‘Hard times require furious dancing’ writes Alice Walker. We danced the night away with friends and strangers at a ceilidh, with the wonderful Kismet, who played, called the moves and guided us through the evening.
Dancing brings people together. Holding hands with strangers in pairs, eights and circles, spinning and circling in joyous rhythms from around the world, we touch our common humanity.
As in a dance, when we come together in groups and the rhythm is right (and of course being out of synch at times), more becomes possible. This is even more important when there are differences and disagreements between us. We need to be able to have those difficult conversations so that differences don’t become fixed into rigid positions, and conflict generates new ideas and energy instead of hostility, fear and anxiety.
It these conversations were a dance, what would they be like? How would we move through them?
In a dance, each person has a place and a role. So too, in a work or other situation where people have a common interest – though all too often roles aren’t clear, and views and feelings aren’t known. Before coming together as a group, start with asking, listening and learning about what’s important. In our role as facilitators, by doing this we’re already including everyone and listening is key. Our openness and curiosity help to build trust and relationship, which starts to create a shared field of understanding. This practice of attending to what’s present – described by Otto Scharmer and colleagues as ‘co-sensing’ – also enables us to identify themes and questions to bring to the group when they meet.
We build on this when people come together, from the moment they walk into the room. At the dance, there was a welcome at the door, decorations, tables round the room and an open space for people to gather and talk (and dance!). The first set dance was easy, everyone could do it, we felt relaxed and were looking forward to the next one. The equivalent in our group is to connect, hear all voices right from the start, agree what we’re here to do and then get going.
Sometimes we danced with a partner, sometimes in a four, sometimes in an eight. In a group, mini-conversations between two or three people have everyone engaging at the same time, and meeting as a six or an eight enables people to share and develop their thinking together. Facilitators can help people develop their own listening and enquiry skills in by giving simple guidance – such as having each person speak in turn before opening out the conversation.
There was also wild dancing! When there are strong views in the room and things are heated, people need to know it’s ok to express different views and feelings. But this isn’t about letting rip, knocking into or hurting each other. Firm, compassionate facilitation establishes the conditions for respectful behaviours – such as ‘criticise the idea not the person’, and providing space for everyone to speak in turn. Listening circles and conversation cafés are ways to do this.
We don’t know what will emerge, and as facilitators we need to embrace not-knowing, while tuning into what is taking shape. That might be helped on its way with moments of quiet, alternating with sharing, writing, drawing or literally modelling what’s there.
The evening’s dancing ended with a line and a circle, the music slowed and we came to stillness. And then the talking started again, with good-byes and good wishes into the night.