Tips for Small Group Facilitators

A group facilitator can make or break a gathering.  We’ve all been in a group where the facilitator thought she was the teacher and talked ad nauseam, and we’ve also been witness to the run-away train where they take such a back-seat role that the conversation just blows with the wind.

But hopefully we’ve also been in groups where we feel supported, guided, and nurtured as part of one big awesome conversation. There are few events more powerful and energizing than being in a group of women engaged in deep conversation and connection!

Getting together with women to share and connect can sometimes be easier and more fun with a book as our excuse!

Getting together with women to share and connect can sometimes be easier and more fun with a book as our excuse!

To that end, when I wrote up a book club guide (which we loving refer to as BookCircles) for my newest book Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness I also included some tips for anyone who wants to host one.

If you feel so inspired–be sure to download the Frientimacy gift pack on my website which not only walks you through 1-4 evenings of connecting but also guides you in figuring out who to invite and how to plan. The only thing better than inviting a group of women over to connect with each other is also having them talk and learn about friendship at the same time!

Tips for Facilitating:

Whether you’re leading a BookCircle for Frientimacy or find yourself hosting a gathering or circle some other time, may these tips inspire you to remember what matters most.

  • Your Focus: Always remember that the focus isn’t to impress those who come or to have a “perfect” party; but rather it is to help facilitate love and connection. I always say a prayer before everyone arrives “Help everyone who comes through that door to feel loved and seen.” Exhale any worry about how others perceive you and instead focus on making sure everyone leaves feeling your warmth. People won’t remember what was said or how you looked—they’ll remember how they felt.
  • Timing: I think it’s respectful to start and end on time so I always plan out my evening starting from the end time. If I want to end by x time then I to be starting the goodbyes and announcements 7 minutes before then, which means asking the final question, 10 minutes before that, etc. I write in little suggested times throughout my itinerary so that at any given point I can quickly assess if I have extra time or am short on time—allowing me to make decisions about what to prioritize with the given time. Similarly, we need to think through how much time we want to allot for certain sections: For example, if you have 6 women all introducing themselves for 3 min each then it will take about 20 minutes to do introductions. Do you need to model a shorter introduction so it only takes 15 minutes?
  • Modeling: Our role as facilitators is not to teach and monopolize the conversation but to help facilitate everyone else’s sharing. Many people process the concepts as they talk and listen so we want to encourage the diversity of sharing from as many voices as possible. However, when it comes to going around the circle, I always share first to buy everyone time to think and to model vulnerability and timing. We want to keep our answer as short as we want everyone else’s to be. We also want to answer with as much authenticity as possible as that gives permission to everyone else to answer with honesty as well. We are setting the tone: what you put out is what will get duplicated.
  • Format Variety: You’ll notice I mix up many different ways of facilitating, including: group discussion where anyone can talk or not, go around the circle where each person shares once, partners where two people share with each other, and small groups where the group is split into 2 or more smaller groups. This helps ensure that the talkative people don’t monopolize the evening and that everyone gets chances to share and talk, it keeps everyone more engaged and prevents boredom, and helps people bond with different people. Follow my suggestions or experiment on your own as timing limitations and group personalities inspire you.
  • Beginning and Ending: It’s important to begin and end every group with circle sharing—everyone going around the circle to check-in and be seen. Be diligent about starting and ending well—with warmth, vision, and an invitation for everyone to enter and exit the circle with love and grace. The questions can change depending on the event or how well everyone knows each other– but they can be as simple as “What interested you most about coming tonight?” as a way of each person introducing themselves; and ending with a version of “What is one thing you’re taking away with you tonight?”
  • Names: Nothing worse for bonding than not remembering each others names. Erase any fear anyone might have of not remembering someone’s names by always reminding women to state their name when they talk if there is any chance that someone in the group may not remember or know everyone. I’d rather error on the side of saying names one too many times, than not enough times. When people are nervous it’s harder for them to recall names. Consider using name tags every week if it’s a group of people who haven’t all met before.
  • Responding to Sharing: One pitfall of many groups is that they chase rabbits—one thought reminds someone of a story which triggers someone else to remember what they read once which gets someone else going on a rant. What we want to do is try to keep the focus on whoever’s turn it is to talk (gently give the floor back to them if/after someone hijacks it—i.e. “Danielle… was there anything else you wanted to say about what you were sharing?) and try to keep the sharing on the question at hand (i.e. “oh that sounds so interesting… but in trying to answer this question specifically, what would you say?”). I implement a “thank you for sharing” rule in most of my groups which means we are mindful that our collective jobs aren’t to give advice, interrupt, or recall stories after someone’s share but rather we all say “Thank you for sharing!” before going to the next person so we can acknowledge we heard them without having to respond to all the details they shared. (Especially helpful in a “go around the circle” or “partner” format.)
  • Affirming: One of the best gifts we can give is affirming our guests through the evening—reminding them we value them and see them. It can be as easy as saying “oh great thought!” after they share or as intentional as telling them what we appreciated about their involvement before they leave.
  • Logistics and Roles: One of the most important roles we play as a facilitator is providing the container for the experience. The container includes overseeing logistics—location, reminders, clear instructions, etc. But it doesn’t mean we have to do everything—provide food/drink or facilitate every time. It just means we’ll make sure it happens. In fact, attendance is improved when people have a role—even if it’s just to bring napkins. We are more likely to show up if we think our presence will be missed; so more important than impressing everyone with doing it all is often our willingness to let go and let others. Maybe see if anyone else wants to facilitate different weeks (and share this guide with them!) or have everyone volunteer to bring different food items, or be in charge of different tasks (posting photos, starting a Facebook group page, or sending out reminders).

And I welcome you adding to the list by suggesting other tips that matter to you either as the facilitator or as one of the attendees– what do you most appreciate?

May we continue to find ourselves gathered in meaningful ways….

Posted in Books & Movies, Group Friendships, How To? | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

A Practice for “I Don’t Have Time for Friends”

Lack of time for friendships is easily one of the most common complaints when it comes to doing what we know would develop our friendships toward greater fulfillment.  We know that time together bonds us, but where does one find that time?

Plus, it’s a bit of a vicious cycle because the less time we make, the less fulfilling the time together can feel.  Which then undoubtedly leaves us even less motivated to make time again at future dates. We find ourselves musing, “Is going out with her occasionally to just catch up on life worth leaving _____________ (fill in the blank with work, kids, romantic person of interest, or whatever feels more compelling) and we can easily drift apart from someone not because we don’t like them, but because we don’t spend enough time together to feel really connected to them.

Our lives are crazy busy– there’s not denying that most people feel that way.  And if not busy, then at least full of our routines and responsibilities, which to step away from can feel challenging.

An Ancient Practice Called Sabbath

Enter the practice of Sabbath.

The practice of Sabbath is an ancient spiritual tradition of carving out one day a week to focus on that which is most important to human restoration.  For me, my Sabbath is filled with spaciousness–it’s a day where only that which really matters is welcome: family, friends, long conversations, beautiful walks in nature, amazing food, spiritual growth, and acts of service.  It’s one day a week where I get off the hamster wheel.

The word literally means “to cease or desist” so for thousands of years people have chosen to stop doing what they do every day: chores, work, errands, consumerism, to-do lists, TV,

Sit Long, Talk Much, Laugh Often.

My favorite times in the world are Friday nights when candles are lit, soup is on the stove, and close friends and family come together to obey the words that lead into our living room: “Sit Long, Talk Much, Laugh Often.”

packed schedules, and rushed meals, in order to make time for that which feeds their souls. It’s a practice that reminds me that I don’t have to do in order to be be; that my worth doesn’t come from what I accomplish; and that my value isn’t connected to what I buy and own.  I rest from trying to “get ahead.” I remind myself I’m good enough without needing to go buy more things.  I step away from stress and let my body restore itself.

More and more people are practicing mini-Sabbath’s– blocks of time where they engage in restorative acts, or practicing variations like “No Technology Sabbaths.”  I practice, similar to Jews, a Sabbath from sundown Friday night to sundown Saturday night– a full 24-hours of bliss at the end of my workweek.

The Invitation to Re-Orient Your Life

The invitation to step away from our emails, our productivity, and our household chores might sound nearly impossible for many of us.  But just because we live in a culture that runs on consumerism and productivity, doesn’t mean it’s the best way to live.

In fact, the more I researched the value of relationships in preparation for my new book Frientimacy, the more sad I felt that we don’t live in a world that is oriented to that which we most need: love.  A few more hours of work hasn’t made anyone healthier and a few more thousand dollars hasn’t made most people happier, but the loss of time for relationships most certainly has made us less healthy and far less happy. Gone is the feeling that we can linger over long conversations, sit on our porches and talk to neighbors, or gather in our tribes every week.  We are strewn across this country, far too lonely, and missing deep and meaningful connection. It can break my heart if I think about it too long.

So for me, I can’t snap my fingers and change the world we live in, unfortunately. If I could, I’d make sure we had more vacation days (and actually took them), longer hours to sleep, slower mornings for centering ourselves, spacious evenings with friends and loved ones, and weekends filled with laughter and amazing food. My tendency, if left unchecked, is toward being a workaholic, and yet I know that more work isn’t the answer to feeling valuable. Being in connection with others is the only way to really know we’re loved and feel seen and valued.  I know that.

So, for me, my Sabbaths are when I remember that truth.  I step away… in order to step in to something that matters more.  I can’t reorient our entire culture (but God help me I’ll keep trying! ha!) but we can each practice re-orienting ourselves toward that which matters most.  We can choose to let love and relationship be our focus.  We may not be able to do it all the time, but maybe we can do it one day a week?

Because you’re right– we don’t have time for our friendships the way we’re doing life now.  So we have to decide if we’re okay with that.  And if we’re not, then we have to stop doing something in order to make time for something that matters even more.  We can’t just say yes to more love, without also saying no to something else.

For me– a day dedicated to that which I most value helps ground me, heal my body,  re-focus me on my priorities, and remind me why I do what I do the other 6 days of the week.  What can you do that would help give you the space and time for your friendships? If you were to try it, what could a Sabbath practice look like for you?

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Announcement: Inviting You to My Sabbath Practice!

You are invited to join me for 7 Sabbaths in a row where I will teach and inspire toward deeper friendships for one hour.  I typically don’t work on Saturdays but I feel compelled to foster the space for us to spend an hour together reminding ourselves of how significant love is to our lives and what we can do to develop greater intimacy around us. The calls will be recorded so if you can’t join us on Saturdays, then you can listen anytime in the week that’s convenient to you!  Join me for 42 Days of Frientimacy!

42 days of frientimacy

Posted in Career & Work, Consistency, Health, How To?, Personal Growth/Spirituality, Practical Ideas | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How much do you REALLY want good friends?

Rare is the person who will say “I don’t want more from my friendships.”

Whether that “more” means making new friends, feeling more fulfilled with their current friends, or feeling like they have the time to enjoy those friends– most of us want more.

And yet… unfortunately all to rare, too, is the person willing to really do something about it.

Unfortunately, the actual process of making friends includes activities and feelings most of us would rather avoid:

  • putting ourselves in situations to meet people (and, unfortunately TV characters don’t count)
  • small talk with strangers (every friend starts out as one!)
  • initiating a get-together (why can’t they just appear on our door when we have time?!)
  • annoying logistics (back and forth emails, anyone?)
  • feeling our insecurities (what will I say? what if I look nervous? what if I’m too shy?)
  • fearing rejection (they probably won’t like me… they probably don’t need new friends… they probably won’t make time for me)
  • believing the future can be different from the past (ever been betrayed? ever felt de-valued? ever felt like nothing works?)

The very process of making friends quite different from the outcome we hope to experience.

What we want to feel is supported, loved, seen, known, and valued.  What it takes to get there sometimes is awkwardness, small talk, exhaustion, insecurities, and uncertainty.

What we want is intimacy; what we have to start with are introductions.

What we want is familiar; what we have to start with is foreign.

What we want is a best friend; what we have to start with is a new friend.

His Question: Are you willing to suffer for what you want?

A blog post written by a guy named Mark Manson in 2013 is now making it’s rounds on Facebook (I had two separate friends send me the article this week!) where he challenges his readers: are you willing to suffer a process for the outcome you desire?

He argues it’s the most important question you can ask yourself.  Reminding us that we all want pretty similar things in life: healthy bodies, amazing relationships, meaningful work, abundant money, and realized dreams, but we’re not all willing to suffer the process that comes with those things.

Here are some examples, besides the friendship one I started with:

  • In the book writing world, it’s said that 81% of Americans say that they want to write a book– but only a small fraction do.  Understandably… since it’s a long road of time and emotion.
  • Most Americans want to be thinner or healthier… but not all of us are willing to go sweat or say no to our pleasures in order to achieve it.
  • Mark said he wanted to be a rock star, but he wasn’t really willing to play small gigs, haul his music gear, and round-up a band. It’s a lot of work!

He says, “I wanted the reward and not the struggle. I wanted the result and not the process. I was in love not with the fight but only the victory. And life doesn’t work that way.”

My Answer: The Price Tag

I agree with him that we do in fact need to ask ourselves what we’re willing to give toward the outcomes we desire…

But, and this is a big but: our ultimate goal isn’t to suffer as much as it’s to invest in what we say matters to us.

The metaphor I often use with myself is that of a price tag:  How much am I willing to pay for this?  Which has to be asked with the question: how much do I value this?

price of friendships

What “price” are you willing to pay for more meaningful friendships in your life this year?

When we go shopping– we have choices.  We can buy the used, beat-up, 10-year old car for $2500… or we can buy the newest one that boasts a few more zeroes on the price tag.

Which one is the right choice? It depends on what you think you’re buying, how much it matters to you, what you most value/prioritize, how many resources you have, and what other things you need to buy with what you have.

Sometimes the “cheaper” option is the right choice and sometimes it’s not.  Sometimes the higher price tagged item is the one we choose because we value what we’re getting with that extra cost.

We all have things in our lives we’re willing to “pay the higher price” for… we do that because we believe the outcome is worth the cost.  We pay more for what we value.

So the goal isn’t just to be pay the cheapest price for everything, nor is it to pay the highest price for everything we say we want; the goal is to make sure that we invest our resources in the areas that we say matter the most.  That may mean, since we have limited resources, we have to “spend less” in some areas in order to “afford more” in other areas.

What Price Tag is Worth Friendship to You?

I invite you to really ask yourself this year:

  1. How much do I really want more in my friendships this year?
  2. How important is that outcome to me? How valuable is it?
  3. What price tag or investment am I willing to make for that outcome?
  4. Do the two–the value and the price– match? (Does the value and price feel fair or am I hoping for “a new car” while only willing to pay for “a used one”?)

The goal, of course, isn’t to “suffer” but rather to know that what we’re investing in is worth the outcome to us.

If experiencing more in your friendships is important to you… what might be some of the “costs” (see list at top of post for some ideas!) that you think would be the best investments you’re willing and able to make toward that outcome?

My prayer for you: that you reach your friendships goals and say “it was worth every cent.”

Posted in Difficulty & Challenges, Importance of Friendship, Making Friends | Tagged , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

The 10 Most Popular Friendship Articles of 2015

Every year I round-up my top ten articles from the year and share them once more!  Many of you joined us half-way through the year, missed a post here-or-there, and or may just want to re-read some of the best ones to see how they resonate with you now.

I didn’t blog this last year as much as I have in previous years (in part to writing a book most of this year–Frientimacy comes out March 1, 2016!) and I missed it.  I love interacting with all of you in this way!  So huge thanks to you for all your comments and questions and I look forward to writing more in the year ahead!

Here are the Top Ten:

1.  To My Non-Posting Friends on Facebook

I riled up a few of you with my unconventional post encouraging more Facebook updates!  But so many of you wrote me confessing that you so enjoy reading others that it makes sense you might want to post a bit more, too!  In this post I tackle some of the most common excuses for not post on Facebook.

2. Ten Steps to Starting Friendships

While my upcoming book Frientimacy is all about how to deepen our friendships, for many of us we need to first be meeting potential friends and gathering up people to befriend.  If meeting people is on your to-do list then here’s a quick list of my best advice for creating new friendships!

3.The Friendship Formula

Is there a formula to love? Yes indeed there is! We know what bonds people and what behaviors help two people feel close to each other!  I’ve since built this model out but it’s still pertinent and helpful even with the two required ingredients I list.  Are you doing these two things?

4. I Almost Unfriended Someone on Facebook Yesterday

I only wrote about Facebook twice this year but both posts made it into the top ten!  I’ve long been asked how one might know when it’s time to unfriend someone on social media and while my answer may not be the right one for you, it hopefully gets you thinking about why you use Facebook and what type of relationships you’re prepared to develop!

5. If my friend really liked me then she’d initiate more…

Oh it’s so easy to get our feelings hurt by the perceived negligence of our friends: their not calling, not reaching out, or not inviting us to things.  It’s easy to create a story that we are being rejected– that this is their way of saying that we aren’t important to them.  But that would be a mistake.

6. When You’re The Only One Making Time for Friendship

Someone wrote in and asked for my advice as she feels like everyone is too busy and unable to make the time for friendship that she is.  So while we can’t just wave a magic wand and make a ton of free time for everyone, here are some tips I have for what we can do to help initiate and inspire more meaningful and consistent connections with others.

7.  Top Three Tips for Making New Friends

So many women are looking new friends but frequently are trying to do so without following these three guidelines!  Far too many people leave friend-making to chance and don’t understand that they can’t develop good friends without following this advice.

8. On Being Willing to Disappoint People 

It’s hard to say no to people, especially friends, but I am a strong champion of our need to practice saying no when we need to.  In fact it’s intimately connected to our need to ask more clearly for what we need from people.  We need to get better at both.  The two are linked– as we practice saying no, we tell others it’s okay to do that too, and we’ll both feel more comfortable asking for what we need when we can trust the other to say no if they can’t.  In this post I share how I learned to say no.

9. Advice: Drifting Apart: Give Up or Try Again? 

Someone wrote in and asked for my advice about whether I thought it was worth her trying to salvage a friendship that hadn’t felt particularly meaningful or high priority to her former best friend.  Read her question and see what advice you’d give her, and read my reasons for why I weighed in how I did!

10. With Whom Should I Be Vulnerable?

So many of us resist sharing vulnerably with others, often because we feel we’ve been burned before when we did.  We don’t want to put ourselves at risk unnecessarily so we tend to clam up instead of open up.  But maybe the problem isn’t whether we share or how we share, but rather making sure that who we’re sharing with is the right people?  Here;s my litmus test for deciding how much risk to take with others.

Thanks for being a part of this community as a woman who is committed to being a healthy friend in this world! It’s been an honor.

With gratitude for a year where we all grew in our maturity and loved more deeply,

Shasta

p.s.  As always, I welcome your comments!  Share with me which one is your favorite! Or what you hope I write about more in the year to come!

p.s.s  Want more popular articles?

Top 11 Most Popular Friendship Articles of 2014

Top Ten Most Popular Friendship Article of 2013

Top Ten Most Popular Friendship Articles of 2012

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Feeling the Edge of My Circle of Love

The month of Christmas, for all it’s wonder and festivities, can also be a season where our “edge of love” can rear its little head.

I call it the “edge of love” because even the most loving, non-judgmental, and kind people among us all have a perimeter, or boundary, of who and how we love.  I love easily the people and moments in the middle of my circle of love: girls nights in front of fireplaces, snuggling with my husband, talking on the phone to my sister, getting together with family I adore.

Shasta's Circle of Love

My eventual goal is to have all those little x’s inside my circle of who I can love. I do that by growing my circles out to encompass more and more of the world.

But… certain types of settings and certain types of people (or even very specific people) don’t invoke in me the same pure love. I can feel myself show up with a lack-of-love as I reach the outer edges of who and how I love.

My goal, of course, is to make that circle of love so big that I can show up in nearly every setting with absolutely anyone and feel nothing but innocent love for the people in front of me.

But I am still far from that:

  • When I’m tired or have been around a lot of people lately…. I notice the circle closing in and getting smaller.
  • When I hear certain rhetoric or politics on the news… I notice myself feeling tempted to move an entire segment of the population outside of my circle because of my judgments.
  • When I feel forgotten or neglected or uninvited to something… I notice myself closing up a bit, which also shrinks the circle.
  • When I am so focused on my to-do list that I can’t sit and be with people in meaningful ways… I know that my agenda is filling up too much of my heart.
  • When I am in certain settings that don’t feel obviously meaningful (i.e. school programs, parties with people I don’t know well) I am tempted to believe and expect little, therefore not showing up with an open heart.
  • When I am with a certain friend who has felt more draining than fulfilling, I can feel the edge with her where I want to love her but am not feeling expansive.

Maybe you know the feeling, too.  We know we are loving people; there’s no question of that.  But if we’re honest, every single one of us has an edge to our circle. I invite you to close your eyes and ask yourself where you’re seeing the edge of your love show up recently.

It’s more important than ever this year.  Practicing loving others is for our benefit as it leads to greater peace and joy in our lives as we watch ourselves judge, worry, or fear less. But this year, with all that is going on in the news, it’s not just us that needs to feel more peace and safety, but our entire world is moaning with out it. Fear shrinks and closes us; love expands and opens us.  We need a world where humanity is still showing up with open hearts.

Loving Others Can Include Boundaries. To be clear: we’re talking about a circle of feeling love for someone, which isn’t the same as having boundaries for what we can give or do for others.  The circle of love doesn’t mean I have to seek them out and hang out with them, spend time with them out of obligation, do whatever they ask of me, or give them all my time and energy.  It does mean that we see the value every person has– that we see them as the innocent and loved people that they are even if we don’t understand them, agree with them, or if they act out of brokenness and wounds, like we do, sometimes. It means I can think about people, or see them in person, and want to only send them love and light. It means showing up able to wish every person the very best and mean it.  Even with someone with whom I need to set boundaries with or limit my time with:  I want to be able to think of them and feel love. In fact, I set the boundaries because I love them.

Loving Others Is About My Need for Healing. And when I don’t–or can’t– I know it’s because there is something in me that is wounded and still needs healing. And I want to see that, own it, and pray for healing in me that I could then show up with greater love for the other.

It’s not their fault I have a hard time loving them, it’s my invitation to become a more loving person.  It’s my responsibility to:

  • Invite in all the love I can from the people and places that fill my tank up.
  • Engage in the self-care and self-love that helps me hold all the love in my tank.
  • Choose self-awareness over blame so that I have more opportunities to ask myself “Why does this really bother me? What is it triggering in me? What’s this about?”
  • Practice looking at those who annoy me and silently think “I love you anyway. You deserve love in this world,” while simultaneously praying “Keep healing this in me so I don’t feel provoked.”

Loving Others Is the Work of a Lifetime! Oh I am far from this.  It’s one thing to write-up my ideals and quite another to actually reach them.  But I will say that I have seen my circle of love grow bigger over the years, and that’s encouraging!  I can think back to people and situations that would have bothered me years ago where now I can stay peaceful or better able to access my joy. I can see the growth in me! That excites me!  It reminds me that whatever “edge” feels impossible right now could feel easy this time next year!

This holiday season–whether you’re with your in-laws who exhaust you or reacting to the news we see in this world–if there’s anything we all wish we could put on our wish list, wouldn’t it be more peace, love, and joy?

My prayer: Oh that we might see our love expanded this season. Replace our judgments with a willingness to see people differently, increase our ability to see people the way God does, and keep healing in us anything that limits our love.

Posted in Difficulty & Challenges, Fears, Forgiveness, Holidays, Judging Others, Loneliness, Personal Growth/Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments