‘Round and ‘Round

One of the challenges of making community living work is being able to truly listen to one another and to express one’s own voice. Quimper Village, a senior cohousing community in Port Townsend, WA, uses a sociocracy-based technique called rounds. Think of going around a circle with everyone saying what they think or feel, one by one, without being interrupted. Rounds reinforce listening, a most important skill, that in our fast-paced culture, we often don’t practice enough. Rounds slow things down and give people time to process their thoughts and reactions to the opinions of others.

Following is an article borrowed from Quimper Village’s newsletter, written by Jenny, a community member, published earlier this year. Read Jenny’s very human perspective on rounds:

Moving into a cohousing community has a learning curve in a variety of different areas, one of which is how decisions are made. Quimper Village uses the sociocracy model. Before moving, I spent a year sitting in on the general meetings via Zoom and observed several aspects of the meeting process, including rounds. There were opening rounds, clarifying rounds, reaction rounds, consent round, closing rounds.

I saw that during rounds, everyone in the group got a chance to speak, one after the other, without cross-talk. They got an opportunity to listen, knowing that they would get an opportunity to speak. Sometimes their opinion changed. Observing rounds in the general meeting gave me a sense of the community, at least as much as I could get without being a part of it. Everyone had a voice, and their views were respected. No one dominated the discussion during the round.

Now that I am part of the community, I find I have a lot to learn about participating in rounds. In the larger general meeting, I am still my usual overly self-conscious self, uncomfortable talking in a large group, preferring not to give my own opinion. When I do say something, I am not always able to voice my thoughts clearly. And, afterwards, even when I manage to blurt out something somewhat cogent, I sometimes feel embarrassed by what I said, or think that something said later is a veiled critique of what I said. If I am going to contribute, I need to change. Working on it …

In the smaller team meetings with only three to eight people, where I feel relatively safe, I have surprised myself by talking out of turn. But I have discovered that in the less formal team meetings, some cross-talk is acceptable, particularly during opening and closing rounds, and sometimes not, depending on the makeup of the team, the type of meeting, and the purpose of the round. At one time I was gently reprimanded for interrupting, but at other times there was plenty of cross-talk by others. So, I need to learn to read the group dynamics better (which can also change during a meeting). Mostly, I need to learn when to keep my mouth shut. Working on it …

The type of round that has impressed me the most is what I call a process round. When a discussion in a general meeting got emotional, controversial, and rather muddy, the facilitator called for a round. This allowed everyone to calm down and listen to each other. In a team meeting, when the discussion seemed to be going nowhere and members started repeating themselves, a team member requested a round, which proved very effective.

This is a tool even I could have used a couple of times in team meetings, when I felt others were simply not listening to me, when I was being constantly interrupted, or when I was unable to adequately express my reasoning because I was getting upset. Instead of clamming up or feeling hurt and betrayed, I could ask for a round. Then the other members could have their say, I could listen, and by the time it was my turn I might be able to express myself better. Hopefully, if something like this happens again, I will remember to ask for a round. (If I get my courage up. Working on it … )

I wish I had known about this process with my own family. Using rounds might have reduced tension, disagreement, and misunderstanding.

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