I came upon the idea of Harmony Circles* by chance. I hadn’t expected Harmony Circles to take over my practice and become my passion-project. I thought it was just another hippie idea, the newest fad. But once I witnessed and experienced a few Circles, it was clear that there was no denying the fact: Harmony Circles are the most effective, efficient, and flat-out enjoyable way to create a sense of community, responsibility, and belongingness. They foster healthy listening and compassionate relationships overnight. They can be applied to enhance employee relations, boost innovation, or build trust to get past conflicts. They help ease loneliness and create a sense of belongingness. And they build emotional intelligence, healthy conversation, and top-notch listening skills, to boot! There is simply no other method to engage people – even strangers! – in a conversation that is as transformative and energizing all-at-once.
As a mediator with a mixed background in social-organizational psychology and anthropology, I have been in the world of conflict transformation for over fifteen years. I’ve worked with individuals and teams, helping folks build better relationships, communicate and negotiate more effectively, and become better leaders. Yet there was something different about the interconnectedness I felt, when I first experienced a Circle conversation. Some participants were moved to tears. Others were taken by the raw humanity and vulnerability in the moment. All came away feeling a shift, a change, in the energy of the day.
I returned home in a daze. What had I just experienced, and why was it so special?
To understand why Harmony Circles are so powerful, we need to explore some basic human needs. At our core, we are herd animals. Through the millennia of our evolution, we have relied on others for survival. We have a basic need to understand and be understood – to connect with others in a deep and meaningful way.
Yet over the last century, we in the West have lost our sense of herd and tribe. We are often solo robots: we head to work in a cubicle and face a screen all day, and then we go home to a lonely apartment and watch a screen until bedtime. We are drawn to cycles of selfishness and greed that foster anxiety and depression, which is reaching epidemic proportions.
And then suddenly, someone experiences a Circle.
In the Circle, we satisfy our deep, primal and basic need to belong to something larger than ourselves, to care deeply about others, and to foster interconnectedness. We tap into our shared humanity and the common ground of our struggles. We listen – deeply and openly as we otherwise rarely do. And we share – and welcome a vulnerability that we usually hide.
For the anthropologist, Circles make sense. Most small tribes anywhere in the world implement some form of Circles when they face a challenge or threat. Circles bring the tribe together in a way that validates everyone in the community and allows members to feel supported and protected.
Nowadays, there are a variety of ways Circles are being applied. Restorative Justice in the judicial system uses Circles to bring together perpetrators and victims into a healing conversation. In the school system, Community Circles foster trust and respect between students and build their emotional intelligence. Open-Space Technology uses Circles to bring teams together to tackle challenges, better handle change management, and develop new systems and protocols. And Lean-In and similar minority-group Circles empower those who are disadvantaged, to find the support and guidance that they need to get ahead and break through socio-political barriers.
But there is so much more opportunity. So much more need.
Harmony Strategies Group has been working with Circle technologies, to develop new and innovative ways that Circles can impact teams, families, and communities. Together as a team, we have developed our own, custom-created “Harmony Circles” that focus on three audiences, in particular. Open-Circles are the just as the title implies – open opportunities for anyone to join and share stories, struggles, and ideas. Community Circles are groups of people who share a common identity and share accordingly. And Performance Appraisal Circles help employees and managers evaluate performance together, in a format that encourages brainstorming capacity-building and talent development.
These and other Harmony Circles help us refresh our spirits and replenish our thirst for connectivity with others. We come away from Harmony Circles feeling supported, energized, and validated.
Before I encountered and understood Circles, I wasn’t sure what all the buzz was about. But once I experienced it, there was no denying – it’s the most effective, most direct way of bringing people together and empowering each other. I quickly realized I need this …and so do we all.
*Harmony Circles are a specific type of facilitated conversation, where people sit in a circle and speak in turn. Circles are unique in that they always involve a facilitator or “Keeper of the Circle” who drives and supervises the conversation, as an independent neutral. “Harmony Circles” are uniquely developed and facilitated by the Harmony Strategies Group, based on a blend of Open-Space Technology and Restorative Practices.