- Ricka Robb Kohnstamm
How do Conversation Circles support being in community, especially now?
It's a cliche but also very real... "I'm so lonely I could die."
Many people are experiencing loneliness like never before and it is deadly. "Social isolation is more lethal than obesity or smoking 15 cigarettes a day," according to a study by Julianne Holt-Lunstad of Brigham Young University.
Two thirds of adults say that social isolation has increased their anxiety levels and women report higher levels of negative emotions than men. But it has hit young people the hardest. Isolation during the time of COVID has rapidly become a public health crisis.
Our current self imposed isolation means we stay physically safe, but the isolation from human interaction has been devastating. Even many of those who are receiving vaccines don't feel safe interacting with others in person just yet.
Conversation Circles are one of my very favorite tools to help small groups of individuals fight isolation by building community. These virtual closed groups are designed to address organizational or audience “triggers” in a way that invites safe, authentic participation with a goal of helping everyone hear and feel heard. Conversation Circles focus on process and participants feel outcomes almost immediately.
Consider these recent examples...
Encouraging community through talking about resilience. During the initial phase of the pandemic, Marilyn L. Bach, Ph.D., a retired member of the University of Minnesota Medical School faculty, joined a women's group through a local organization for a Conversation Circle I led focused on gaining resilience. She took away a surprising new idea that has helped her cope in the ensuing months. Read the article she wrote about her experience here.
Encouraging community through leadership skill building. A large national organization headquartered in Minnesota uses my guided Conversation Circles, focused on leadership skill building, to strengthen bonds between employees who are used to being in daily contact. Showing up to share and be heard deepens long-lasting connections within teams and provides deeper awareness for management.
Encouraging community through self-care skill building. Steven's Square Foundation used a Conversation Circle focused on self-care for their annual grantee workshop. Grantees broke out into small groups and built community at the same time they explored and shared wisdom around self-care.
Encouraging community through standing courageously with conflict. Yess Yoga, an inclusive and accessible community, used a guided Conversation Circle to bravely step into conflict. Conflict can tear organizations apart. Instead, employees left the Circle feeling embraced and hopeful.
Intentionally creating conversations through guided Conversation Circles are a forward leaning, positive way to decrease isolation and encourage community.
Actions, aligned with values, support optimal health.