Insights from the Art of gathering by Priya Parker
Community is something that is constantly reinvented, and nothing shapes a community like a gathering does. They can, in fact, bring us together or tear us apart.
In her most recent book, The Art of Gathering: How we meet and why it matters, facilitator, strategic advisor and author Priya Parker argues that in order to create meaningful and even transformative gatherings, we need to break form and design according to the need at hand.
In other words, to create a purpose that answers the question:
Why are we bringing these people together?
Parker goes on to say that we focus too much on the logistics, the practicalities (the PowerPoints, the table decorations, the menu choices) of an event, and leave the interaction between people largely to chance. Rarely do we stop to think about the deeper purpose of our meeting, or about the ways in which we could encourage deeper human connections.
And so, she fills in the blanks with these 3 steps to turn any get together into a meaningful, transformative gathering:
- Embrace a specific disputable purpose
The most powerful gatherings begin with purpose, not with form. The problem is, we tend to conflate category with purpose (when we think of a birthday party, we think of candles and cake, right?) and we follow scripts, missing on the opportunity to actually address our needs.
Here’s the thing: your gathering should be specific to you. Always start with your need and then, if needed, exclude people who cannot help you fulfil the need at this particular moment. To illustrate this, Priya gives the example of a birthday happening – if your need on your birthday this year is to sit still, invite your friends for a 6am meditation instead of throwing a late-night party.
When we understand why we gather (to learn, to celebrate, to challenge) we learn to organize gatherings that are relevant and memorable.
- Cause good controversy
Conflict can be good. It can work as a launch pad for so many great ideas and, at its best, propel progress.
Parker argues that human connection is threatened by artificial harmony and a culture of silence, that unhealthy peace is worse than healthy conflict and that, to have meaningful conversations, we need to create conditions for good controversy.
When handled with structure and following rules we set up, it can become transformative.
- Encourage people to get personal. Nudge vulnerability and authenticity.
Engaging with raw honesty rather than dwelling in dull, impersonal conversations will definitely create insight and memories that will stay with us long after the meeting is over.
So many gatherings, in particular the professional ones, run on a cult of positivity. We need to set aside our CVs and list of accomplishments and focus more on the heart provoking stories that inspire and energize us.
Prompt your guest to get personal, to get vulnerable. First, by asking them for meaningful stories and then, by getting personal yourself.
Everyone can host a gathering that really works, and it has nothing to do with being an extrovert or having a fancy location to host your event at.
Be it a virtual or an in-person meeting, gather people in ways that are structured and thoughtful, transcending shape and looking for ways in which we can all connect and grow.