people might not feel like they have permission to fully express what they are feeling and will actually miss out on fully participate and share. This in turns keeps others in the group from fully experiencing their own emotions and feelings that could be brought up from others expressing fully and freely.

Creating the space and time for people to dive deeper

It can be a powerful tool to use space and time to capture some people’s feelings once everyone has shared or take time to be in the moment and to have an individual participant dive deeper into a stated feeling. As facilitators, it is our job to be present and make note of specific comments made by participants and push, if it feels right, participants to take certain thoughts deeper by asking clarifying questions. One of the examples during our circle was someone stating that they felt stuck and so we as facilitators might delve into are you being held down or pushed back?  What’s the energy that is responsible for the stuckness? If you are held down vs. pushed that is a set of data to help look towards solutions.

There is no right way to participate and share in a circle

Although it may seem intuitive, sometimes when we share, especially if we share earlier, emotions can be brought up by others’ sharing that we feel like we had more things we could have shared but didn’t come up in the moment. Inside Circle suggests that whatever comes up in your moment to share is what you are meant to share but to also keep in mind trying to be fully present as you share. As facilitators, we can also allow another round of sharing if there was something specific that came up for people as others shared to allow that space for people that felt like they didn’t share as fully as they might have wanted to in the beginning. Facilitators are also the key to making sure that not only the intellectual processes for expressing themselves but also the heart and the body. Oftentimes, when it is just “head engagement”, there are impediments, threats, and boundaries that are unspoken and don’t allow the participant to fully be present with what they are processing.  

Always get permission from participants before changing the level and depth of discomfort

It is important that participants know that the process they are going through is theirs and that they hold ownership over it, so if someone wants to leave the room, let them leave the room or if they want to go further, help push them to go further and deeper into their shared experience. As the facilitator, it is important to seek permission to speak before doing so as well from the very beginning. Creating that safe space with agreements is key to getting people to open up to their fullest expression. Inside Circle also uses Indigenous practices in their sessions that follow a cycle so that it mirrors a right of passage that many Indigenous communities practice:

  • You hear the call – and you willingly show up.
  • The Dissent which involves two steps:
    • Separation – there is a separation and stripping, that is where the vulnerability comes out.
    • Stripping –  this is the ordeal
  • The Ascent – The vision quest – I know where my resources lie to deal with the issue/problem.

We hope these insights from Inside Circle will help bring more depth to your virtual and in-person convening circles and if you would like to get in touch with BJ or James, please email sarah@conveners.org