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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If you do not interrupt, not only does the group begin to feel unsafe for others, but it takes more work to heal any hurt that may have happened because of that boundary violation. For example, if I had not interrupted and confronted Edward’s criticism, Alice probably would have experienced being hurt. Her response may have been either to attack back, which meant I would have had a fight on my hands, or withdraw, which meant I would have had to work very hard to help Alice recover from the hurt in order to participate in the group again. So, the first step is to interrupt quickly and frequently with boundary violations, especially early on in the group’s life.

Another time you need to interrupt often is if you are adding a new boundary to your group and you want that new boundary to quickly become part of the group culture. For example, maybe someone is dominating and you set a new boundary of not dominating. You need to interrupt often as you add this new boundary to your group. Face your fear and trust that, as you set the boundaries and reinforce them, you are creating a safe group where healing and growth can happen.


After interrupting the group member who is violating a boundary, the second blocking skill is to reinforce the boundary, which means reminding the group member and the rest of the group of the boundary that was violated. For example, after interrupting Edward’s criticism, I might say, “Remember the boundaries that we agreed upon. We agreed to not judge and criticize each other. The reason we have this boundary is to keep the group safe.” You may use the reinforcing of one boundary as an opportunity to remind the group members of the other boundaries. These reminders reinforce the other boundaries, too.


After you have interrupted the violation and reinforced the boundary, the final blocking skill is to redirect the boundary violation. Redirecting the boundary violation is the process of bringing the violator back to the group’s goal, which is to do one’s work, exploring and working on the planks that are in each of our eyes. Invite the boundary violator to own the violation and do some work about what the boundary violation is about for them. For example, I might say, “So, Edward, you are making a judgment about Alice when you say she isn’t doing any real work. Remember that instead of making a judgment, our commitment in this group is to work on our planks. Can you say what that criticism was about for you? What are you feeling when you say that? What is the story you are making up about that?”

You may need to help group members unpack the story behind the judgments they make. But right now, in the forming stage of group, it may be enough to interrupt the boundary violation, reinforce the boundary, and invite the violator to look at what is behind a particular violation—that is, to look at the plank in their own eye and move on. When I asked Edward what the criticism was about for him, he replied, “I don’t know.” At this early point in the group process, I did not push him to explore further but simply invited him to explore his plank first. I asked if he would be open to that. He said, “Yes,” and we moved on.

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