We often aim for this when we are working with clients; assuming the table isn’t bolted to the floor and entwined with cables (an increasingly common occurrence). When we manage to set up a room in this way there is often some discomfort to start with, partly practical – where should I put my tea/laptop/book? And partly, well I’m not sure why, perhaps it just feels a bit vulnerable, or naked even? The early awkwardness is sometimes dispelled with the much-used 12-step invocation “Hello my name is Nick and I’ve been addicted to (insert vice of choice) for x years”, which more often than not breaks the ice.
I was thinking about this over the summer because I spent quite a bit of time in one of three circles and paid particular attention to the ebb and flow of the conversations, the way silence played a part and how a sort of unconscious connectedness took place.
Without boring you with too much detail, the circles looked as follows:
Probably worth noting that circle two was always round a fire, circle three was sometimes round a fire and circle one was mostly round a sort of display made up of a plant, some stones and a candle. I say this because when we work there is often nothing in the middle and when the conversation is tough I find myself often yearning for a fire in the middle to calm people down and tune people in. I’m not sure Facilities Management would be so keen!
What I have noticed
is something different in the nature and quality of the conversation when people are in this configuration. So I thought it might be worth exploring the attributes present that might be missing from some of our ‘normal’ work conversations and meetings.
The four attributes I came up with were:
It’s possible I’ve got a bit carried away here. I am currently working in a particularly First Nations part of Canada and am loving the idea of the powwow. I recognise that the context for normal business conversations can feel very different to those described here. And I understand that creating a helpful environment for good quality conversation is not always possible.
But I do believe there is something to be learned from the inherent wisdom of circles. We have so much of this in our collective past; how could we benefit from this right now?
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