We have become used to holding conversations on Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and other video conferencing platforms during the pandemic, but whether convening conversations that matter in person or via video conference, we need to develop and improve our leadership and facilitation of these events. I have been fortunate to have experienced memorable conversations with fellow travelers while on a walking safari across the Serengeti in Tanzania and during an expedition by canoe in the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area within the Superior National Forest in northeastern Minnesota, close to the Canadian border. I have also convened conversations that matter with individuals and groups in organizations around the world and with individuals during major life transitions.
My guide on the canoe expedition, Craig Neal, co-author of The Art of Convening developed the convening wheel, a model for authentic engagement in conversations and meetings. Another valuable resource for shaping our futures through conversations that matter is The World Café process introduced by Juanita Brown and David Isaacs. The steps of these processes can help us with convening these essential conversations.
Second Half of Life: Isolation and Loneliness
The coronavirus pandemic has in many ways amplified what we already knew about the importance of interpersonal dialogue and human interactions. Psychologists have expressed concern that the coronavirus pandemic has triggered a loneliness epidemic. Although many working people have appreciated the extra time spent with family, the reduced traveling to and from work, and a better work-life balance, older people may not have fared so well.
Simple observation revealed that many, if not most, of the residents in my apartment building live alone. After only a few months of the pandemic, 43% of people living on their own reported their mental health as much worse since the beginning of the pandemic according to a report on the Experience of People Approaching Later Life in Lockdown in England. Although loneliness and isolation may be diminishing as the pandemic subsides and lockdown restrictions ease, we have to consider what needs to be done to create a society where people in later life can feel a better sense of inclusion and participation.
Convening conversations that matter for people in older age groups is a way to alleviate isolation and loneliness. These conversations may be with large or small groups, or even with one other person. Rather than simply showing up for these discussions, we have the opportunity to more consciously convene these conversations that matter.
Key steps for consciously convening conversations that matter
Here are five steps that may serve as a guide for consciously convening conversations that matter.
Preparing well: Before the beginning of the conversation, creating a spacious container for the conversation should be a high priority. For a conversation that matters with one other person, we must create an environment where we can give our full attention, without the risk of interruptions. For group meetings of any size, in-person gatherings require a physical space designed for comfort, safety, and authentic engagement. Virtual gatherings bring different requirements and protocols. For the leader of the conversation, preparing well means setting intentions for the process and outcomes, designing the event to allow space for conversation as a whole group and smaller groups if necessary, and an energetic container with appropriate protocols and agreements.
Hearing all the voices: At the outset of a conversation, whether virtually or in person, hearing the voices of everyone present gives each person the opportunity to listen deeply to others and for everyone to speak into the circle and have their voice heard. Even in large groups where hearing all the voices individually would take too long, small groups of two or three can be formed so that everyone can say their name and a few words to break the ice. Once someone has spoken, they will be more at ease and ready to make a contribution later in the conversation.
Moments of Mindfulness: Having heard the voices of everyone present, or maybe before, a moment of mindfulness can help form a bridge to the content of the conversation. This can be a short meditation or a period of silent reflection. It can also be an opportunity to connect spiritually or emotionally with everyone present, looking deeply into the eyes of people in the room or on the screen. Moments of mindfulness can also be helpful at any time during the conversation to create mental and emotional space and to transition from one topic to another.
Structure and Flow: In these essential conversations, meaningful exchanges between participants require a structure and flow that is both disciplined and flexible. Numerous methods and tools are available including the World Café and The Art of Convening referred to earlier in this article. Much of the conversation can be stimulated by asking powerful questions. Small groups can break out and then come back together to harvest what has been emerging. Guiding the conversation with a light touch can help create the space for these essential conversations and the emerging insights.
Ending well: Meetings often end abruptly or in a rush as time runs out. Ending well means building in time at the end of the session for personal reflections, a commitment to action, and a closing of the circle with plans, if necessary, for the next essential conversation. It is important to end well.
I have been convening conversations that matter for many years, from workshops with leadership teams in organizations across Europe and the Americas, to conversations with people in the second half of life who are feeling Too Young to Retire®. We have a responsibility for convening conversations that matter for people in older age groups to alleviate isolation and loneliness and to help people in the second half of life plan for their retirement transitions. The high-level overview presented in this article barely touches the surface of consciously convening conversations that matter but hopefully, you will find it to be a valuable starting point.
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I am the Consciousness Whisperer, a conscious leadership and conscious living coach, and the author of the book, The Inner Journey to Conscious Leadership.
I am a convener of conscious conversations for people who are Too Young to Retire® and the principal owner of 2Young2Retire, LLC. I lead the 2Young2Retire® facilitator certification program. I divide my time between Portsmouth, England and West Palm Beach, Florida.