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Using Check-Ins at Meetings

How often have you been at a meeting that began with introductions? Most of the time, it’s no more than a chance to flash identity markers–“What’s your name, and where are you from (or: what’s your role)?”– creating a veneer of familiarity before getting down to business.  Introductions can be useful for newcomers to an existing group, but they’re usually a formality, and tend to reinforce the assumption that “we know each other, and we all know what we’re about.”

One of the signatures of an AoH gathering, by contrast, is to start off with a “check-in.”  A check-in differs from a round of introductions: it’s meant to bring a group together, and to start building a common field of conversation.  A check-in serves as a moment of transition, an acknowledgment that we, as disparate individuals, are coming together around a shared purpose.  Unlike “name-tag” introductions, a check-in implicitly extends an invitation to join in, to listen to others, and to recognize commonalities.  Rather than signalling pre-existing identities (job titles, roles), check-ins direct attention to the group as it emerges in the moment.

Maintaining focused attention can be a challenge in regularly scheduled or routine meetings, where the assumption that “we’re going through the motions” can be prevalent.  Part of the skill–the craft, the art–of hosting involves tending to the field of conversation, “holding the space” and knowing when to allow the rhythm of divergence and convergence to play out.   Using check-ins (and check-outs) effectively is a vital element of good practice.

Richard Cohen recently shared his new website checkinsuccess.com , including a list of sample questions, with the Art of Hosting listserv.  Thanks, Richard!

Hosting the Self

Thinking about how our community of practice is emerging, I find myself coming back to one of the core Art of Hosting principles: self-hosting.  Like much of AoH, it seems simple: take care of yourself first. What could be more obvious? Why is that even a thing?

 

In practice, though, keeping it simple can sometimes be hard.  Looking back at some of my old AoH workbooks, I see that the first description of self-hosting is “Be Present.”  Again, a reminder that, in a life full of many commitments and deadlines, just showing up is saying something. But being present isn’t just warming a seat.  It’s showing up intentionally–”arriving,” as it’s called–capable of paying attention to the process. That’s why we tend to start with a focus (a purpose at the center) and a check-in that allows people to transition into the circle, to find their speaking voice.  When we check in, we’re becoming present to ourselves, in the company of others.

 

Keeping focus, sustaining attention: that’s where self-hosting becomes a practice.  It’s harder than ever, these days, to be present to one another. We’re all involved in multiple conversations at the same time and, in case we ever forget it, the every-handy smartphone is there to remind us.  Find yourself curious? Google is right there–”answers before you have questions,” as they say–and, BTW, here’s something else you might have missed, the latest news, a trending video… . In short, distraction– demands on my attention, mental junk food, click-bait–and then there are real people (kids, parents, friends in need…).   The onslaught itself is enough to make you want to pull back: self-protective cocooning is a real thing, not just selfishness or narcissism. Self care is crucial, but it’s not quite self-hosting.

 

The same workbook that reminded me to “be present” goes on to elaborate: “host yourself first–keep the space open–sit in the fire of the present.”  Whoa! Sitting in the fire: that’s a bit more than I bargained for. That’s going to take some practice.

 

The image of “sitting in the fire” comes, I think, out of meditation practices:  the world is on fire, and the Buddha meditates, practicing non-attachment. It’s not an image of callousness–the Buddha is not cocooning–but of compassionate attention, not running from the world.  Simple, but not easy–especially when the adrenaline starts pumping and the fight-or-flight scenarios start to flash. That’s when you can get some clarity about what self-hosting means: paying attention to the chaos and conflict without needing to suppress it, without feeling threatened.

 

But wait, there’s more!  Distractions, it turns out, don’t just come from outside, from others: the mind goes rushing out to meet them.  The mind seeks out novelty, gets gratification from racing around, noticing stuff, looking for trouble. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my (all too brief) experience with mindfulness, it’s that thoughts are constantly welling up, taking me out of myself, latching onto threads.  The practice of mindfulness is just about the simplest thing imaginable–paying attention to each breath as it comes and goes–but, wow, does it take practice. Breathing goes on, regardless, but the mind needs constantly to be brought back, to be focused by the body’s natural rhythm. Otherwise it’s Grand Central Station, someone always running to catch the next trains of thought.  Self-hosting, I’m learning, means being the clock.

 

Two of the people I look to as hosting mentors–Tuesday Ryan-Hart and Tim Merry–put out a recent episode of their podcast devoted to “Personal Practice.”  They make a number of helpful distinctions–between having fun, self-care (both physical and mental) and personal practices (like journaling or meditation).  If (like me) you’re not athletic and never played a musical instrument, the notion of “practicing” can be a bit off-putting. It’s reassuring to know that practices can take all sorts of forms.  The underlying question, as Tim puts it, is “What brings you home to yourself? What grounds you?” That’s your practice, and it’s from that place that self-hosting starts.

And self-hosting is where the four-fold path begins:

 

 

A Community Takes Form…

What do you need for your hosting practice to thrive?

What can we–as a community–do to help meet those needs?

How can we sustain a flourishing community of practice?

These were the questions that formed the heart of the inaugural meeting of AoH@OSU (2.0). This blogsite is one response to the first, most identifiable need: an accessible, common place to share information, questions, and ideas about hosting.  We’ll work on making access more open, so everyone will feel comfortable posting and answering posts. In the meantime, I’ll be blogging semi-regularly, to make sure there’s fresh and interesting community news.

A second clear need was for some kind of structure that would allow the community to come together at regular intervals, without feeling like an obligation or extra work for people.  There was, I think, a general sense that we should have a variety of reasons for gathering: chances to talk through practical challenges to hosting, opportunities to learn how to work with different hosting formats, and occasions to touch base with core patterns and principles of the Art of Hosting.  Our goal is to keep learning, and to that end we agreed that our community is open to anyone interested in holding better conversations, whether or not they’ve attended formal AoH training.

Among the potential topics for future gatherings there surfaced: asking better (powerful & wicked) questions; planning and convening conversations; where to begin hosting groups accustomed to more linear, outcome oriented forms of meeting, uses of AoH in classroom, teacher-training and other settings, and the possibility of looking more closely at the resources assembled in AoH training workbooks.  Most of all, it seemed, members are seeking connection: many of us work primarily on our our own, with little opportunity to learn from and share resources with others.  So one thing a community can do is to allow us to acknowledge and appreciate this need.

In our small group, I mentioned a book describing experiences with the Art of Hosting at the University of Minnesota. You can find that book–Cultivating Change in the Academy: Practicing the Art of Hosting–here.

For those of you interested in thinking about patterns of practice, here’s a link to the Eight Breaths of Process Design.  I believe there’s also a version of this diagram in our Art of Hosting training workbooks.

 

Hosting a Community of Hosting Practice

Welcome to the Art of Hosting Community of Practice at Ohio State University.  This site will serve us as a virtual container: a space for inquiry, exchange and reflection about the practices of the Art of Hosting Conversations That Matter.

Hosting practitioners have been active at Ohio State for a number of years.  Following a training session at the Audubon Center in April 2019, several of us realized that we needed a way to sustain and develop our collective learning, and to build on the relationships that emerged during the training.  Accordingly, we issued a call for participants to help build a community of practice by gathering at the Research Commons of the 18th Avenue Library on May 3, 2019.

A community exists to meet the needs of its members. The purpose of our community of practice is:

  • To deepen our understanding of hosting principles
  • To develop and extend our hosting skills
  • To support each other in the work of hosting conversations that matter.

We intend to keep these purposes at the center of our gathering and our learning.