|Fun 2006 dance movie, lots of sequels, |
no relationship to communication, but I couldn't resist!
I am fascinated by "group work." Amazing things come out of group projects, group discussion, group social gatherings, support groups, book groups, the list goes on. There is something really special that happens when we put our heads together. Hellen Keller said "Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much."
I am especially interested in the patterns of communication that happen in a group. No matter the topic or setting, there are two main types of group participants. There always seem to be participants who are the first to speak and to take up the most time and space with their opinions. And there are others who remain quiet, either speaking last, speaking briefly and quietly, or not at all. Then there are others who rest comfortably in the middle but usually tend to one side of this spectrum. The larger the group, the more unique individuals there are to navigate and the more polarized the extremes become. In life there are introverts and there are extroverts. There are linguistic thinkers and there are visuospatial or analytical thinkers. There are outgoing people and there are shy people. But when we are committed to a group's collective consciousness, every voice is important.
I recently found myself getting acquainted with a new (and super amazing) group of individuals as I embarked on my latest journey: Yoga Teacher Training Program at Inner Strength Studios. I am thrilled that these people are on the path with me. They are loving seekers and I can already tell I will learn so much from this community. But we each come to the table with old habits and patterns, some that serve us, some that don't, and some that served us in one moment but are no longer aligned with our highest purpose. Like any group, we have some who are outspoken and some who are more hesitant to speak.
People who know me are often surprised to learn that I tend toward the quiet, speak last side of the participant spectrum! But this absolutely showed up in my first group discussion experiences with my new community. Sitting on my yoga mat in a big circle discussion, I was reminded of a valuable tool taught in many Unitarian Universalist communities. "Step Up, Step Back." This is a guideline for group discussions that encourages individuals to be aware of their own tendencies and consciously do the opposite. Those who find it easy to speak might wait to make space for those for whom it is more difficult. And us quieter folks might go out on a limb and speak up.
At first I was irritated by all the vocal, confident speakers not making space for people like me to use their voices. But then, lightbulb moment, I remembered the other half of the tool: "step up." It is MY responsibility to use my voice even though it sometimes feels scary or vulnerable. As the weekend went on I got more practice with stepping up, and I worked on trusting that my insights and ideas were valuable to the group. Speaking up, and stepping up became a little easier. Although I am fine to know that this is a growing edge for me and I am not done yet.
Every voice counts. Every person arrives with their own unique set of experiences, strengths, and thoughts. Every opinion can inform the collective consciousness. When we allow for all voices to be heard, whether that is by stepping back to make space for them, or by stepping up to offer our own, the group wins.
What type of group participant are you? Where can you "step up" or "step back" in your life for the greatest good of your community and of yourself?