with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Learning From Others – Working With Your Small Group

I’ve heard from some of you that you are unhappy with your small group. Some concerns are interesting. I thought I would share a few and offer some suggestions to help you and your group.

One woman called worried about a woman in her group monopolizing the meeting. "Have you told her how you feel?" "Oh, I couldn’t!" The woman works in the mental health field, so she must be some kind of an expert in this, she assumed. I asked if she had problems with questioning or criticizing people in authority. She admitted this was true. I told her that now is the time to confront those fears and the small group is a great and safe place to tackle this fear head on.

image of people socializingAnother person was very concerned about how little she had in common with her group. She felt distant and unconnected with them. She wanted to be in a new group, one she decided to be more exciting and interesting. I asked her what were her expectations of being in a group – any group. She thought the group should click and instantly “be there” for each other, ready to help, hug, and support. "Does reality always meet your expectations?" I asked her. "No, it usually doesn’t." "Did you tell them how you felt?" I reminded her that they can’t read her mind, so unless she tells them how she feels, she will stay distant and unconnected with them. Maybe they felt the same way.

"It is just too much for me," were the frustrated words of another woman explaining how her group just wears her out. "I’ve got to get this one set up on a date, and the other calls me all the time to solve every problem, and the other one just expects me to take care of everything. I’m so tired out, I don’t know what to do." Knowing this woman took care of an elderly and ill parent, I asked her, "Do you have to take care of everyone?" Since all of her energy was going OUT to take care of everyone else, she had nothing left over to take care of HERSELF. Honestly, when you take care of yourself, you have more energy to take care of others. Burning yourself out doesn’t help anyone. I urged her to stop taking care of the people in the group and to encourage them to take care of themselves. "Tell them to stop you when you start to take over their life and tell them how to run it." With care, the group can help her help herself.

Just so everyone understands, it is not my job, or Ruth’s, as coordinators of the Tel Aviv Life Makeover group to screen potential members. We are not qualified and we don’t want to. Each person and each group is part of its own special microcosm of life – specifically YOUR life. Did you attract people in your group who make you nervous or uncomfortable? Clearly there is a lesson here to learn. In the last example, this woman attracted the same situation she lives in life, taking care of others, and if she wants, she can learn how to stop this life-inhibiting behavior through the group.

graphic of people meeting around a tableEveryone in your group has a gift for you, maybe many. Are you open to their gifts? Are you open to the lessons? If you can’t work on your life in the small group, where can you? Take advantage of the miracle you have attracted into your life through your group and reap the benefits they have to offer.

Here are a few points to consider in your group:

What Do You Want From Your Small Group?
Define your purpose in the group. What do you want from the group? Share it with each other. You might find out that you have a lot in common with each other.
Tell Them How You Feel
These people maybe brilliant and incredibly gifted in general, but most of them can’t read minds. If you don’t tell them how you feel about how the group is going, how do you know if they do or don’t feel the same way. Or maybe they can help you get real with your expectations. Either way, since you can’t read their minds, help everyone by telling them how you feel.
Active Listening
Really listen to each other. When you aren’t clear about what someone is saying, ask. Tell them what you think you are hearing, and ask them for confirmation.
Focus and Concentrate
When you are at the meeting or talking on the phone, be there 100%. Don’t be doing laundry, work, or shopping in your head. Be there in the moment and concentrate on what is happening and what is being discussed. You never know where your next life lesson is going to come from.
Stay on Track
Sure, you and your group will deviate from the topic and the conversation will wander all over the place. Stop and remind each other why you are here. Create an agenda before each meeting. Concentrate on discussing the homework and the changes in our lives due to working with the book. If you start wandering in your conversation, stop and focus. If someone in the group wanders, gently pull them back to the topic at hand so the group stays on track.
Ask for Help
You have several people on your side automatically just waiting to be asked. Have you asked them for help? There is no act that is not worth asking for help for. Need some help cleaning out that back, dark and deep closet? Need someone to sit with you while you confront some much needed ironing? Or do you need more specific help like someone to translate some Hebrew papers or help you move? Maybe the help you need involves meeting some of the homework assignments in the book. Asking gets you more help than not asking. Take advantage of the members of your group to start practicing how to ask. Remember, they can always say no, but at least you asked.
Have a Wind Bag?
If someone is your group is monopolizing your time together with their own agenda, tell them to stop. Sure, there will be times when one person needs more attention than the rest, but not every time. This is an equal opportunity group with room for everyone to participate. If you can’t stop someone in the group monopolizing your time, how can you stop someone outside of the group?
Set Ground Rules
As a group, decide what the ground rules are. Every group is different with different needs, but every group should agree from the start to keep everything said within the group "in" the group. Privacy is very important, as is trust. Make a ground rule to show up on time. Maybe your group needs a ground rule that helps the group stay on track like a stop watch or someone to ring a bell when the topic strays too long and too far. Discuss what your ground rules should be and keep them.
Fine. What does that mean?
"How was your week?" "Fine. Yours." "Fine." STOP! "Fines" get you no where. I personally hate "fines". So I always ask, "What does that mean?" Get in touch with yourself and the others around you by stopping the "fines" and really figure out what you are really feeling and saying. Leave the cliches behind. This is part of getting real with your life.

The Life Makeovers year long project has completed in Tel Aviv with Lorelle VanFossen and Ruth Alfi, but you can get involved or start your own group through the author of the book, Life Makeovers, Cheryl Richardson.

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