Shasta’s Tips for Starting Women’s Groups

I love few things as much as gathering women together.  There’s often more laughter in groups and more diverse sharing and feedback. Plus, it also saves time being able to connect with a handful of friends at once, and it’s more of a sure thing even if 1-2 people end up not being able to come.

But there are so many kinds of groups to start! Your first question to answer is: What do I want the focus of the group?

  • Our Lives: This is one of my favorites– basically we know that we are getting together in order to stay in touch, support each other, and invest in our relationships. We are the subject and ideally each person has time to share with everyone else what matters most in her life right now.  These groups should be started when you primarily want to bond by sharing your lives with each other.
  • A Theme/Subject: This category is one of the most popular types of groups because it includes such things as book clubs, support groups, entrepreneurs circles, mom’s groups, Bible study groups, and political gatherings. These groups should be started when you primarily want mental stimulation, resonance in shared interests, and advice or support in a specific area.
  • An Activity: This category of group is primarily for gatherings where an activity is the focus whether it be a cooking club, a dining out group, a hiking group, or a group dedicated to training for an event. These groups should be started when you primarily want support/accountability in doing an activity, to experience new things, meet people with similar activity interests, desire more fun and socializing in your life, or to expand our horizons.

Of course there can be some cross-over, but it’s important to be clear what desire is prompting your group.  If the focus is on hiking then one is less likely to leave feeling disappointed if no one asked her about her life, or if the focus is a mom’s support group then we can put less attention to coming up with new activities and changing locations and devote more planning to conversations that matter to mothers. Knowing the priority serves as a filter for planning!

We met in my home last weekend for an afternoon of sharing and catching up– each person had 15-20 minutes to share whatever mattered most to them! (And we each ended our share answering the question “What is one way you can all best support me right now?”) xoxo

 

Another question that must be answered: Who is this group for?

  • Is there an ideal size? A minimum? A cap? If it’s conversation-based it may help to be small enough to give time to everyone to share. If it’s meal-based, do you want everyone to fit around a table? If it’s networking based then maybe the more the merrier?
  • Is there something that everyone has to have in common in order to attend? Do they need to live in the neighborhood, have kids, or attend a certain church?
  • Is this an open or closed group? Can attendees invite others to come with them? Do you want to keep meeting people or go deeper with the same people?
  • What level of commitment is needed? Can attendees simply come when they want or is the intention that they come regularly?

I’ll make a note to write more specific blog posts addressing some of the different types of groups since they will each have different needs.  But here are some of my overall tips:

  1. If you already have a few specific people in mind that you want participating– then invite them to give input to such questions as 1) What type of group interests you the most? 2) Do you have others you’d like to invite? 3) Knowing we’ll feel closer the more often we meet– how frequently would you be willing to commit?
  2. Unless the focus is specifically to “try new restaurants in the city” or “explore new hiking trails” then keep the location as consistent and easy as possible. Every time you “switch” places it takes more brainstorming, planning, and communicating; plus attendees will be more likely to cancel if it feels like it will take a lot of energy.
  3. Similarly, come up with a “routine” and repeat it as often as possible.  People want to know what is expected of them and what to expect. My girls group “routine” is to chit-chat and catch-up while everyone arrives and before we put dinner on the table, but once we all have food on our plates then we switch gears to “going around the circle and each person sharing their highlight/lowlight.” Maybe your book club talks about the book and then ends with mingling? Or is it the other way around? Aim for consistency.
  4. Keep the dates set even if someone can’t attend.  Groups turn into a logistical mess when we start trying to change dates to accommodate different people. In general, it’s best when the group can set their dates ahead of time (either the same day/time every week/month OR set their dates far enough out as a group so that everyone can plan around them) and then stick to them.  Every time you change for one, you risk messing it up for another, plus add to the communication weariness.
  5. Make sure everyone is given time to “be seen.”  I’m a big fan of “going around the circle” so that each person has a chance to share–whether it’s as small as an introduction before an activity or as big as giving each person 15 minutes to share on the topic of the evening.

What other tips do you have that you think would be helpful to others who are planning group gatherings?

Or, what other questions about group events do you have that I might be able to answer in a future post?

Posted in Consistency, Events, Girls Night, Group Friendships, How To?, Practical Ideas, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Empathy: The #1 Misunderstanding

We all know how important empathy–the ability to understand and share the feelings of another–is to a friendship, but sometimes it’s easier said than done!

Do you ever hear a friends complain about her finances and think, “I’d give anything to have as much money as she has! Why is she so worried?!?”

Or, hear a friend complain about gaining five pounds and just roll your eyes and think, “She’s so skinny– she has no right to complain!”

Or, listen to a single friend vent about how busy and exhausted she is, and feel like screaming, “Are you crazy? Try working full time and raising 5 kids at the same time!”

While we want our friendships to be safe places to complain and vent about our lives, the truth is that we often feel more frustrated or annoyed with our friends if we don’t feel like their circumstances warrant their feelings.

Since it’s impossible to be both empathetic and judgmental, watch this 3 minute video about how to show up with more of the former, even when tempted to feel the latter.

Posted in Conflicts with Friends, Difficulty & Challenges, Judging Others | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How to Deepen the Long-Distance Friendship

Unfortunately, many, if not most, of the people we claim as our best friends don’t live near us. I haven’t seen statistics to back up that claim, but since we’re moving, on average, every 5 years, I think it’s safe to say that chances are high that we have moved away from friends we’ve loved dearly.

And all too often, it doesn’t matter how many monthly lunches with local friends we schedule, it’s hard to feel as close to them as we do with those long-distance friends with whom we once logged massive hours getting to know every day in school, at that job, or when we lived as roommates.

For those of you familiar with my 5 Circles of Friends— I call these dear friends our “Con

5 types of friends image

All our friends fall into 1 of these 5 circles; the most casual on the left and the deepest on the right.

firmed Friends” and they frequently reside in the middle circle because we are too intimate with them to warrant them being on the more casual left-side, but we often aren’t as consistent with them as we’d need to be to feel as close to them as we do with our right-side friends. This post is about how to move them to the right, into greater frientimacy.

How to Deepen the Friendship

So what if you actually want to develop a closer relationship with these long-distance friends? What if you want to keep building the friendship, rather than just do the minimum to maintain it? What it you want to feel like you know what’s going on in each others lives more often than your infrequent phone calls or more deeply than what you can read on social media?

There are three requirements to all healthy relationships, as I teach in Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness:

  1. Positivity: The relationship, to be meaningful and healthy, must bring more joy and satisfaction than exhaustion or stress, in fact research suggests we need to keep the ratio above 5:1.
  2. Consistency: The relationship, to be meaningful and healthy, must be repetitive and have some regularity to it because this developing history is what fosters our trust in each other.
  3. Vulnerability: The relationship, to be meaningful and healthy, must incrementally and appropriately increase in sharing as our consistency increases with each other. It is through vulnerability that we feel seen and known.

And they are just as true for long-distance friends as they are for local friends. (Bonus: They also are the same three requirements for starting friendship as they are for deepening it!)

Specific Ideas for Applying the 3 Requirements to Our Long-Distance Friendships

I can guarantee that any relationship that isn’t feeling as meaningful as we want is because at least one of these three requirements is lacking.

So how we can practice these three requirements from a distance?

Positivity:

  • Send an encouraging card: Take 5 minutes to send a little tangible love through the postal system telling your friend why you admire her.
  • Recall a good memory: Find an old photo of you and your friend that will bring a smile to your faces, and text it to her with a little note of gratitude for the history you two share.
  • Refrain from giving advice: Most of the time, when we’re sharing, we just want validation and affirmation.  Advice can leave us feeling judged or defensive. When you do have time to share, make a point to respond to her in a way that leaves her feeling better about who she is and how she’s navigating her life.

Consistency:

  • Embrace texting: Even the shortest text exchange in between get-togethers reminds us gives us the sense of the other person being close. When you think of her— text her and tell her.
  • Schedule a regular time to catch-up: We feel far away from long-distance friends when so much time has passed in between conversations that we’re convinced it would take hours to catch-up. Instead, see if she’s up for scheduling a reoccurring 30 minute call every 1st Monday evening of the month, or every Sunday afternoon.
  • Prioritize the Slumber Parties: We don’t need as much consistency to maintain friendships as when we are building them, but it is still in time together that we can create new memories; so no matter how broke we are, or how busy we feel, we have to visit each other to protect and deepen the love we’ve already developed. These overnighters can be a game-changer for deepening that relationship.

    long distance friends

    Daneen, currently a long-distance friend, just randomly texted me to see if there was a Tue/Wed combo in May when she could jump on a plane and come visit me for 1 night! How cool is that? I can’t wait!

Vulnerability:

  • Get to the heart of the matter quickly: We may not talk to, or see, our long-distance friends as often so let’s not waste our time by asking all the typical update questions and risk us not sharing what really matters. Instead, suggest, “I know we don’t have a ton of time, but maybe we can each share one highlight and one lowlight since we’ve each see each other?” By leaving it open-ended, we give each person the chance to share in the life areas they want to, while inviting honesty.
  • Risk being an “inconvenience”: We so often talk ourselves out of calling each other when we feel down because we don’t want to be a burden or intrude on their busy lives, but it’s only by calling and saying “I just needed a friend” that we will feel the benefit of having a good friend, give her the permission to call when she needs, and help bond the relationship deeper by letting her help.
  • Invite her “bragging”: Part of vulnerability is sharing what we’re proud of… this can be hard because none of us want to be seen as bragging.  So make it easier and ask her: “Share with me something you’re really proud of these days?”

Just because there are miles between us doesn’t mean that we can’t keep developing these friendships.  In fact, because we’ve invested so much in each other at one time– and have the benefit of already feeling close to each other– we’re smart to do everything we can to protect those investments!

What other ideas have you tried? What sounds meaningful to you?

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Posted in Best Friends, Circles of Connectedness, Consistency, Long Distance Friends, Maintaining Friends, Practical Ideas | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Key to Starting a Women’s Group

By: Katrina Emery

Katrina Emery, a freelance writer from Portland, OR, occasionally interviews a member of GirlFriendCircles and writes a guest post about their friend-making journey so we can all learn from, inspire, and encourage each other in our own quests for better friendships.

It was while she was volunteering at her local hospital that retiree Kris Trainor knew she needed to focus on friendship more. Her role was to talk and sit with people before they go into the Cath Lab, sometimes helping them fill out forms. “Many of them didn’t have anyone reliable to put as a contact on the form. This is Prescott, Arizona–we’re friendly. People know their neighbors,” she recalls. “but then I thought,

Kris Trainor (and her dog Magic) live in Prescott, AZ where she’s committed to fostering the friendships that will not only benefit her life, but will also be a gift to all who attend.

‘Who would I put down?’ And I had to admit that I needed somebody.”

After 10 years of living in Prescott Kris had plenty of acquaintances, but not many close friends. Spurred on by GirlFriendCircles, she started a group dedicated to forming new friendships for older women. They meet at her local Starbucks for an hour every single week. Consistency, one of the three requirements of friendship, is the most important thing for them, since it’s hard to get to know each other or built up trust without it. And as Kris says, “consistency can be the hardest to establish with new friends”  so the commitment to meet weekly has helped her group connect.

The ladies chat and share every week, using GirlFriendCircles Sharing Questions to dig deeper. Kris laughs that she often has to bring the topic back. “People want to have meaningful conversations, but they’ll drift.” To make everyone more comfortable and ease them in, she’ll often read a list of values and goals she wrote down when she started the group. “I wrote what I wanted to get out of this. It includes 1) don’t take anything personally, 2) practice being open and transparent, 3) learn to express my love and appreciation of others, and 4) be madly in love with yourself. Part of what we’re doing here is learning to be good friends with ourselves.” The first time she read it the group responded better than she thought they would, and now it’s a common way she starts. “They love it!”

It hasn’t all been easy for Kris. The group has been meeting since August, but she’s not sure she can claim any of the ladies in her Committed friends yet. “I didn’t expect it to stay this hard. I didn’t realize I’d have to be kind of like a mom, in a leadership role.” To help, she reminds herself of the natural ebbs and flows of groups, rather than take it personally. “It’s been winter lately–bad weather, sickness, holidays, and the group naturally shrinks.” Going back to her list of what she wants to gain from the group helps, too. “I figured out that I had to go back to my sheet to know what I want.” Even on her end, consistency is a must.

One of the reasons she’s committed to the group is a memory of when she moved to Prescott and was looking at other ladies’ groups. “When I asked to join, they said no!” She was shocked. Her group has committed to staying open for anyone interested in joining. “I’m serious about always remaining open to new people. We’ve got to continue to widen our personal circles.”

Because they’ve all committed to meeting every single week, they’re rapidly getting to know one another. Consistency is key, knowing that they’ll continue to see each other without having to match up schedules. Outside of their weekly meetup, the group has taken classes together at the community college. One makeup class, Kris recalls, ended up to be a thinly veiled sales pitch, but the ladies all had fun anyway and they now laugh at the experience. They’ve started planning other events amongst themselves. Kris loves that, since she doesn’t feel she has the capacity to plan more. “I couldn’t do a bigger event every month,” she says, “but I know that it’s easy to get a friend to meet you for coffee.”

And that’s what she’s done, every week, consistently.

Let’s cheer for Kris and encourage her as she continues this commitment! And let’s take inspiration from her: What is one way you could increase the consistency (regularity/repetition/frequency) in one of your friendships?

Posted in Circles of Connectedness, Consistency, GFC Member Stories, Group Friendships, Guest Blogs, Interviews, Making Friends, Practical Ideas | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Help! I Have Too Many Friends

Dear Shasta,

I’m completely overwhelmed when I look at my schedule. Most of my scheduled events, in and of themselves, aren’t things I would typically dread: coffee with a possible client, a call with someone who wants some advice, dinner with some friends from my husbands work, a lunch with a friend who’s in town, dinner with my brother, date night, a quick happy hour with some girls I work with, weekly Sunday call with my parents, meeting a good friend for a walk; but collectively it is TOO much!

Honestly, after working with people all day, trying to stay in intermittent touch with my family members, scheduling the people in my inbox who “want to connect,” and keeping up with all the networking… I don’t even have the energy or time to call the people I actually want to feel the closest to.

How do I shorten the list? How do I say no?

–Sincerely,

Too Many Friends

Dearest Too Many Friends,

Let’s start with the reminder that “people we’re friendly with” and “people we’ve developed friendships with” are two different categories of people. This might actually be a case not necessarily of too many friends, but perhaps of too much socializing?

In fact, you even said it: the biggest problem is that you don’t have the time for your close friends.

We have to figure out a way to say no even to people we care about, like, and consider to be friends, in some way or another, so that we have the energy to say yes to the relationships that we know sustain us,

So here’s what I think we need to do:

  1. List the relationships you want to prioritize. Who are the friends you want to talk to often so that you really feel supported and not just scheduled with intermittent “catch-ups.” Who are the relationships (including kids, spouses, parents, siblings) that are important to you to stay in touch with?
  2. Group them together by ideal consistency. In other words, who are the names on the list that you want to connect with daily? Weekly? Bi-weekly? Monthly? Keep in mind that the more consistent we are, the more “intimate” those relationships will feel as those are the people who will really know what’s going on in your life.
  3. Schedule them in first. If you can find the consistent blocks of time–driving home from work, happy hour after work, lunch– to give those people, do it! Or at least block that time off with “Call one of my closest friends.”
  4. Then comes the really tricky part: figuring out what relationships/types of relationships you have time or energy to add in.  For me, I have a second list of friends who I love and want to stay in touch with but with whom I haven’t developed the intimacy/consistency that I have with my first list. I also want to leave a few slots a month for networking contacts, and a few slots for doing favors for others (i.e. a phone call for a friend of a friend).  What other groups/types of relationships do you need to pay attention to? I think for us to actually look at our calendar/life and see how limited those spots are can help us be more strategic with who we give them to and how frequently we give someone one of those slots.  The truth of the matter is that whether we end up feeling like we have 1 extra slot a day to give, or only one each week: we need to know it and offer it strategically and thoughtfully.
  5. Think through your strategy for how to decide with whom you give your extra space/time. If you don’t decide then it will end up being the squeaky wheel (i.e. whoever asks the most or will be the most upset if you say no) or simply first-come, first-served. Which puts other people in charge of our schedule instead of us.  Some possible questions could be: Does this person interest me? Am I clear what the objective is of why we’re getting together? Do I think I can be helpful to them? Do I think they can be helpful to me? Can this be scheduled with ease (i.e. without me having to travel far?) Is this the best way to connect with this person (or can I meet them at some event I need to go? Or can it be an email instead of a get-together?)

And then comes the hard part of learning to kindly say no to everyone else.  Which we simply have to do. (Here’s a blog post I wrote last year about How to Say ‘Not Interested’ Nicely)

Our time is finite with only so many slots and its our job to make sure that the relationships that matter most to us are the ones with whom we are making time.

The most important other piece I can say is a reminder that you can’t use whether it feels “good” to determine whether or not to be honest with them.  For most of us, saying no to someone, or disappointing them, won’t feel good. But neither will it feel good to be overwhelmed, exhausted, or unavailable for the people who fill us up the most!

I am the master, not the victim, of my schedule, my calendar, and my life. Shasta Nelson

This is maturity at it’s best: women learning that they aren’t victims of their calendar, but are in fact, in charge of them.  So we if we don’t like how it looks then we have the power to do life differently.  But the calendar won’t look any different until our behaviors reflect what we say matters most.

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Posted in Break Ups, Conflicts with Friends, Dear Shasta (advice), Difficulty & Challenges, Maintaining Friends, Our Mistakes | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments