AFFINITY GROUP PROCESS
Logistics and Tips for Facilitating a Group
Putting a Group Together
If you wish to start an Affinity Group, invite friends and interested people* to a guest evening during which the Process can be introduced. Share with the group why you are attracted to the Affinity Group Process and how you feel it might help you. Review the purpose statement and the guidelines and ask if there are any questions. If possible, have copies of this book on hand that people can buy and take home and read.
If you are offering to facilitate the group in your home, suggest two or three times when it would be convenient for you to host the group. Remember, it is rare that all interested people will agree on a single time, so pass around a sheet of paper with the alternative meeting times highlighted and have people put their names down under the times they can commit to. If there are enough people interested to make two groups, ask if there is anyone else who would be willing to facilitate and host a group in
In some cases, you may need to have more than one guest evening before pinning down the logistics of group meetings. It is better to take a little more time in the beginning to be sure that group members are committed to the proposed meeting times than to find out later that people have dropped out of the group because of scheduling conflicts. Try as much as you can to make sure that everyone in your group is committed to the eight to ten week process before you have the first Affinity Group
As mentioned previously, the ideal group size is eight to twelve members. If you have more than twelve people, there may not be sufficient time for everyone to share during the two hour session. Groups with less than eight people will often have less diversity and may invite overly long sharings from members. In the prototype group of eight to twelve members, each member is sharing about 10% of the time and listening 90% of the time. As you can see, the speaking/listening balance is heavily
weighted toward listening in the Affinity Process. This ensures that members learn to be present for others and also learn to listen more deeply to their own inner dialog.
This being said, it must be acknowledged that the Affinity Process can be practiced wherever “two or more gather together.” When the situation necessitates, smaller groups are acceptable. Larger groups can also work if participants are skilled in the Process. I have facilitated groups as large as one hundred people using the Affinity Process. However, these larger groups work because participants have had previous experience in smaller groups.
The more diverse group membership is the better. Groups that incorporate people of different gender, age group, religious, cultural or racial heritage are ideal, since the Affinity Group strives not for agreement, but for acceptance and respect for each person's experience.
Opening a Meeting
The following guidelines will help you facilitate the opening of your Affinity Group meeting:
1. Wait until everyone arrives before beginning the meeting.
2. Gather people in a circle and hold hands. Then say “I want to remind all of us that we’re here to create a safe, loving, non-judgmental space where we can open our hearts and move through our fears. Let’s take a few moments now in silence to become emotionally present, connect with each other in our hearts and remember why we have gathered together.” After a few moments of silence, you can ask the group to sit down and then ask members to take turns reading the guidelines aloud.
After that, you can declare the floor open for sharing.
Closing a Meeting
When the group is about twenty minutes away from its agreed-on ending time, wait for a pause in the sharing and say: “I just want to remind the group that we have only ten or fifteen minutes left for sharing before we go into our closing. I want to ask those of us who have already shared to hold the space for those who have not shared yet. And I want to ask those who have not shared to check inside and see if there’s anything you’d like to share at this time. Please don’t take this a pressure to speak, but as an opportunity to share if you are ready.”
If silence persists, check in with the group one more time: “I just want to let everyone know that we have four or five minutes left: time for one person to share who hasn’t shared yet.” When the time is up, tell the group “Okay, it is time for us to go into our closing.”
Always leave at least five minutes for the closing ritual. Again, gather the group in a circle and hold hands. Ask the group members to close their eyes and say “I want to thank all of you for speaking and listening from your hearts today. We hold what has been communicated with compassion and confidentiality. We are grateful for everyone’s contribution. Thank you all for the gift you bring to this group.” Then close with a Sufi Song and Dance such as May the Blessings of God Rest Upon You
or All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you.*
When to Intervene
It is suggested that the facilitator intervene only when someone in the group is way out of process. Examples include: cross talk (a sample intervention would be “Excuse me, but I’d like to ask us all to give the speaker our full attention. Thank You.”), overt judgment of or feedback about what someone else has shared (a sample intervention would be “I wonder if we could all remember to make I statements, not you statements. It’s most helpful if we talk about ourselves, not others. Thanks.”)
interrupting a person’s sharing (a sample intervention would be “Bob, could I ask you to wait until Susan is finished sharing? Thank you.”), and monopolizing the group’s time and attention (a sample intervention would be “Excuse me, Walter. I’m very sorry to interrupt you. I wonder if you would be willing to complete your sharing in the next few minutes, so that we make sure that everyone has a chance to share? Thank you for understanding”).
The need for such interventions will be minimal when group members take the time to understand the guidelines. If you find that you are having to intervene a lot, you might want to take five or ten minutes at the beginning of the next group to clarify a couple of the guidelines you feel people aren’t understanding. Try to do this in a general way, without using any of the group members as examples. That way, no one feels judged or picked on.
If you are a new facilitator without Affinity Group experience be honest with the group from the start. Say something like: “I want everyone to know that I’m a novice at this process, just like you. I’m willing to play the role of facilitator, but I’d like to ask all of you to help me. Let me know after the group if you didn’t feel supported and safe at any point in the process. I’m sure there will be times when I intervene inappropriately or don’t intervene when I should. Please understand that I’m probably going to make some mistakes. If you are ever really uncomfortable with anything that happens in the group, ask for a moment of silence, so that we can get back on track. That way each one of you will be helping me.”
Even if you are an experienced facilitator, some version of the above disclaimer statement should be made. The strongest Affinity Groups are the ones in which every member takes responsibility for following the guidelines. In such groups, a facilitator is not really necessary. Or to put it another way, in such groups, everyone facilitates.
If you make your role as facilitator too important, you will put a lot of pressure on yourself and get in the way of members taking their share of responsibility for the success of the process. Your best move as facilitator is to model the process by being authentic and responsible in your own sharings. This will empower the other group members to do the same.
How to Intervene
When possible, do not interrupt someone’s sharing. Remind the group about following an important guideline during a pause in the sharing.
Also try not to put any group member on the spot. Make general comments using the word “we” instead of “you.”
For example, suppose that a sharing lasts fifteen minutes and focuses primarily on a past event with lots of “story” details. When that sharing concludes and is completely received by the group, you might say “I want to remind us that it’s important to stay in the present and to communicate what we are thinking and feeling right now. Does anyone have anything that is coming up right now that s/he would like to share?”
Interventions like this help to shift the energy back to authentic process and away from storytelling.
The most important thing you should ask yourself as a facilitator before you make any intervention is “Can I say this in a loving way?” If the person sharing is pushing your buttons and you find yourself getting angry or impatient, then you know you can’t intervene in a loving way. At such times, you must become aware of what’s happening in your own consciousness and take responsibility for that before you can begin to facilitate.
In this case, you also have a real opportunity to model the process by acknowledging your own fears and judgments. For example, you might say “I want to own that I have a lot of judgments coming up right now. I’m being triggered by some of the sharing. I’m wondering if we are following the process here and I want to intervene as a facilitator, but I know that if I do I won’t be coming from love. I’ll be coming from frustration. I feel frustrated. I don’t think we’re doing it right and I think it’s my responsibility to fix it. And I know we’re not here to fix each other. But I want to fix all of you. And I guess that means I’m not doing it right either. I guess I think that if we don’t do it right, it’s my fault. I’m to blame. . . . Yeah, that’s it. I just wanted to own that. Thank you.”
This communication helps the group stay in the present because you are sharing a present reality. It encourages other
people to do the same.
As a rule of thumb, don’t intervene as a facilitator if you can’t do so in a loving way. If you are being triggered, the person who is triggering you will know it even if you say all the right “facilitator” words. If you have judgments or feelings coming up, you need to let go of your facilitator hat, and tell the group what is up for you. By participating authentically in the process, you model it for others.
There are two extremes in facilitating a group. One extreme is to be what we call “a gestapo for the guidelines.” A gestapo for the guidelines is constantly intervening to try to get people on track in the group. When there is too much intervention in a group, people don’t feel safe sharing. They become afraid that the facilitator will interrupt them or criticize their sharing and they start to withhold.
The other facilitation extreme is to let everyone share with minimal intervention. When cross talk, monopolizing, interrupting, and verbal judgments are happening in the group, people don’t feel safe sharing their thoughts and feelings with other group members. In this case, the facilitator is not adequately standing up for the guidelines.
Obviously both of these extremes are to be avoided. The best facilitators let the small things go and confront only the most obvious violations of the guidelines. When they do confront, they try to do so in a loving, supportive way. They try not to put any member on the spot.
A good facilitator may also use the time before or after the group to share concerns with individual members who might be out of process. Often, it is easier to give feedback on a one to one basis than it is in front of the whole group. And it’s also easier to check in with that person to see how s/he feels about the feedback.
Clear but harmonious facilitation is an art. You have to constantly keep checking in with yourself to make sure that you are coming from a positive, helpful place. You have to be continually sensitive to the other members of the group to make sure they feel accepted and honored. And you have to be honest when you are being triggered so that people can hold the space for you too.
The more experience you have with the Affinity Process, the more your facilitation skills will deepen. If you have a co-facilitator, you can help each other understand when an intervention backfires and decreases safety in the group and when an intervention would have been appropriate and helpful to the group.