The Art of Hosting

I've never started a conversation here so am not quite sure where to put this. I have a question about circle. If this is not the purpose of this board or this should go somewhere else, could someone let me know?

This week-end I found myself in a circle where each person was introducing themselves and sharing why they were part of the meeting. Things were going very nicely for about 2/3 of the circle -- until one person, talking from a deep personal place of vulnerability, went on much longer than anyone else. Conscious of time, the facilitator stepped in to stop her saying that what she was saying was interesting, but we didn't have time. She practically cried and then wouldn't talk for the rest of the meeting.

I know that ideally you should let people talk as long as necessary in this sort of circle and perhaps only remind people of time between interventions. However, in situations where time is limited and one person goes on seemingly forever (ignoring previous instructions to limit what is said to 1-2 minutes) is there ever a "nice" way to stop them? 

Thanks in advance for ideas!


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I only changed the 'category' of this post to "Questions meet wisdom", because you come with a question and others can respond with some answers from their own experience. That's all about the place of your posting. Welcome with your question!
Janice, this is a very tricky one, I have trouble with as well. The dilemma is how to guard the intention that was put in the middle, and at the same time, allow personal contributions to unfold in authenticity, as that is the material we need to build up the field.
Based on my experience it also starts in the design phase: Is it a new group, or will there be some newcomers? Is the purpose other than landing in the context also one of community building? If one of these things apply, than 1-2 minutes per person is an illusion, and it is beter to leave longer time for the check-in. Otherwise one will confront oneself with having to "cut", unless one can make up for time later on. Often this time is anyway not "lost", it was me or the designing team together who were not putting enough attention about the group or members, when we felt "time was not kept". This is for in general.
Now, if there is really a person who seems to be more "needy", what seems to work is to remind them on the impact of the group, not using just the time argument only, - that I find a bit too cheap and can indeed create the opposite effect because we lose our authenticity of wanting to create a personal special moment with each other - but that the purpose was just a warm-up or knowing who was in the room, and what they had to say was very important, and they were invited to come in with that at a later stage, when it was actually foreseen. Then it is possible to touch the person in a place where they feel they had simply "forgotten" to be brief and would continue in a similar pattern as the others. Reminding each other to speak with intention and listen with attention during different places of the circle can also help, often not right after a person has taken a bit longer to now evoke resistance, but invite them into the space.
Maybe the most important in this for the one who hosts the circle is the place one speaks from to the other person. If it comes just from the efficiency place, "we do not have time", it will simply not speak to the other person. If one can say some warm words with respect, acknowledging that the person has something valuable to say, and not judge the way it comes, but radiating the larger purpose in the middle oneself, then one will find very little resistance, as the person can pick up the seriousness behind ones words. And if one is sure about that, then it just flows by itself.

I hope this helps,

Thanks so much Ursula for your thoughtful reply! Yes indeed the issue seems to be people who are especially "needy" who perhaps unknowingly go on too long at the wrong moment. I like your idea of reminding them of the purpose of the exercise while ALSO acknowledging the content of what they have said -- and offering the possibility of discussing it later. I think that, had that been done in this particular circle, the person in question would have accepted it. Thank you!
Thanks Ursula, great answer - that is really knowledge sharing! That is how we all get smarter!

Thanks Ursula, and agreed with Janice and Ria. I find your response a gem of wisdom and experience!

I found myself in a similar situation when hosting circles sometimes and I totally agree with the place (source) where this reminder comes from. So important to be present and empathic while aiming at the higher purpose of the group. I heard somewhere the expression of the facilitator having to make a "gentle use of power"- gentle in its broadest sense, power in its broadest sense...

Thanks again!

hello and thanks for this valuable invitation - a terrific issue to share!

one thing is to invite people in each round of speaking to speak longer or shorter upfront - eg for an intro with an ongoing group it may be useful to indicate that it is welcomed to "speak clearly and to speak briefly"

it seems common for the responses to lengthen as you go around the circle, especially the larger circles - as safety is proven, people do go deeper and slower.

something I learnt recently at a circle practicum i found very useful, that is that hosting with 2 people allows you to sit at 12 & 6 on the 'clockface'. so if the host starts at 12 oclock when the talking piece gets to the 2nd person in the 6 oclock position, they can gently remind everyone of the question, and model (again) how to be brief (or longer, depending on the question).

it also works to energetically 'strengthen' the circle, and gives-allows another view of what is happening in the group dynamically.

it is good too if this second person can hold the bell (ring to pause), attend to time boundaries - sometimes this person is called the 'guardian'.

lots more on this in the Circle Way book by Ann Linnea and Christina Baldwin who have spent some years remembering this indigenous, deeply human and natural world interaction in circle!

thanks for the question and the useful responses above!

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