Create a Mutually-Reinforcing Group Ritual
For over a decade in Lake Oswego, Oregon, eight women, including my college friend Jane, get of bed to meet at the same corner at 6 am for their rigorous one hour walk. Husbands, children, bosses all know that it is going to happen and to not get in the way. Sometimes they don’t even talk.
Over the years they’ve walk/talked about an embezzling business partner, son’s first girlfriend, unexpected job promotion and a sick, aging pet Labrador that must be put to sleep that day. Increasingly, over the years they’ve come to see this daily ritual as a stabilizing continuity in their lives. It took several years yet the rhythm of walking, looking around as they talk and the reliability of knowing they will meet each morning has enabled them to ease into increasing candor and caring for each other, and so can you with others.
When they ask for advice they know it will come from women who know them well and who will speak frankly. Contrary to the saying, “familiarity breeds contempt,” instead over time, in a safe group ritual, familiarity breeds acceptance and even reliance on each other.
Getting in Action Together Eventually Brings Us Closer
My former husband is in two poker groups that have been meeting in each other’s homes for over 25 years. The players are mostly lawyers. From upstairs I’d overhear snippets of conversation. In the early years, between poker hands, they’d mostly talk about their legal cases. Later one man got cancer, then another, one divorced, another became a judge. Over time there’s more conversation between hands. Some now fish together. Others share vacations and settled arguments between each other. They’ve been at each other’s birthday parties and attended funerals of three of their fellow players.
Reality is nothing but a collective hunch. ~ Lily Tomlin
It’s Never Too Late to Start Your Small Tribe
• Seeing how wrong I was about first impressions, after getting to know someone better, especially what really matter to them and why they got upset or happy.
• Discovering, first-hand how the same experience in the group can be seen and felt so differently by each person and recognizing that this happens all the time.
• Realizing that I learn more about myself from what I react against than from what I am attracted to.
• Recognizing that everyone has hot buttons that hold them back, no matter how confident and calm they appear; and it’s possible to create mutual support in mitigating their power over us.
• Learning how often we discount how much we can accomplish with our best talents; and concrete insights from those who know us well can be a guide to better using them.
• Gaining the rare opportunity to get candid, caring, confidential advice at crucial points in my life.
“Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.” ~ Oprah Winfrey
What Helps a Group Feel Closer?
1. Share One Thing in Common
That shared interest provides a safe place to start getting to know each other better. Jane’s walking group lived nearby, are all women and mothers. The poker groups were lawyers and, with one grand exception, all men. For the richest adventure and learning, then seek diverse individuals with backgrounds different than yours.
2. Make it a Priority to Meet Regularly
Group glue begins as we prove to each other that getting together is important and nothing proves that more than turning up.
3. Do Some Things the Same Way Every Time You Meet
Familiarity fosters trust. Jane’s walking group always walks the same route. The poker group host always provides the snacks and drinks.
4. Get in Motion Together
From the beat of our hearts to our gestures and rate of speaking, we literally get more in sync with each other when we are in motion together. That’s why people often agree on things more easily while walking down the hall to the meeting than while sitting in it. Consequently walking is more powerfully connecting than eating or playing a card game together yet any kind of shared motion builds closeness.
5. Affirm Your Appreciation of the Group
Set aside a time for each person to share what’s been most helpful about the group. Consider sharing this appreciation as an ongoing, private group diary in a google doc or an ongoing email to which each person adds something at regular intervals. Research show that the more actions taken on behalf of a belief the more deeply a person feels about it, speaks about it and will defend it.
Launch Your Year Off on an Up Note by Starting a Small Group
1. It is often easier on others in a group if best friends are not part of it. Instead consider including people who, while they share the group’s common interest, are only slightly acquainted. That way the group can begin as Consequential Strangers.
2. Seven members is the best small group size for individuals to get close, according to some research.
3. As you explore the idea of starting a group, consider inviting individuals to get together for some activity such as a meal, walk or attending an event.
4. If they seem to enjoy each other you might then ask them later, one at a time, if they’d like to get together again as a group. If they would (and this is the brave part) ask if they’d like to meet regularly for awhile and collectively get to know each other better.
5. If they do, in fact, share your interest then ask them to discuss how often and what regular time works best and how long they’d like to experiment with the get-togethers.
6. Be clear that, although you started the group, you do not seek to lead it. Instead you hope everyone can participate in co-creating the group. That might include agreeing on:
• The common interest that gets you started.
• Some simple ground rules such as confidentiality regarding what’s discussed in the group.
• A mutual support goal and/or specific ways each member would like to be supported. If you do it will probably change within six months as the group evolves.
• How you might include motion in the way you meet, such as walking and/or eating around a table together.
“Let’s just keep asking ourselves this question: ‘Is what I’m about to do strengthening the web of connections, or is it weakening it?’” ~ Margaret Wheatley
Hint: Your group does not have to have to be productive. It may simply be. It can take its own course, evolving with the samemembers, meeting in much the same way at regular times. In so doing, you may become close-knit and a vital and meaningful part of each other’s lives. That will be something to celebrate this time next year.
Also consider creating mutual support with these variations:
1. Mutual Mentoring
Partner with another person or form a small group where each person has something to teach the other(s). Agree on the way to mentor each other. For example, in a two-person mutual mentoring arrangement I have, we spend one session focused on my learning and the next session on his learning.
In my mutual mentoring group, we round robin the five-person discussion in a two-part format in each meeting: First each person briefly gives one tip related to their expertise, then one member gives a ten minute briefing on their expertise as it relates to the group’s interest in it, followed by an hour of Q and A.
2. Accountability Buddies
For your top goal for 2011, pick one person who shares that desire – or a different yet specific goal and get specific about:
• The small steps along the way to accomplish each person’s goal.
• How you will stay accountable to each other for taking those steps, such as daily by phone.
• What temptations or obligations might get in the way and what you will do to overcome them.
• How you will celebrate together when you each accomplish your goal.
3. Mutually-Managed Project Team
This follows the same approach as the small group except that it is formed to accomplish one specific task that reflects a sweet spot of strong shared interest by all members. Consequently, each member brings a specific talent to the group that is needed to accomplish the task, all members agree on who is to take the lead on what parts of the project and on a few rules of engagement regarding how they will work together.
Such mutually-managed project teams will grow in popularity for work and for personal and social interests so you may become sought-after as you gain experience in participating in them.
“Because I helped to wind the clock, I come to hear it strike.” ~William Butler Yeats
Here’s to a nourishing new year in spite of and because of the increasing complexity, uncertainty and connectedness of our world. I look forward to continuing to learn with and from so many of you as I have this past years. Also consider joining in on our Twitter conversation: @KareAnderson