These simple guidelines, also known as Agreements, have been developed to help break several cultural patterns including a propensity to fix things, a tendency to connect on the negative in many situations (“Isn’t the rain terrible?”), the impulse to cross talk and the common use of sweeping generalizations that often negate our individual experiences. These guidelines give each participant the assurance of acceptance and the freedom to be herself. The “magic” happens when we are each given the gift of listening and the validation that we can find our own answers when we have the space and time to work through our thoughts and feelings.
At first read, these will seem so simple it’s hard to believe they have so much power. After years of experiencing them, we are still amazed at how uncommon it is that they are used on a regular basis in our lives. While they are written for Authentic Women Circle here, know that they are valuable for every woman and man and child to learn and embrace. Take a deep breath and really, really take them in as you read…
- One person speaks at a time.
While our groups are traditionally held in a circle with all chairs facing inward, this guideline can be helpful in any situation in which you find yourself. As we go around the group, each person speaks without interruption and is given the same amount of time to share. This ensures that no one person dominates the conversation or diminishes the importance of another’s thoughts and feelings.
- Pay complete attention.
Eye contact and complete attention is given to each speaker. Have you ever been at a party talking to a guest when their eyes are wandering over your head to see who is coming in the door? Or perhaps you’ve been with a child or friend who glances at a cell phone while you are in the middle of a story? What a wonderful gift in our multi-tasking society to do one thing and only one thing, which is to listen with complete attention. This is freeing for both the speaker and listener.
- Listen respectfully and non-judgmentally.
This is a treasured gift we give to one another and to ourselves by removing judgment, criticism and negativity. We are mindful of never showing judgment with our body language or facial expressions as we practice listening openly.
- No advice giving.
We believe each woman has the ability to find her own answers and solutions when given the time and space to work through the question or issue at hand. It is very rare in our society to simply be heard without another person trying to fix our problem or, with good intention, lend a helping hand. This guideline allows each woman to tell her own story without others trying to take away her power and focus with their suggestions.
- No put-downs of yourself or others.
We never insult or use negative labels for others or ourselves. Often times we don’t even recognize we are putting ourselves down (“I was so stupid to do that…”) and this guideline helps cast light on that negative pattern and helps to make the group a safe place for every woman.
- Speak from your own experience.
Use “I” statements to speak your own truth, as opposed to making generalizations and giving voice to that which is thought to be “the truth.” We work to eliminate phrases such as “All men are…” or “Most young girls like…” This allows each of us to have different experiences and feel accepted.
- All personal information shared within the group is strictly confidential, never to be brought up again, except by the speaker, if and when, she chooses.
We do not refer back to that which has already been said by someone in a group (“I just wanted to agree with Barbara…”). This is challenging, as many of us have been trained to affirm comments that another person has shared. We want to empathize, sympathize or agree. However, these guidelines work to allow each person to hold an individual opinion and release others from the need to comment. We just listen. We also do not bring up someone’s comments either during our turn to talk in the group or when we meet face-to-face inside or outside of the group venue. Each person owns her experience and has the power to decide whether to bring up an issue again when she wants input or simply to share more. This helps us create and respect healthy boundaries.
- Commit to consistent attendance.
Individuals in the group ARE the group. Each person counts and her presence at each gathering contributes to the safety, dynamics and validity of the group. Respect yourself and other group members by honoring your commitment to attend.
It is said that rules are made to be broken. However, these guidelines are wonderful bumper guards along our journey, which help to create a shared experience. These eight simple ideas truly can’t be appreciated without experiencing them in practice. These gentle and thoughtful guideposts help to create a magical safety within a group in as little as an hour. The human connection is palpable when we treat one another with dignity, attention and kindness that can often be absent from our everyday encounters.