Authentic Communication Groups often go through many stages of development that support inclusion, trust and intimacy.
When you join any group, it’s not uncommon for three forms of anxiety to show up:
- Acceptance Anxiety: Do I belong? Are these my people? Will I be accepted as part of the group? If I express myself authentically, will I be received? Will I be able to connect across differences of race, gender, sexuality, age, and experience? Can I participate fully without losing my individuality?
- Orientation Anxiety: What’s going on here? Do I understand why we are here and what we are doing together? Do we share similar goals and desires? Does the facilitator know how to lead this group? Do I understand the group norms? Am I going to get what I came for? Is this interactive style of learning going to work for me?
- Performance Anxiety: Will the group value my participation? Will I be able to contribute? Are my skills, knowledge & experience enough? Am I more or less competent than other members of the group? How do I take responsibility for making this a great learning community? How do I ask for and give support? Do we have what it takes to make this a high-functioning group?
During the early stage, members check each other out and determine whether the group is a good fit. Before stepping into trust and vulnerability, many will test the waters to see if the group is competent and caring. Some folks are wondering if the group members can provide a brave space where they can bare their souls and be held with compassion. While some people start cautiously by sitting back and observing and then take small risks to enter the group, others jump right in and open their hearts. Each person chooses their own pace, understanding that the more they give, the more they get.
Although part of you might feel a bit anxious during the first session, other parts can feel excited, curious, or courageous. If you’re not sure what to say, you can begin by sharing how you feel about being in the group.
When you’re ready, you can share why you joined the group, what challenges you face and what you hope to learn. When someone shares vulnerably, if you receive value or are touched, it can be helpful to let the speaker know.
“In this environment where there is a commitment to authenticity and transparency, I feel safe and open to curiosity, exploration and learning.”
Two modalities can be particularly helpful in the group, Internal Family Systems and Nonviolent Communication.
Internal Family Systems (Richard Schwartz): Our psyches are made up of different parts, sometimes called subpersonalities or inner voices. Each part has its own perspective, feelings, needs, memories, and goals. For example, one part of you might have an intense desire to share something vulnerable while another part is terrified to speak up. We all have parts like the inner critic, the wounded child, the people pleaser, the fierce controller, and the loving peacemaker.
Most group members find it useful to speak for their parts in the group. For example, you might say, “A part of me wants to share something very painful because I want understanding. Another part of me is terrified because it’s afraid I won’t belong.” Understanding your parts helps build connection to Self.
The goal of IFS is to help us recognize our spiritual center, or Self, which is grounded in calm, connection, compassion, creativity, clarity, curiosity, confidence and courage. We all have two basic types of parts—protectors who want to keep us safe from feeling underlying pain, and exiles or wounded parts that experience pain and shame. We can learn to speak from Self energy, by developing an empathic relationship with each of our parts, and helping our wounded parts to heal.
Nonviolent Communication (Marshall Rosenberg): To support heart connection, we can communicate our observations, feelings, needs and requests. This language of compassion helps us shift away from judgment, interpretation, analysis, and demands and move toward ways of communication that serve life. In this practice, we take responsibility for our experience. Rather than blaming others, we own our feelings and needs and acknowledge that all needs matter.
NVC theory asserts that all behavior stems from attempts to meet fundamental human needs and these needs are never in conflict. Rather, conflict arises when strategies for meeting needs clash.
The basic principles of NVC include: 1. All people across history and across cultures share the same needs 2. All actions are attempts to meet needs 3. Feelings point to needs that are met or unmet 4. All people have the capacity for compassion 5. People take great pleasure in giving 6. Human beings meet needs through interdependent relationships 7. The most direct path to peace is through self-connection
Open-hearted living includes speaking from the heart, receiving others with compassion, and prioritizing connection. We can move beyond “right” and “wrong” thinking to deepening our awareness of human needs.
The practice of self-empathy involves compassionately connecting with what is going on inside us. Without blame, we notice our observations, our feelings, and what needs are important to us.
Receiving others empathically, means connecting with what’s alive in them and what would make life more wonderful. Empathic connection is an understanding of the heart in which we see the beauty in the other person, their divine energy, and the life forces that are alive in them. That doesn’t mean we have to feel the same feelings or agree with the other person. NVC suggests that however people express themselves, we focus on listening for the underlying observations, feelings, needs, and requests.
Interactive Group Work: Experiential learning is an opportunity to engage with a group in a series of conversations over an extended period. The facilitator doesn’t teach or structure the session, but rather, supports live interaction. By supporting people to stay in the “here and now,” the group explores interpersonal relationships.
Initially individual goals tend to focus on learning how to communicate more effectively. As you learn more about yourself and your impact on others, trust deepens, the group shares emotional intimacy, and the group talks about more substantive issues. With no predetermined agenda, participants have both the freedom and the responsibility to use the time well.
The sessions are primarily ‘process oriented’ rather than ‘content oriented.’ Learning is on the feeling level rather than the conceptual level. No one tells you what you should talk about. The group decides. When problems emerge from this lack of direction, people tend to act in habitual ways. Some step back or disengage. Others become aggressive. The facilitator draws attention to behaviors and patterns emerging in the group, which supports a high level of participation and engagement. Intense involvement in the process can lead to lasting changes in behavior and mindsets.
You can initiate the work you want to do in the group. Each group member has reactions toward others almost immediately, so sharing your feelings and needs helps to build authentic connection. Allow yourself to respond in the moment when you have a reaction to something that happens in the group. When something happens that evokes feelings in you, check in with your parts, identify your needs and speak about your reaction. When you explore discomfort the moment it happens, you can learn a lot from a live interaction with the group.
Another option is to plan what you want to work on before the session. You can identify your feelings toward each person in the group and notice if you have any feelings you have been withholding. The feelings can be intense or mild, enjoyable or uncomfortable. At the beginning of the session, you can state that you want to share your feelings, or wait until the feelings come out in the group before bringing it up.
- Speak from your heart.
- Whenever possible, speak for parts, not from parts.
- If the group is not going the way you want, take leadership.
- Take responsibility for getting your needs met.
- Keep it real.
Quarterly Private Consultation
Each of you can schedule a consultation with your facilitator once a quarter to help you get what you want out of the group. You can use the consultation to:
- learn how to initiate interactive work in the group
- get in touch with subtle reactions you have experienced in the group
- talk about feelings that you don’t feel safe exploring in the group
- strategize about how to work on a specific issue
- get clarity about what is holding you back
For example, suppose you want to learn to deal with your tendency to blurt out your judgments and mitigate the regret and shame that follows. Your facilitator can help you get in touch with your anger and help you to bring your feelings up in the group.
In the ACG, you can expect to learn how to:
- speak directly to people about what is alive in you
- express yourself openly and vulnerably and share your genuine emotional reactions
- become more aware of your long-held patterns and growing edges
- challenge each other in ways that are healthy and supportive
You can also set your own learning goals, such as understanding power dynamics, taking a stand against oppression, stepping into leadership, or deepening your compassion for others.
- The Google group is the place where we share documents to support our learning. This is also the place where you can communicate with the whole group using the group email. However, there is no expectation that you participate in between Zoom sessions.