Quaker Conversation Exercise

Posted on by Brandon Klein

The Quakers’ manner of worship is to sit in silence until a member feels “moved” to speak; the individual delivers his or her message, and then there is silence again until another member rises to speak. Each person speaks their own message; more often than not, no attempt is made to respond to what a previous speaker has said. Yet as a group process, there is often a surprising wholeness to the experience. A Quaker Conversation has much the same format. The facilitator introduces the process by explaining the format and (typically) directing participants not to respond to previous speakers, but to speak from their own feelings, responses and thoughts, and to give some space of silence between one person speaking and the next. Once the process is turned over to the group, the facilitator facilitates the “conversation” without using words; by listening and subtly encouraging participation through the focus of his or her attention via facial expression and body movement.

To provide “space” for a different kind of dialog to occur; to give participants time to reflect, to clarify feelings, and to speak from the heart.

This is a synthesis process; often appropriate for the fusing of Vision and Intent (Scan moving to Focus). In the “classic three-day DesignShop” the Quaker conversation comes early in the afternoon of Day Two, as participants have grasped the need for change, the general shape of the change, and are grappling with whether to commit and how to make it happen. A Quaker Conversation is typically about an hour long.

Strengths — Promotes synthesis, integration, reflection and clarity. Often shifts the quality of interaction, eliciting people to speak of both feelings and “personal truth.” Often is very powerful and motivating. Weaknesses — People are often uncomfortable with silence; though some groups take to it easily, this process often requires a strong presence of the facilitator. Specifications for Success — 1. In this module in particular, be aware of the energetic elements of the give- and-take among participants, facilitators and staff. As you are implicitly giving permission for deeply felt feelings to be expressed, make sure you create a strong enough “container” to make it all right.