What are group conversations?

Any conversation with more than two people is a group conversation. In our everyday lives, some examples of group conversations are: meeting for a work or school project, gathering for a family reunion, or hanging out with our friends.

Why do we engage in group conversations?

We are social creatures, and a lot of our socialization as human beings is rooted in group settings – our workplaces, schools, places of worship, and so on. Since our social settings are structured that way, it is no wonder that our natural inclination is to gravitate toward groups... and the only way for us to seek belonging, acceptance and understanding is through communicating with the group as a whole. Hence, group conversations.

What are the benefits of group conversations?

  1. Tapping into Collective Intelligence: Sometimes, when we feel stumped, all it takes to break us out of a funk is a new perspective... Having a group conversation means we get to see one thing from a myriad of angles and perspectives, sparking novel ways of thinking about the issue at hand.
  2. Sharing the Emotional Labor: Imagine your teammate is having a bad day. Now imagine having to hold space for them to vent alone, vs. sharing the load as a team, everyone taking turns asking questions and showing love. Which scenario feels more empowering to you?
  3. Creating an Intentional Space for Connection: Every gathering is an opportunity for connection, even if it is not explicitly a part of the agenda. When you bring people together, you are giving them a space to connect with each other, deepening the relationships and shared identity that the group has.

When/where do we engage in group conversations?

  • Aligning (e.g. a shift in the bigger vision/direction)
  • Planning (e.g. setting the timeline for a project)
  • Celebrating (e.g. a team achievement/milestone)
  • Listening (e.g. when someone in the team is upset)
  • Learning (e.g. exploring a new idea/concept together)
  • Improving (e.g. getting team's feedback for a project)
  • Reviewing (e.g. gaining insights on team performance)
  • Reflecting (e.g. looking back on the past year together)
  • Bonding (e.g. building deeper connections as a group)

Why are group conversations so difficult?

1. Diversity

"everyone is different, and that can make things uncomfortable"

When Tribeless first began, we hosted dinner parties with strangers from all walks of life. People with different personalities, values and beliefs, from all kinds of cultures, generations and socioeconomic backgrounds — coming together to break bread and share stories for one night. The sheer diversity of people we brought together in those early days challenged us to put aside our biases, withhold our judgment, and really truly get to know the human beings sitting around the table with us.

We have a saying in Malaysia – "Tak kenal maka tak cinta", which translates to "You can't appreciate what you don't know." It's scary when we are confronted with things we don't understand, so our first instinct is to just dismiss it and push it away.

When we do that in a group conversation, it prevents us from fully connecting and understanding the other person, keeping us stuck in the same old conflict. That's why it's so important for us to have a way to acknowledge and embrace our differences in a conversation, creating a space where everyone can be heard, seen and understood.

BEST PRACTICE: Let people know that diversity is not only welcome, but encouraged. "I know that we all bring different things to this conversation today. If you don't agree with something, let's practice asking questions and being curious, instead of shutting it down!"

2. Group Dynamics

"whose turn is it to speak and whose turn is it to listen?"

Imagine you're facilitating a brainstorming meeting. All your teammates are there — introverted, extroverted, loud, quiet. As usual, Tom, the loudest voice in the room, dominates the conversation: "I think we should do this!" You nod at him, and wait for the others to chime in. They never do. Tom speaks up again: "And we should do this, too!" More silence. You feel desperate for someone else to speak. "Anyone? What do you think, Mary?" Mary just shrugs and avoids eye contact. And that is how your meeting progresses for the next 45 minutes.

This may sound like caricature, but you'd be surprised how group dynamics play out across our lives. From meetings, to friend hang-outs, to even our own families, if we do not create a space where EVERYONE — including the quietest voices in the room — feel safe enough to speak up, then we are not facilitating a group conversation; we are merely holding up a podium for the louder, more confident voices to speak and debate.

BEST PRACTICE: Assign explicit roles (like "Speaker" and "Listener") in your group conversation so that everyone has an equal chance to listen and speak.

3. Group Norms

"What can i say... and what can i not say?"

Nora is new to the team. At the Monday Morning Meeting, where everyone takes turns answering a personal check-in question, Nora skips it and cites not feeling comfortable sharing about emotions with her colleagues. The group falls quiet... No one is quite sure what to do or say. Internally, everyone is thinking: "Does this mean it's not OK for us to talk about personal things anymore?"

Group norms dictate the behavior of a group, such as what you can share, how deep you can go, and how you should respond. Is your group brash, light-hearted, fun? Serious, efficient, independent? Collaborative, playful, open?

The challenge of group norms is that they are often invisible and unspoken. Not only are they unique to the group, but they also move and shift according to the individuals who join and leave it... So it's best to pay attention to them!

BEST PRACTICE: Clearly establish a set of rules of engagement at the beginning of a group conversation, so that everyone knows what norms to follow. (e.g. "Humor is welcome", "Listen before you speak")

In Conclusion...

  • Group conversations are such a naturally occurring fixture in our social life, we rarely give any thought to how we're approaching and engaging in them.
  • The three "invisible" challenges we face in group conversations are Diversity, Group Dynamics and Group Norms.
  • We hope this article gives you a different perspective on group conversations, and the power they can have in your life!

If you'd like a simple and fun way to get started on group conversations, check out The Empathy Box – our proprietary tool for facilitating empathetic conversations. Learn more at www.EmpathyBox.co 💛