The Circle Analogy; Separating other’s experiences from your own

An easy way to remember how to add space and distance

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I work a lot with groups of clients. Very often these groups comprise of leaders and quite regularly they are a mix of people leaders and team members. I’ve spent countless hours working with people to grasp the concepts I talk about here on this blog.

You have your own circle, and others have their own circle. Your circles should never really overlap

The people who approach me to work with me 1:1, quite often have a different outlook to the work that I do, in comparison to those who are allocated to a session I am running through the organisation they work for. It makes sense on paper doesn’t it. In the individual work I do, people self select to work with me, whereas often in the corporate space they are required to attend, or perhaps they are happy to be there, but are thinking about the piles of work mounting in the background whilst they are away. And of course, there are likely to be many other reasons as well that have them sitting in a room with me, feeling resistant.

Resistance shows up in many ways. Overtly through those who openly display aggressive behaviours and demonstrate a blocking stance. Covertly through whispers when peers are talking, being late, complaining about how long the sessions are taking and wanting to leave early. Often resistance is directed in my training room towards me being the ‘face’ of the organisation/change or it shows up as resistance towards the content I am delivering.

It can make for very uncomfortable experiences for the other people in that room, if I don’t address these behaviours (not individuals) directly with participants and talk about what everyone can feel and see. Additionally, if I am not careful, it can impact me. If I perceive other people’s discomfort as a negative evaluation of my work it can lead to a dip in my performance. The thing is about the content that I deliver, is that it is all evidence based. This means, it isn’t my own ideas which can be open to interpretation, the content is robust and applicable to most. Secondly, I am really good at my job. I know this. Group work, or working with couples is my jam. I am highly energised and skilled at what I do. This means that most of the time, resistant behaviours is not about me, it’s about their own feelings and experiences.

Herein lies the point of this post. All of us experience variations of this dynamic at work, or in our personal lives.

But, what if we were able to see other’s responsibilities for themselves and their own behaviours more clearly? What if we were able to take responsibility for our contribution and leave others reactions to us (or our content/delivery), as something that doesn’t belong to us. Wouldn’t that be freeing?

A wise colleague of mine talks about circles. You have your own circle, and others have their own circle. Your circles should never really overlap. You can connect with people, but not to the point where there is someone in your circle, or you are in theirs. Put in the movie ‘Dirty Dancing’ terms, it is more like ‘that is your dance space, and this is mine‘. This visual separation should help you manage your emotional separation. Separate circles that don’t overlap means you can stay connected, but you don’t take responsibility for something that isn’t yours.

I find this imagery really helpful as a grounding technique whenever I’m vulnerable to being sucked into someones else’s resistance/experience. 

I’m curious though, how do you contain your circle/dance space?

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