Powerful Endings: What am I taking away from today’s meeting?

No matter who started the conversation, no matter whose issue was explored in depth, we can all take something of value away from each meeting.  By allocating a specific time at the end of the meeting to share takeaways, we encourage greater self-reflection. And as I hear what you took away, I may agree, may take away a different point, or may be sparked to consider a new approach.  Possible takeaways may be in any of these categories:

Question: I wonder why? What if? How come? Would I…?  Can I…?

Appreciation: I want to express gratitude to a fellow forum member or to someone else in my life.  I will do that before the next forum meeting!

Issue: I need to pursue, explore, gain a greater understanding of X, so I can do a better job of Y.

Perspective: Wow! That’s a new angle, a whole new way to think about my problem or opportunity.

Insight: I can now more keenly see the true nature of my situation, because….

Idea: A new conviction, conception, opinion, principle, or framework is forming in my mind!

Connection: I need to make a note to reach out to person A to pursue….  Or maybe a forum mate can introduce me to person B?

Intention: I have a new goal, purpose, or objective in mind.  I need to flesh this out further.

Action: I have a new S.M.A.R.T. goal, one that is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-framed.  Shall I tell my forum mates about this goal, so they can serve as my accountability witnesses?

What’s Next? Transitioning from all-virtual forum meetings to the new “normal”

Our forums have been meeting virtually for months now.  We’re gotten used to Zoom. We’ve adjusted our meeting frequency, length and agenda to accommodate the opportunities and challenges of this new format. Now we are beginning to ask: What’s next?  Are we ever going back to the old “normal” of monthly meetings, 3-4 hours in length, and always in person; or will there be a new “normal” for our forum?

How and when will we have our first in-person meeting?

People are hungering for in-person gatherings, but still many are afraid.  Given these mixed emotions, it’s important to clarify upfront the lowest common denominator of safety requirements so that people are feeling their safety will be respected should they decide to meet in person. Specific dimensions to consider include:

  • Should we start with a shorter meeting, perhaps two hours long, to begin getting comfortable with the idea?
  • What venue is acceptable?  Outdoors, in the backyard of a member’s home; or inside in a room that is large enough for socially distant seating? How will members be assured that great care is taken in all areas of hygiene?
  • If the plan is to meet outside, but it starts raining, will we end the meeting and go home?  If we scramble and run indoors, will that lead to someone’s discomfort?
  • Will everyone always wear masks or only when social distancing is not possible?
  • Do we bring our own food/drinks to minimize close-up contact, or will we take turns going to grab a drink or snack so as not to crowd anyone?
  • Should we provide a Zoom back-up option in case the weather doesn’t cooperate, or if the forum decides to revert to a virtual format due to last-minute changes in the health status of individual members or surging local virus rates?

What if some members are not ready or able to meet in-person?

It’s generally considered best practice for everyone to be in the same room, or for all to be virtual. That way, all members participate with equal standing.

However, your forum may reach a point where all except one or two members are willing to try an in-person meeting. We listen carefully and respect the needs of all members.  Perhaps some have their own compromised health situations or are caring for family members who need to be protected.

With the blessing of those who choose to stay virtual, the forum may gather in person with one or two members still on Zoom.  Each remote participant gets their own separate laptop/screen. If using Zoom, pin the video for one remote user on each computer.  Put the computers at different places around the room to give remote participants the best possible view of everyone who is physically present.  Follow these best practices for the optimal experience.

What if some members are no longer in your local area?

COVID has disrupted everyone’s lives and some members may have relocated during the pandemic.  As long as all meetings are virtual, it doesn’t matter.  We don’t care where you are calling from, as long as you continue to participate reliably.

If your forum resumes in-person meetings, those who are temporarily out of the area can continue to participate via Zoom, if the forum allows that.  Those who have relocated for a longer, indeterminate period present a bigger challenge.  They may also continue to participate virtually for an agreed number of months, while they seek to join another forum; they may take a sabbatical; or they may resign, with our deep appreciation for their time in the forum.

Longer term, would a hybrid of in-person and virtual meetings work best for our forum?

Some forums, now comfortable with virtual meetings, may experiment with a mixed mode of sometimes all-together, and sometimes on Zoom.  The frequency, length and format of meetings will vary depending on multiple factors:

  • The number of members who are no longer in the local area, but who can return occasionally
  • Commuting times to get to meetings or frequency of member travel out of the area
  • Planned agendas, with some topics working well remotely and others better addressed in-person

We’re all figuring this out as we go, and open, honest conversation and respectful listening will help get us through this transition.

Thank you to Mo Fathelbab and Roni Witkin for their suggestions regarding this blog post.  All opinions are my own.

Guiding principles to discuss race (and other potentially contentious issues) in forum

Discussions in forum about larger societal issues, such as race, racial identity, or race relations, have the potential to derail and to cause hurt feelings and a sense of being judged negatively. 

Before beginning such conversations, ask all members to review and agree to a set of guiding principles.  These eight principles (adapted and summarized from the Daring Discussions Toolkit) provide an excellent starting point.

Ground yourself in love.  Many social problems stem from our willingness to turn people into the “other” and deny their basic humanity. Holding onto hate hurts us deeply while love drives us to invest our time and energy.in each other in a more productive way, raising the level of relationship between us. 

Strength is compassion & vulnerability.  When we think of strength, we often think of toughness and inflexibility.  However, it takes bravery to be vulnerable and great strength to be compassionate rather than judgmental.

Suspend your first judgment.  When we judge each other, we shut down our power to listen to what others are saying.  Be aware of the impulse towards judgment and advocacy; then take a moment to breathe deeply.

Seek clarification before jumping to conclusions.  Assume others in the forum have good intentions and want to find common ground.  Rather than launching into a response based on judgment, or what you “think” another member meant, ask open-ended questions.

Be honest about your experiences.  Focus on sharing your direct personal experiences, as opposed to stories you’ve heard in the news or through other people.  This is the heart of forum: sharing as deeply and truthfully as you are able will help others feel empowered to do the same.

Be unconditionally accepting.  It is possible to both accept someone and disagree with them at the same time.  The goal is not to “win” a debate, but to find common ground, to see our own blind spots in new way, and to be enriched by the perspectives of others.

Reflective & intuitive listening.  Listen patiently and quietly, then reflect back before sharing what’s on your mind.  “I hear you saying that….” “I appreciate you sharing with me that….”

Be aware of the privilege you hold in the conversation.  Privileges we hold may be exactly those things of which we are least aware.  We can simultaneously hold some kinds of privilege or relative power, while experiencing some form of oppression as well.  Being aware of the privilege you hold is an important part of creating space in forum for others to share difficult and vulnerable truths about their experience.