I recently read a wonderful book – The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters. Truly it has been a long time since I underlined and wrote notes in the margins of a book, and I did this extensively for this book. Ellen Gelinas, a Glasser colleague recommended the book and she is a great resource for books. I was especially interested because it focusses on something central to all of Dr. Glasser’s work – relationship-ing. The author, Priya Parker, writes beautifully and personally, sharing story after story of her experiences of both successful and unsuccessful gatherings. As a presenter, trainer and fairly social person I wondered what I could learn from her. The answer: A Lot!
Whether it is Mother’s day or Father’s day, a family barbecue, a business meeting or a baby shower Priya says EVERY gathering can be enriched if you focus on WHY you are really gathering.
We often think we KNOW why we are gathering it’s clear: it’s a board meeting, a baby shower, a monthly book club gathering… but she encourages looking deeper. For example, does your meeting really accomplish all that it could in terms of connection, vision and productivity?
What’s the deepest and most meaningful reason for gathering?
Next she focuses on hosting and boy did I see myself in her examples of NOT hosting well. Many of us are shy of really standing up and hosting well. We don’t want to impose on people so we greet them, tell them about drinks, food or logistics and then we step back emotionally, metaphorically leaving them on their own to manage.
A good host carries the ball all the way to the end, including managing the “know it all” or person who goes off in a crazy direction. Because you are the host no one else is likely to feel it’s their place to intervene and so you leave your guests “hostage” to one person.
I could go on and on about how to start a gathering well, which most of us don’t bye the way, we start with logistics which is all wrong according to Priya. She even puts a spotlight on how the space can make a huge difference. I’ll end this blog with a really valuable piece of advice she offers: If you want your guests/colleagues or friends to open up YOU have to lead. You have to share something that says “It’s safe to be more open, more vulnerable and I am going to go first and I’ll stay in the lead to guide the process well”.
A few more notes for those who like details:
Priya’s Goals: Put the right People, in the right Space and help them think, dream, challenge, trust and connect for a larger purpose. Help people connect more deeply on what matters and inspires
⦁ Establish the WHY of the gathering FIRST! No matter what type of gathering or how many times it has happened, consider revisiting WHY you are really gathering. Drill deeply, it will influence what you do:
⦁ Is it to build a tribe?
⦁ Make connections?
⦁ Help people move from a “should” to a “could” perspective (“should” often breed hurt disappointment, shame, guilt)?
⦁ Have a Disputable Purpose – this will help filter out who wants attend, and set criteria for decisions etc. Eg. “Consumption is robbing us of our future” Not everyone will agree with this statement and the title will help people decide if they want to engage on the topic.
⦁ There is power in displacement, getting people out of their comfort zone. Breaking routines or habits
can elevate a meeting/conversation or gathering to a higher level.
Hosting: I loved this Zulu greeting that Priya shared: “Sawubona” I see you “Ngikhona” I am here
⦁ Optimize being the host! You are in charge so savour it, be a wonderful host, starting with the welcome when people arrive. Be the depth and sincerity you want from them!
⦁ Stand in your right to be a host, this is no time for shyness or modesty Priya says, it confuses people
⦁ Don’t abandon your role part way through the evening or gathering… if you do, you abandon your guests
⦁ If you need to step out of role for a few minutes assign the roles to others eg. time keeper
⦁ Protect your guests from a negative vibe or “know-it-alls
⦁ Chill doesn’t work and isn’t cool – be courageous
⦁ Connect people and think about shifting the balance of connections from host=guest to guest=guest
⦁ Do your homework on your guests if introductions are needed. Off the cuff will not serve!
⦁ Create safety, as much as you can, by having clear rules and sticking to the rules you set!!!
Themes and Space:
If the theme is caring think about how you would set the stage for people to be caring off the top. Plan your questions/activities to build caring etc. If you want deep and meaningful conversation then the invitation needs to convey this.
Does the space support/enhance your theme? A poor setting will unconsciously set up a certain dynamic. Sometimes an unexpected venue will be the perfect choice.
Process: “A talented gatherer doesn’t hope people will become a group, she makes them a group”
Did you know people pay most attention to the first 10% of the gathering, last 10%, plus one highlight in the middle? Don’t waste the beginning when people are really focussed, with logistics. Set the tone, share the purpose, and why “they” in particular are there. Do this with as much passion as possible.
Good Controversy and Endings: If you want a great discussion you need to set ground rules so that it really is productive and not just a free for all. As far as endings are concerned most people are poor at this too! We need to really think about how you want to end a gathering. Do you want people to just leave when they are tired, do you want a firm finish? There are no set rules, only what will serve your process best.
“May Your Gatherings be Richer and More Meaningful”