Friday, 24 May 2013

Sitting in the circle


I prefer circles over the class room layout. Whenever I have the possibility to use the circle layout I do it, even if it was a large-group event.  In addition, I also take the tables out. So basically there are just chairs. In the circle.

However, every single time when people enter the room, there are always comments such as:

”oh no, we have to sit in a circle”
”there are no back seats in this layout”

I have been wondering why the circle raises so many emotions? Do people expect that when they participate in a communication training they can hide somewhere in the back row, and then complain afterwards that it sucked and the training didn’t meet the expectations?

Usually communication training is about communication, to be in connection and interact with the people in the room. Of course there are moments when you want to sit silently and be in your own world for a while, and that’s totally fine. But that can be done without loosing the connection with other people.

Why circles?

The idea of this post emerged during a communication training one week ago. I was there together with my colleague Vesa who brought up the meaning of the circle, when some of the usual comments were thrown in the air. He quoted the following:

The Circle has healing power.In the Circle, we are all equal.When in the Circle, no one is in front of you.No one is behind you.No one is above you.No one is below you.
The Sacred Circle is designed to Create Unity.The Hoop of Life is also a Circle. On this hoop there is a place for every species, every race, every tree and every plant. It is this completeness of Life that must be respected in order to bring about health on this planet. 
- Dave Chief, Oglala Lakota

The circle layout is to create space for open and equal communication amongs the participants. I want the focus to be in the conversation, not necessarily in me as a consultant, or someone else in the group. Sometimes the class room layout creates an unnecessary hierarchy between the consultant and participants, and amongst the participants. In the circle the wisdom is more collective and is co-created during the session. It’s between us, not in the front of the room or in the powerpoint. You know, like in the old days when people gathered around a bonfire to share stories and transfer wisdom. 

Although I am a fan of circles, it might not always be the best option. If the class room layout fits your intent better, so be it. The key thing is to understand that a certain layout sparks certain communication. So the question is what kind of communication do you want to spark? The way you arrange the furniture, for instance, in the meeting room is a communicative act and therefore always a choice. 

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