Getting communication right is tough. Here are Sar Surmick's suggestions on doing it better. We're very excited to have him presenting for us next Thursday and Saturday. ~~Celia
Communication is one of the hallmarks of both the Polyamory and Kink Communities. You
can’t swing a cat-o-nine tails without hitting some conversation about what makes up good
communication. And that’s a good thing. The more people learn to talk with one another, to
negotiate effectively, and to listen, the more our communities benefit.
But how do we communicate in small groups? What happens when there are five of us that need to make a decision together? Where do we learn those skills? Unfortunately, most of us learned to talk in small groups from our parents, our teachers, and our bosses. The thing all of these have in common is a power differential; the person speaking has power over the people listening, sometimes a lot of power.
How many times have you had a group discussion that devolves into nothing more than a
shouting match, or cold silence? Have you sat in a group, patiently waiting your turn to bring
something up, only to find the end of the meeting comes first? How about bringing up a good point, only to have someone else say, “Yes, but…” These outcomes, and many others, happen around the belief that the person speaking holds the power. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
There are ways for people to sit down together to have authentic communication that builds
connection instead of setting up competition. The first comes from understanding that small
groups are different, in part because they are made up of all the people involved. Any group that comes together, becomes more than the sum of its parts.
When communicating in small groups, here are some important things to remember:
- It’s about having power with people and building partnership, not trying to seize power.
- Each person brings what power they can to the group to create something more than they could make on their own.
- Everyone in the group deserves a chance to speak and be heard. Give everyone a chance to speak their truth, listen while others speak theirs, and allow silence, even when it’s uncomfortable.
- Groups have their own rules, benefits, and pitfalls. An important part of group development is making sure those rules, benefits, and pitfalls are all agreed upon.
- Communication includes both verbal and non-verbal information, and lots of both.
- What someone says is only part of the story. How they say it, what their face looks like, how they’re sitting, etc. also tell a lot.
Impact in groups is non-linear. What you say to one person can, and often will, impact
others in the group, sometimes in ways never considered, much less intended. The
same is true for non-verbal signals. And though it takes time, making space for those
unintended impacts can open amazing opportunities for learning and understanding.
Groups react as a system influencing the course of the conversation, who speaks and
who doesn’t, and how people feel about the interaction. The whole of the group is more
than the sum of the individuals involved, and sometimes it will react in ways that no one
intended. To put it another way, if there is blame, then the group as a whole takes that
blame; if there is joy, then the group as a whole shares that joy.
Most of the time, when we get caught in a group, we just ride out the wave until we either make it back to shore or get dunked. But I think there is another way. If nothing else, remember that working in groups is a skill all its own, one not taught in most schools. It takes practice, trial, and occasionally error to learn and get better at it.
If you want to learn more about authentic small group communication, there are two workshops coming up:
An Introduction to Small Group Communication - Thursday Nov. 8th – 7:00-9:00pm
An All Day Workshop in Effective Small Group Communication - Saturday Nov. 10th –
- Sar is a Marriage and Family Therapist in Redmond WA. He specializes in working with
Polyamorous Folk, LGBTQ Youth, Kinky Folk, and identity issues. Outside of the therapy room, Sar presents discussions on sex, sexuality, small group communication, and identity. He can be reached at: www.significantconnections.com