Working with feelings
Working with feelings
Susan left her community residence of 8 years. It was not a happy parting for her, in fact, few of her community mates even had talked with her about her departure. She felt isolated, unappreciated, alone.
The community Susan left disbanded a year later. Rather, it exploded apart, with white-hot emotional shrapnel wounding some the community members quite badly. Like any human endeavor, this community suffered from the limits and baggage of its members. Maybe nothing could have helped this group but one thing stands out from their experience that might offer a lesson. They had no place in their processes to deal with feelings. They thought they were “efficient” at making decisions, the meetings were “productive” and “got the business done”. But in this efficiency, there was no room for how people felt. The morale of the group was a mystery. Nobody seemed to pay attention to the tone of the voice, the body language, the unhappy complaining conversations that swirled around the outskirts of the leadership.
When people feel unheard, uncared about, unappreciated their contributions to the community typically begin to decline, until in the worse case scenario, they leave. So how do you keep feelings present? How do both encourage and create accountability for feelings? Here are some ideas from some NICA summer gatherings in the past.
ASK! You can create a culture of caring simply by asking people, on a regular basis, “how are you doing?” “What are you feeling” You can do this one on one in private, with everyone present in meetings, or do this “on the spot” as situations come up and you process them. Learn to regularly ask: How do you feel about this? And be available to listen to the answer.
ACKNOWLEDGE! Create methods to appreciate each other. Let no act of community service go unheralded. Create awards, parties, celebrations of your groups achievements. Send each other love notes. Don’t take it for granted that the grass got mowed again. Hold a group meeting just to cheer on all the things that bring you joy
EVALUATE! Spend time regularly looking at what happened. Use describing words that tell about actions observed, not as labels. Illuminate the issues by encouraging an ethic of “No private bitching” which means when you have an issue to bitch about, tell everybody. Evaluate your groups emotional health by asking people questions which highlight the sources of, and the barriers to individual happiness . Give people room for anonymity if that is appropriate by asking for responses in writing or some other shielded response.
As you create openings for people to express feelings, keep an eye on the climate. If people begin to react by staying away from meetings, or express unhappiness at so much “gut stuff”, be flexible. A little at a time might be a more sustainable pace than huge weeklong group encounters. The goal is to create places for feelings to be able to be expressed, and too much expression might be as bad as not enough as it might drive people away.
As people are encouraged to speak their feelings with good intention, the group will likely find much less energy going to false agreements and uncompleted tasks. If you want to create a sense of togetherness, then making space for feelings to be expressed is a key.