Group Dissent + Decision-Making
Volume 4, Section 1
Dr. Brené Brown says, “without dissent there is no belonging.”
That may be true, but what do we do when there’s dissent? What about when there are different opinions about adding new members? When someone is feeling like there’s an unequal division of labor? When someone feels triggered by an activity?
Here’s a loose protocol to help steer everyone towards peaceful waters when your Circle encounters a storm:
NAME THE DISSENT
Just acknowledging the existence of dissent goes a long way in keeping it manageable. If you’re discussing inviting in new members and there’s dissent, you could say something like, It sounds to me like we don’t all agree. If a person or people have been hurt or triggered by the group, you could acknowledge that by saying something like, I’m sorry this has been upsetting to the person who is struggling. To the group, you could say something like, Let’s pause what we’re doing to work through this issue as a group.
RE-GROUND IN SHARED PRINCIPLES
Has a principle the group agreed on been violated? If so, what adjustments can the group make to ensure the principles are once again honored? Revisit our Packet 0: Foundations for a refresh in At The Well’s principles, and Packet 2: Circle Planning for the agreements you made as a group when you first convened.
Ask the individual(s) who dissented to tell their story, asking everyone to listen actively. Of those who are struggling, ask, How would you have preferred it to go? Once everyone has shared, ask, Does this story resonate with anyone else? This conversation is a good exercise to help the dissenting person crystallize and articulate their issues, and to prevent misunderstanding.
EXPLORE HOW DISSENT CAN SPARK GROWTH
As Well Circle members, we’re building safe places for ourselves in community. When a problem arises, it’s an opportunity to figure out how to grow together. This is a good time for everyone to reconnect to the question Why am I here? Go around and share responses to that, and then shift into problem-solving mode, inviting solutions from women in the Circle.
INVOLVE EVERYONE IN DECISION MAKING
Because Well Circles are places where all members are equal stakeholders, we recommend a consensus decision-making model. This means that everyone reaches an agreement they feel good about. Strong relational foundations, which lead to real trust often allow for easy decision-making. You’ll find more about a consensus-building process below.
HIT THE RESET BUTTON
If you sense that people are becoming more disconnected and upset as you dive into dissent, choose a re-grounding tool to help people unify.
A collective breath
A short break
Restatement of the question at hand
Acknowledgement of whatever progress has been made by the group
Dance! Get the body moving to release tension and energy
USE A PROCESS TO ENTERTAIN A PROPOSAL
One method of problem solving (and leading in general) is to take your Well Circle through the steps of developing and agreeing upon a proposal. Giving the process some external order can sometimes help you focus on the issue at hand because you’re not worried about creating a structure at the same time.
STEPS TO DEVELOPING A PROPOSAL
Proponent makes the proposal
If a Well Circle member offers an idea to the group, she becomes the proponent of that idea. If you’re that woman, be honest about how you’re feeling and why. At some point, it may be helpful to use the phrase, This is important to me because…
Facilitator invites clarifying questions
Anything unclear about the proposal that the proponent can shed light on? This is not discussion; just an invitation for the facts, ma’am.
Facilitator opens discussion
Now, discuss the proposal. How does the group feel about it? Are there challenges to implementation, or new issues that would arise as a result of change? The open discussion period is a crucial one — this is the moment when consensus gets made. Consensus means acknowledging a difference of opinion, and agreeing to flex on one’s position for the sake of the better functioning of the group.
To make space for all people, diverse opinions, and spiritual practices, At The Well encourages people to lean towards the middle. Scheduling is an easy example — are there commitments you have on your calendar you can flex on if that’s the only night when everyone else can meet? Or, if a disagreement arises over how to run an event, can you get creative about how to meet the needs and desires of each person in the group? As the group discusses, challenge yourself to prioritize the wellbeing and interests of the group.
Facilitator calls for amendments
Based on the discussion, invite the group to add or adjust elements of the original proposal.
Facilitator restates the proposal
Include the amendments and any relevant process or context raised in discussion.
Facilitator calls a vote
Do a quick temperature check to see if people are ready to vote. If the group is ready, this likely means the proposal will “pass.” If people express hesitance, propose to extend the conversation by a specific time increment (i.e. 10 minutes, 15 minutes) and set a timer.
If the group is still unresolved after that, recruit at least two women to workshop the proposal outside the full group and bring it back next time, or during a separate meeting that the group arranges specifically to address the proposal.
Interpersonal Conflict Resolution
HOW TO AVOID POISONING THE WELL
Volume 4, Section 2
Sometimes an issue arises that the whole Well Circle would benefit from discussing together. Other times, something’s up between two (or a few) members of a Well Circle (we’re human beings, after all!). Though these issues might not involve everyone, these smaller kinks can impact the dynamics and health of the entire Circle. What follows is guidance for handling a person-to-person problem in the community of your Well Circle.
ADDRESS THE ISSUE — AND PERSON — DIRECTLY
Instead of airing your grievance to a third party, go straight to the person with whom you’re having the issue. This option is an edge for many; it can feel uncomfortably confrontational and scary to rock the boat, especially within a small community. Ultimately, this route is far better for resolving and healing the issue and making everyone feel respected. Often, storming can lead to greater connection once the winds die down.
That said, it is okay to first talk to someone else about what’s going on. You may need a friendly sounding board to help you formulate your thoughts and feelings. Just be sure that your intention is to prepare to bring your concerns to the site of the struggle. Any third party should be there to help you work towards the most clear, compassionate, and honest expression of your thoughts and feelings, which you will eventually express directly to the person in question.
CHOOSE A SETTING
When an issue has arisen between two people, we recommend working it out separately from your Well Circle meeting. Think about what setting feels best (an outdoor stroll together or maybe a phone call) or medium (something like email, a letter, or a call) in which to address the issue? Choose what makes you feel that you can express yourself with ease. What makes you feel confident will help you express yourself more fully. What helps you feel grounded, not anxious or fearful, will allow you to stay focused on what it is you want to say.
Take a moment to think also about the other person’s experience, and what choice you can make so that they, too, feel comfortable, open, and safe for the work you’re about to do together.
USE “I” STATEMENTS
As you may remember from Packet 2: Circle Planning, “I” Statements are a Well Circle Cultural Norm. Just like in your Circle meetings, take ownership of your experience by explaining how what happened made you feel. Using “I” Statements alleviates the tendency to accuse and blame, which is all too easy to do when we’re feeling hurt and angry.
So how does that look?
Instead of saying, You were condescending when you blew off my suggestion, you could say, When I suggested we meditate as a group and you said we obviously didn’t have time for that in a sarcastic voice and kept talking, I felt really dismissed. Honestly, I felt kind of ashamed for making the suggestion in the first place.
Being vulnerable and authentic in your communication in tough moments like these means the difference between causing more hurt feelings, or reaching peaceful, loving resolution. We assume that within Well Circles, people aren’t actively trying to bring each other down. Lean towards the positive, and towards repair. Your Well Circle is a great place to work through these very human challenges together, to access our higher selves, and develop the confidence to act from this place in the wider world beyond our Well Circles.
Volume 4, Section 3
It sucks. Likely, it will be the single hardest thing your Well Circle will have to overcome. Be persistent, be open, be proactive, and lean towards commitment to the group.
We all have kaleidoscopically shifting lives; finding a time, place, and format for a monthly meeting that works consistently and well for everyone can be touch-and-go.
Scheduling is the #1 thing that trips Well Circles up and shuts down the development of a budding community.
By setting up systems as early as your first Circle meeting, you can anticipate moments when the train derails because everyone’s lives have gotten busy. It can make the difference between a Well Circle’s wild success or a slow fade to oblivion.
Here are some moves you can make, proactively and as a group, to prevent the inevitable trials, tribulations, and heartache of scheduling.
KEEP A REGULAR MEETING TIME ON THE CALENDAR
In Packet 2: Circle Planning, we provide suggestions for when to have the conversation about meeting times. While there are many digital tools out there that help scheduling groups (such as Doodle and NeedToMeet), we’ve found it’s easiest to select a regular meeting time rather than handpick meeting dates for each month.
In a perfect world, your Well Circle would meet on the first day of each Hebrew month (Rosh Chodesh), which corresponds with the new moon. However, the new moon moves around on the Gregorian calendar, and we’ve seen how its varying day of week and time of month can really cause problems for group stability and viability.
One way around this challenge, if it comes up, is to meet on the same day of every month on the Gregorian calendar — the first Tuesday or the third Sunday, for example. If your Circle decides to go this route, consider the pros and cons of choosing a weeknight versus a weekend night. For example, weekend night will be more expansive; fewer people will have to wake up for work in the morning...but it will also mean that there’s one weekend night a month that’s always off limits, and people might not love that idea.
Scheduling is complicated, we know.
...And, you got this!
DEVISE A FOOD PROGRAM
Will there always be juice, tea, and fruit? Will you pool money and always order take out? Will you have a potluck? Will the Host cook for everybody when it’s her turn? Will you opt to keep it food-free and super simple?
To make it easy on each month’s Host, decide as a group on the kind of food you’ll have at every meeting.
And remember, we strongly encourage you to separate the meal from your Well Circle experience.
DESIGNATE A FAIL-SAFE
In anticipation of those times when everyone gets so busy that no one steps up to schedule or take responsibility for your Well Circle, consider designating one or two Fail-Safes.
That is, one to two members of the Circle who will spring into action to get the Circle back on track if everyone has dropped off the email thread, or in the wake of a missed Circle or two. When Well Circle members need to be reminded to respond to messages about scheduling or to step-up to host or facilitate the next meeting, the Fail-Safes are the people who commit to personally send out emails or make calls to the Circle.
State of the Circle
Volume 4, Section 4
The idea of a State of the Circle check-in comes from a truly excellent book, Sacred Circles by Robin Deen Carnes and Sally Craig. As the authors write, it’s a good practice to check in once a year as a Circle about how it’s all going. This check-in is a time to reflect on where the group has come from, assess where you are, express desires and intentions for where you’d like to go together, and identify elements of the group dynamic and agreements that could use some revision.
We promise that devoting one of your Well Circle meetings to a State of the Circle check-in (or scheduling a whole separate evening to have one) will be time well spent. It’s an investment in your Circle’s sustainability, and typically also an opportunity for everyone to share some warm and fuzzy feel-goods about what the Circle has meant to them.
Consider electing a note-taker during this conversation. That way, everyone can review the discussion if they want, and those unable to attend can catch up. You could even incorporate these notes into the next State of the Circle the following year, as another way to track where the group has been.
THE STATE OF THE CIRCLE TOPICS TO COVER
Value the Circle has brought into your life
Logistics — what’s working, what needs work
Distribution of power, division of labor
What you’d like for your Circle in the future
Anything not addressed in the categories above
The goal of a State of the Circle check-in is reflection. To facilitate this process, consider developing a set of questions based on the topics above, and sending them to your Well Circle prior to meeting. Ask everyone to answer in advance and bring what they wrote. You could also dedicate free write time at the beginning of your State of the Circle and share out the answers as a Circle. Or, you could facilitate an open discussion of the questions.
If your group chooses to write out answers in advance, everyone can share answers as a full group. To maximize time, people can break into mini-groups to move through their answers. Then the groups can report back when the entire group reconvenes, surfacing patterns and especially interesting points.
You can find a wonderfully comprehensive list State of the Circle questions in chapter 9 of Sacred Circles by Carnes and Craig.
Volume 4, Section 5
Starting and entering a Well Circle involves a lot of intention; closing or leaving one deserves the same.
WHEN A WELL CIRCLE MEMBER LEAVES
If someone decides to leave the group, that’s her choice. We hope your Circle as a collective will support her, and reassure her that she doesn’t have to justify her decision, or try to convince her to stay.
For someone who’s leaving your Circle, consider creating a farewell ritual or activity for that woman’s last Well Circle meeting. If she’s leaving before your Circle meets again, you could decide on another way to acknowledge the woman’s departure as a group — send a communal card, go in together on a gift, or make a video tribute; whatever best suits your group and feels like a fitting send-off for the woman who’s leaving. Honoring everyone’s participation and contribution is an important way we can make each other feel valued.
IF YOU WANT TO LEAVE YOUR WELL CIRCLE
If you think you want to leave your Well Circle but you’re not sure, we recommend that you have at least one conversation with a friend, relative, or counselor outside your Circle to minimize the chance of creating interpersonal drama. If you really want the perspective of someone inside your Circle, we recommend talking to them second. If you do choose talk through it through with someone in your Circle, it will be important to communicate that this decision is for you, and not personal or about them.
If you ultimately decide to leave, it’s important to communicate this cleanly and compassionately to your Well Circle. Depending on the situation, you might share this decision at your next meeting and explain why, to whatever degree is appropriate. Alternatively, if the situation is too heated or sensitive, send an email to the group. If you choose to write, mention any things about the Circle that have been transformative or important. Keep your farewell clean, short, sweet, and loving. However you decide to share the news, share it with empathy, care, and respect.
WHEN IT’S TIME TO CLOSE A CIRCLE
At some point, a bigger goodbye and closing might be in order — one for the Well Circle as a whole. It might come to pass that this Circle just isn’t gelling, or that everyone has reached a completion point. Life cycles, time passes, things change, and that’s okay. Death is a part of cycles; we believe deeply in the value of death too.
To close your Well Circle, you might collectively plan a ritual. Or you could co-create one together on the fly. (Our Packet 6: Ritual has strategies and a guided exercise to help you create meaningful rituals.) You might go on an outing to a special place together, or simply plan a final Well Circle devoted to reflecting, gratitude, and storytelling.
Parting Thoughts on Dissent
Volume 4, Section 6
Dissent is totally natural and to be expected. Moments of dissent are valuable opportunities to grow and deepen your relationships. Often times, a group can become closer and feel more bonded after working through disagreement.
If you’re struggling with dissent in your Circle, or any of the other topics discussed in this packet, please reach out to At The Well. We’re here to support you and want to hear from you. We’re happy and ready to work with you to make things right.
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