The Art of Gathering

Priya Parker

"Baby showers aren’t the only form of ritualized gathering that suffers from a purpose problem. Many of the ritualized gatherings in our more intimate spheres—weddings, bar mitzvahs, graduation ceremonies—have been repeated over time such that we become emotionally attached to the form long after it accurately reflects the values or belief systems of the people participating in it."

"Having a purpose simply means knowing why you’re gathering and doing your participants the honor of being convened for a reason. And once you have that purpose in mind, you will suddenly find it easier to make all the decisions that a gathering requires."

"Inviting people is easy. Excluding people can be hard. “The more the merrier,” we are told from childhood. “The more souls, the more joy,” the Dutch say. “The more fools there are, the more we laugh,” the French declare. At the risk of dissenting from millennia of advice along these lines, let me say this: You will have begun to gather with purpose when you learn to exclude with purpose. When you learn to close doors."

"But diversity is a potentiality that needs to be activated. It can be used or it can just be there."

"Consider your own gatherings. What if for your company’s next sales training you assigned employees to each spend the day underground with a subway busker, to build their empathy and connect them with the most extreme version of what they do? What if you held your next college reunion in a cemetery, reminding your classmates, directly if morbidly, that time is of the essence for fulfilling the ideals they professed in their youth?"

"The kinds of gatherings that meaningfully help others are governed by what I call generous authority. A gathering run on generous authority is run with a strong, confident hand, but it is run selflessly, for the sake of others. Generous authority is imposing in a way that serves your guests. It spares them from the chaos and anxiety that Heifetz knowingly thrust upon his students. It spares them from the domination of some guests by other guests that the dinner host unwittingly enabled. It wards off pretenders who threaten a purpose. Sometimes generous authority demands a willingness to be disliked in order to make your guests have the best experience of your gathering."

"One way Abousteit helps her guests connect is by priming them to take care of one another. When she gathers a large group of people who are sitting at separate tables, she assigns roles to a guest at each table, which gives them something to do and an excuse to talk to the others around them. A “Water Minister” ensures that everyone has full glasses of water. A “Wine Minister” keeps the wine flowing."

"That’s the point and the magic. In a world of infinite choices, choosing one thing is the revolutionary act. Imposing that restriction is actually liberating."

"I disagree. What I tell the hosts I work with is this: However vital it may seem to start with this housekeeping, you are missing an opportunity to sear your gathering’s purpose into the minds of your guests. And sometimes you are actually undermining that purpose by revealing to your guests that you do not, in fact, care about the things you claim to care about as much as you profess."

"Surgeons, like many of us, assumed that they shouldn’t waste time going through the silly formalities of seeing and being seen for something as important as saving lives. Yet it was these silly formalities that directly affected the outcomes of surgeries. Even with such complex and intricate work, it was when the nurses and doctors and anesthesiologists practiced good gathering principles that they felt more comfortable speaking up during surgery and offering solutions."

"Moderators at conferences could learn from Perel. They tend to overfocus on their panelists and the questions they are going to ask. The talented moderator understands that even a panel is not a stand-alone conversation. It exists within the context of a gathering. And so the solution might simply be to turn to the audience in the beginning of the session and ask: How many of you consider yourself an expert on artificial intelligence? How many of you are working in the field? How many of you are thinking about this for the first time? How many of you just realized you’re in the wrong session?"

"I repeatedly urged the group to go below the surface, into the assumptions beneath what they were talking about. When things would get heated, I would slow them down and try to help them go “below the iceberg.” Rather than looking at the specific incidents and events above the water line, I would ask them how those moments revealed their underlying beliefs, values, and needs. I would try to make what they were saying more hearable to everyone else. So that even if they didn’t agree, they understood."

© Kyuwon Lee, 2020.