Johnny Moore has written a lovely blog post reflecting on four years of hosting unhurried conversations. You’ll find it here. Inspired and encouraged by Johnny’s invitation (see here) and jointly with Corinne Sprecher I have initiated an online Serendipity Circle. Driven by our curiosity for the people and stories that await us in the circles, we have organized five unhurried discussions over the last 8 months; each with 5-7 people who joined us from Armenia, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and The Netherlands.
Our intention was to prototype a new way of meeting and having online conversations across geographical borders that are refreshing, pleasant and enriching. We both believe in the magic of fortunate coincidence – serendipity. By inviting people from different walks of life and backgrounds and by leaving the discussion topic open we wanted to give the unforeseen a space to unfold.
In an unhurried conversation, there is time to think differently and connect with people in a refreshing way. Unhurried isn’t always slow, but it has a pace where people find it easy to join in and not feel crowded out. And listening can be as satisfying as talking.
The online circles lasted each one hour. They took place mostly in the evening. I have the impression that the late hour and the darkness of autumn and winter contributed to the intimacy of the conversations.
We met online on Zoom. In the beginning, our online environment triggered interesting discussions. It felt unusual and a little bit awkward to see the people but not really their facial expressions. And when do you see your own face displayed next to the others like taking a selfie? At one point, one participated stated: “We see each other like neighbors in an apartment building with 3 floors. I have neighbors next to me and above. I am living on the ground floor. And you?” (Remark: The view depends on the individual screens of each participant.)
The circles were a great experience. Very personal even though we didn’t know each other. I think being open minded and curious about the stories of other people is important. Seeing us as neighbors in an apartment building was very funny, we talked about and then we could let it go.
In my working environment we are mainly using Skype or Skype for business. But Zoom was a real new and pleasant experience. Especially the possibility to see the live-stream of all participants with the same size, including me watching myself as part of the group. I immediately had the feeling that WE ALL are one group, and not the feeling I normally have: there is the group – and then it´s me as an add-on.
We used a talking piece as one would do in a circle. We invited people to pick an object and use it as taking piece. At the beginning it might have been a little bit unusual to indicate ‘my turn, I have something to share’ but it worked well and allowed us to have a self-facilitated and unhurried conversation. The pace of the conversation was slower, people relaxed and listened to each other. I am quite convinced that the talking piece helped the group to move forward together and develop the discussion thread jointly.
Choosing a talking piece for our online conversation was special. The object I grabbed was somehow linked to our conversation. Therefore, for each circle I asked myself what object to use this time. This was a lovely experience for me.
The talking piece helped us to have an unhurried conversation. I could indicate my turn to talk; and with the talking piece in my hands I had the time to think and talk without hurrying.
In my actual job, we have a lot of meetings via Skype. I sometimes observe that, especially in lively discussions, persons are interrupting each other, or the echo hinders a fluent discussion flow – and people don’t listen well to each other. I can imagine that with a talking piece as an agreed rule, the discussion can be more structured and fluent. I will experiment this in one of my next business related online meetings, to try making them more unhurried!
Whoever joined were the right people. Some people participated once, others came back regularly. Most people did not know each other. While we had an informal chat in the 10 minutes before the circles started, we had no introduction rounds during the circle. I found it interesting that with the regular participants, a social weaving process started that went beyond the Serendipity Circle.
The circle’s spirit was ‘Whatever topic comes up is the right one to discuss.’ We did not define a theme or a question for the conversation, but we opened the circle with a picture. In some of the conversations the picture triggered a discussion in others not.
So, what was serendipity about our conversations? To me it was the narratives that evolved organically, the surprising discussion threads, the twists and turns as well as the freshness of perspectives that allows us, the circle participants to have happy encounters. There were unexpected turns and combinations that made us feel excited. One never knows beforehand what stories emerge and interweave. For example, the first circle of this year has taken us from the new year’s dive in the Netherlands to Georgian yodeling, and to many places in between. This was possible thanks to the diversity of the group, the richness of the experiences and the open-minded spirit. The conversations were driven by a shared curiosity and readiness to listen and to discover together.
One of my motivation to co-initiate the Serendipity Circle was my curiosity to see and experience how meaningful online conversations can be. After 5 circles, I am convinced that online conversation circles are precious and a great add-on for remote teams and networks to share and discover jointly.