RE: authentic communication
From: Tree Bressen (
Date: Fri, 16 Dec 2005 16:10:26 -0800 (PST)

Here is a compilation of answers from 4 groups that appeared on this mailing list in response to someone else's previous query on this topic. Cheers,



Compiled by Tree Bressen from postings on the Cohousing-L email list


At RoseWind, once most of us were living on site or in town, discussion circles greatly shortened the process of whole-group discussion and decision making. Well-attended, and well-done, such circles can offer the best of both small and large group work.

Our discussion circles do not make decisions, but are a forum for members to get more information, share concerns and alternatives, and otherwise give the responsible committee or task force useful material to incorporate prior to bringing an item to a whole-group meeting. We still allow and encourage discussion at the full-group meeting, but there is a lot less of it when concerns have already been raised and addressed, often fine tuning the proposal, ahead of time. Email discussions contribute also, including email comments to circle organizers from those who are unable to attend the circle.

Delegation can be tricky. One thing we've found is that certain committees attract certain "types" and often committee membership is not representative of the diversity of the whole group. The people who gravitate to the Finance Committee or the CC&R-revision Task Force are different from those who gravitate to the Art Task Force or Grounds Committee. So "trust your committees" isn't always the perfect solution. All our committees and task forces, other than our 5-member Steering Committee, are volunteer, not elected or selected.

Tips for successful discussion circles:
*Good pre-circle materials distribution, via email, handouts, etc. Not too far in advance, nor too close to meeting time, to optimize how many people have it fresh in their minds. Bring extra copies to the circle for those who need them.
*Reminder of upcoming circle date and time.
*Structured facilitation, so you have the facts summarized, then some sort of go-round or brainstorm or whatever, with a focus on certain questions, or breakdown of the issues. Check at the outset if the planned structure works for people, and be flexible if need be. ("Hey- this is all predicated on X, and I'm think we should first make sure we are in agreement on X...."). *Better several short go-rounds, on various aspects, than a long "download" from each of many people, which can be tedious to sit through and wait your turn. We've sometimes passed a 3-minute egg timer on contentious subjects: if you finish early (rare), the balance of the sand timer is spent in silence, so the next person has a full timer.
* The presenters need to be open to a whole new approach if it emerges.
Don't get too attached to "your" work!
*Note taking and distribution isn't essential, but can help bring up to speed those who didn't attend.

--Lynn Nadeau, RoseWind Cohousing <welcome [at]>


> 1. How often does this meeting occur?

Our sharing circle is called our 'Meeting of the Hearts' and we hold it once per month. The idea behind our Meetings of the Hearts is to help increase the emotional sharing and intimacy of the neighborhood. That's an end unto itself, but we also hope that by being more emotionally connected and knowing each other's stories, we will operate wisely in making community decisions and simply getting along as neighbors.

During the meetings, folks usually talk about personal stuff, but many also talk about community stuff.

> 2. Is it a regular event or scheduled as needed?

We meet regularly, but also schedule additional 'fireside chats' as needed. The purpose of the 'fireside chats' usually has more to do with exploring the emotional side of community issues without any real attempt to 'solve' the issue. Once the emotional side of the issue is well aired, we usually have better success at the business meeting at reaching a decision about the issue.

> 3. Is there a facilitator?

There's a facilitator of sorts, but for the most part the facilitator has very little involvement. They open the meeting, announce the topic if there is one (usually not), and close the meeting.

> 4. What is the format?
> 5. Do you have guidelines for participation at this meeting?

Typically we use a talking staff (whoever holds the staff has the floor). When someone is moved to talk they pick up the staff and have as long as they want to say what they want. We usually don't have a topic and folks simply talk about whatever is 'up for them'. Generally we don't respond to someone else's comments unless they specifically ask for a response. We simply listen deeply and hold them in our hearts.

> 6.. What percentage of your community attends?

Maybe about 30% of the adults -- about the same as our business meetings.

--Mac Thomson


At Tierra Nueva, central CA coast (where the monarch butterflies are returning in their annual migration cycle) we have Community Life meetings.

> 1. How often does this meeting occur?

First Saturday morning of the month

> 2. Is it a regular event or scheduled as needed?

regular, monthly, which just changed 3 months ago from quarterly, after we decided to have one (down from two) business meeting (third Thursday) per month, and one community life per month. We are finding this to be a successful change...attendance at the business meetings is soaring since it's just once a month, and attendance at the community life meetings stays about the same. There is a core of folk who just like interacting this way, and we always show up. The parents of younger children show up less frequently (busy lives).

> 3. Is there a facilitator?

We call the facilitator the "host", volunteers who are solicited every few months to serve as host for one meeting..

> 4. What is the format?

Potluck breakfast 8 - 9 am.
Opening "Kos Dance" (Greek Circle dance) 9 am Announcements, sharings while folks write out topics on paper to put into the "Ting" bowl.
"Ting"  9 - 10:30 or 11 am.
Ting is a self generating "anything goes" game that brings up topics for discussion. Sometimes the person who wrote the topic remains anonymous, sometimes they choose to reveal themselves. Topics perameters: anything NOT business, more of emotional, relationship, community interaction type topics. Last meeting we had the following tings: children excluding younger children on the playground, welcoming new buyers into the community, brainstorming how to get a bigger crowd out to do the landscape workdays, correcting glitches in notification of pesticide sprays on a neighboring field (it was an emotional issue), creating a "thankyou" ritual for the cooks and food, before meals.
Closing circle dance, with kids.

> 5. Do you have guidelines for participation at this meeting?

Yes. A whole list of agreements that we post and often read out loud before beginning. Stuff like using "I" statements, Deep Listening, Respect, Confidentiality (if requested), Communication agreements.

> 6.. What percentage of your community attends?

It varies.  Ranging from 1/3 to 3/4....

Childcare is provided, paid for by the HOA, usually to a couple of older community kids who have grown up here...

--Patty Mara Gourley, Tierra Nueva

Two Acre Wood

> 1. How often does this meeting occur?

Once a month (although tends to get canceled about 3 times a year)

> 2. Is it a regular event or scheduled as needed?

Regular - 1st Sunday of the month - alternates with the business GM which is the third Sunday.

> 3. Is there a facilitator?

Yes - the meetings are planned by our Community Life Committee and facilitated by rotating members of that committee. whereas our business meetings are facilitated by our Facilitation Team.

> 4. What is the format?

It varies - we shoot for a mix of deeper discussion of hot issues, games and singing, improv, etc., occasional field trip to a local spot of interest. A variety of things that are not business but are considered community building. We wanted to include some trainings on consensus, communication, conflict, etc., but ran into a snag as to whether our HOA could pay for such trainers, so haven't really done that yet. We always include about a half hour for a life history telling by one of our members - we have gotten through about half of our adults now. We started with the oldest first, since they had the longest stories - giving the youngers a chance to catch up!

> 5. Do you have guidelines for participation at this meeting?

The entire community is invited and "expected" to attend, but some don't.

> 6.. What percentage of your community attends?

It varies - it tends to be a smaller turnout than the business meetings, maybe half to two-thirds on average.

Then we have also experimented over the last 6 or 8 months with a circle that met one Monday night a month for more personal sharing. The whole community was also invited to that, but after a very well attended first meeting, only about 7 to 10 folks show up now and the last two have been canceled for lack of interest.

We are planning our first off-site retreat since we moved in three years ago - in November. We plan to do some training and exercises in communication and conflict resolution. I'll let you know how it comes out.

--Marty Roberts, Two Acre Wood, Sebastopol, CA


Tree Bressen
1680 Walnut St.
Eugene, OR 97403
(541) 484-1156
tree [at]

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