Inhibitions in Anecdote Circles

Last week, I conducted four anecdote circles for an organisation with whom we’re working. At the end of the 3rd, one of the participants came up to me and said that there were some things she’d have liked to share but she held back because she didn’t want to incriminate the characters in the anecdotes. I told her that she could share with me separately on another occasion.

Generally, we begin an anecdote circle by reassuring participants that anything they say within the circle will be kept within the circle, and nothing they share can be attributed to specific individuals. On one occasion, in an anecdote circle that my colleague Patrick Lambe facilitated, the participants made their reservations known right at the beginning of the anecdote circle, and Patrick then got all of them to promise one another that they would not repeat outside the room anything that was said inside. That worked out fine. But in my case, I was only aware of this reservations at the end of the circle. To think of all the good stories that the group had missed! Need to think of a better way to avoid this next time. Thought about doing what Patrick did, ie, making the participants promise each other discretion, but it seems too much of an overkill to do it right at the beginning of a circle when the participants haven’t quite warmed up. That might have the opposite effect of putting their backs up.

1 Comment so far

I agree that it might not be a good idea to start off the circle with a confidentiality pact.  Participants usually become too caught up with saying what is politically appropriate at the start of these sessions anyway so drawing attention to clauses of confidentiality only magnifies the restraint.

Perhaps it might help to allow them to start off with what would be considered “safe” anecdotes, and then at an appropriate time into the session eg. when the group has warmed up to one another or when there is a symptomatic pause in the contributions, throw in something like “Could we agree that what is shared within this circle is kept confidential? Does anyone object to this arrangement?”.  Chances are, no one will.  It depends on the way it is said, I suppose.  Participants could then be encouraged to bring in the more real stuff, and if that means “incriminating”, so be it.

I don’t mean it to be manipulative but some people (moi included) need to be warmed up before we dare be bold and bare!

Posted on April 24, 2006 at 05:06 PM | Comment permalink

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