Invite Group Members to Share Deeply
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Invite Group Members to Share Deeply

3 key skills to create a safe environment for small groups
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Another common example that needs to be blocked and redirected is when one person speaks for someone else in the group. For example, in my group Jane tried to smooth things over and said, “Oh, Edward is just trying to help.” At that point, I need to interrupt, reinforce, and redirect. I could say something like, “Jane, right now you are speaking for Edward. Again, I want to invite you and everyone in the group to work on speaking for yourselves. Jane, you sounded like you want to support Edward when you said, ‘He’s just trying to help.’ However, when you did that, you were speaking for him, and I want to invite you to work on speaking for yourself.” If I wanted to pursue Jane further, I might ask her, “Can you share what was going on inside you when Edward made the judgment?” Early in the group process, however, I might just reinforce the boundary and move on.

Redirecting puts the responsibility for the boundary violation back on the person breaking the boundary. Hopefully the violator gains insight through exploring what underlies the violation. And when the victim hears the offender own the boundary violation, the victim may feel less attacked and hurt. Victims see that it is the violator’s problem and not theirs, and they won’t need to be defensive. Make sure to follow up with the violator as well, though, to explore how it feels to be on that side of the exchange.

When I asked Edward, “What is that about for you?” my question opened the door for Edward to at least think about his plank. Also, by addressing Edward and encouraging him to do his own work, my hope is that Alice and other group members feel safe as a result, knowing that the boundary violation was addressed. Alice will likely feel less of a need to defend herself going forward as she experiences Edward moving on his own issues. Other group members who experience my intervention may be more likely to share, knowing that I keep the group safe and do not let members judge and criticize others. Group members also begin to understand where Edward’s criticism is coming from as Edward does his work. Group members may even begin to have compassion for Edward’s struggle with criticism and not be scared or angered by him. Interrupting, reinforcing, and redirecting when boundaries are violated create excellent opportunities for growth to happen in your small group. Doing this kind of work moves the group toward a process of interpersonal healing.

—Jan Paul Hook, EdD, Joshua N. Hook, PhD, and Don E. Davis, PhD, are authors of Helping Groups Heal: Leading Small Groups in the Process of Transformation. This article is excerpted with permission. All rights reserved.

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