“ERMIA” Updates

Melissa Weiksnar, a longtime member of an HBS forum in Boston,  suggests this occasional variation on members’ monthly updates.

Ask each member to share an “ERMIA” update”:  What did you Eliminate, Reduce, Maintain, Increase, or Add since our last meeting?  And how does this update make you feel?

This kind of update helps members focus on issues of balance – how are you spending your time, what have you changed recently, and what would you still like to change?   Items to be mentioned could relate to your business, personal, or family life.

Can we ever be fully free of judgment?

We know that forum works best when it is a judgment-free zone.  We speak from experience; we don’t tell others what to do.

But some situations are much harder than others.  Consider the case of two forum mates, “John” and “Mary”:

John, in full candor, shares something that he has done or some decision or choice he has made.

Mary feels strongly that what John did is wrong, bad, immoral, or unethical.

Even if Mary does not share her feelings out loud, is she still judging John negatively, and does Mary need to clear the air with John?

Or is Mary clean with John as long as she doesn’t verbalize her negative judgment of John?

I believe the answer to this case can be found in Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, the foundational text on judgment-free living and clearing the air.  Rosenberg makes the compelling case that, “when you’re busy judging people, you have no time to love them.”  In that spirit, Mary needs to clear the air with herself, not with John.  In that process, perhaps she can come to feel not “I judge John negatively because of what he did,” but instead, “I wouldn’t have done what John did, but I will not judge him.”  This can be our guiding mantra in forum (and in life), even if, as flawed human beings, it will be an ongoing struggle to be judgment-free.

Mary (and all of us) might further reflect:

  • Have I truly tried to understand what John did? Under what conditions would I do have done what he did? What would have to happen in my life to do exactly what he did?
  • If I see something in John that I don’t like, is this in any way an aspect of something I don’t like in myself?

A further complicating dimension: What if, in Mary’s view, what John did was not only wrong, but illegal?

While it’s simpler to paint the world in black and white, illegal acts can range across a spectrum from running a traffic light to petty shoplifting to embezzlement to first degree murder.  In general, our role in forum is to be an active listener, to ask thought provoking questions, and to share our experiences.  We are not to act as prosecutor, judge and jury.

However, I make one exception to this philosophy: If John has physically harmed another, or announces his intention to physically harm another (or himself), Mary (and others in the forum) are obligated to do something.  That means, depending on the situation, helping John get the professional mental health support he needs, and/or bringing the issue to the attention of appropriate public safety authorities.

Has your forum ever confronted situations like this?  How have you dealt with them? And how can we enhance our forum experiences by sharing best practices in these most complicated cases?  Please share your thoughts.

A forum #METOO exercise

It is sometimes said that sex and intimacy are the final frontiers of forum.  When forums are willing to share deeply about topics like these, they have reached a level of trust and vulnerability that leads to transformational value.

An exercise focused on issues raised by the #METOO movement, can be one part of these conversations.

The hashtag #METOO is about the phenomenon of people (usually men) in the position of hiring, mentoring, supervising, and/or opening doors for women, and using that as leverage for requiring, suggesting, or demanding a sexual relationship as either an explicit or implicit quid pro quo. The discussion can be broadened to include any type of sexual harassment, gender bias, or sexism in the workplace.

Advance reading (5 minutes)

To encourage deeper sharing, meet first in small groups of 2, 3 or 4 members (Optional: Men and women members of the forum meet separately.) (30 minutes)

When the #METOO story broke, what came up for you? How did you feel? What in your personal life experience did it bring up for you? How have you personally been part of a “#METOO” moment or a possible #METOO moment as a participant or a bystander or an upstander, and how did you feel then? And how do you reflect back and feel now about that story?

The full forum reconvenes (30 minutes)

Confidentiality ground rule: Each of us is allowed to share only our own stories with the full forum, not the stories told by others in our small group meetings.

What thoughts and feelings did the sharing bring up for you?  What was it like to talk about this?  What further thoughts you are having now? What did you share in your small group that you might want to share now?

Possible additional prompts/questions:

  • What was your business school/college/high school experience like as it relates to #METOO?
  • What recent or long past experiences are you now reminded of? Why? How does that make you feel?
  • How do you feel differently from the other people in the forum regarding this issue?
  • How are you resonating with this conversation? What other memories/experiences are being triggered for you? How does that make you feel?

Bob Halperin and Barbara Deck

Exploring spirituality and religion in forum

Our religious and spiritual beliefs and practices can be a powerful theme to explore in forum.  One way to do so is as follows:

  • Invite each member to take about 5 minutes each to answer these questions:
    • The religious/spiritual background of my family of origin was…
    • As an adult, I still believe/practice the following…. I no longer….
    • (Optional, if relevant) My spouse’s religious/spiritual background was…. He/she still believes/practices the following….  He/she no longer….
    • My (or my family’s) current approach to religion and spirituality is working/is not working for me in the following ways…. And here’s how a feel about that….
  • After all have shared this background, members are invited to respond and resonate with each other, sharing what moved them, the emotion they felt, and what new memories or experiences came up for them.
  • At the end, go around the circle and each member shares a new insight, perspective, or question they are taking away from the conversation.

No problem is being solved, but important experiences and feelings are shared, helping all members get to a deeper level of self-awareness on this important topic.

Note: Members may appreciate knowing about this exercise and having the opportunity to prepare in advance.

The many alternatives to a standard four-hour meeting

Many forums standardize on one four-hour meeting monthly plus an annual retreat.  However, there are many ways to mix it up, to accommodate individual scheduling needs, and to build richer connections between members.  Some options to consider on an occasional or regular basis:

  • Try a shorter meeting between 2-3.5 hours, either because that’s what works one month or because your forum is smaller and less time is needed.
  • If you regularly have shorter meetings, consider adding a 30-minute check-in/quick update call between monthly meetings.
  • Once or twice a year, shorten the meeting to about 2.5 hours (time for updates and one presentation), and then go out to dinner or cater the meal in to a member’s conference room or home.
  • Plan a 5-6 hour mini-retreat, with or without a professional facilitator.
  • In the summer, rent a boat (or find a friend who has one). Go on a 2-3 hour cruise, including extended updates only, then socializing.
  • Plan a holiday dinner with spouses or a summer picnic with kids to get to know each other’s families.
  • Don’t limit connections to forum meetings. Meet one-on-one, either as part of the coaching process, as a follow-up to someone’s presentation, or to discuss shared personal or professional interests.
  • When requested by a member with an urgent issue, schedule an emergency meeting. Such sessions have only one agenda item – a presentation of the member’s urgent issue. The meeting usually lasts an hour or less and may be held via conference or video call.  Because the meeting is not on the regular calendar, absences don’t affect member attendance statistics.

The power of pairs: A new approach to your presentation parking lot

Forums sometimes struggle with the process and effort of generating a rich parking lot of possible presentation topics. If you want to almost guarantee a great list of options, try this method at your next meeting.

  • Before updates, randomly pair members up and announce the pairings. (Have a trio in addition to the pairs if you have an odd number in attendance.)
  • To prepare updates, members can use the standard update form, but also ask them to consider these questions:
    • Great questions that lead to great updates
    • And before members share their updates, ask them to consider how they would complete one of these sentences:
      • “The one thing I don’t want to share with my Forum is…”
        or
      • “The one thing I have not yet shared with my Forum is…”
  • When members are sharing their updates, everyone listens carefully, but we pay particular attention to the update of the person we have been paired with. Proceed through updates without any interruptions or questions.
  • Immediately after updates, meet separately in your pairs (or trio) for 10-15 minutes to help each other reflect on and define the most significant, deep issue or two on which each of you would like to hear the group’s experience.  Consider in your conversation what you heard today, but also issues that your partner has mentioned in the past.
  • Come back together and each member reports out the issue(s) they have identified for possible presentation.  Someone should scribe all of these topics on a white board or in a notebook.

This should generate a great list of at least one topic per member for presentation either that day or in the future.

Possible conflicts: Can I be in forum with this person?

Your forum is considering adding a new member, and one current member is concerned about a potential candidate, saying some variation of:

  • We have close mutual friends.
  • Our spouses are close friends.
  • The CFO of my company is a good friend of this person.
  • This potential forum mate had a close, longstanding relationship with one of my co-founders and their spouse.
  • We were in the same MBA class, executive education program, or section at business school.

In situations like this, it’s important to be fully transparent about any potential conflicts of interest.  The key question: Can I be open and honest about all aspects of my life with this possible new member?

Additional clarifying questions:  What is the exact nature of the relationship?  How close is it in practice?  Is there regular contact/communication? (Sometimes people say they are “close” but rarely see each other.)

Keep in mind that in YPO, members and their spouses are usually each in a forum, are friendly with many other members and spouses, and see each other regularly at monthly chapter meetings.  There are many close relations, but forum confidentiality is still fully respected.  Everyone keeps in mind the clear boundaries between what is said in forum and what is shared in other settings to avoid violating forum confidentiality.

In summary, there is no simple answer – neither an automatic rejection, nor a blind acceptance of the new member.  The nuances of each case must be carefully considered.