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← 3 steps to turn everyday get-togethers into transformative gatherings

Why do some gatherings take off and others don't? Author Priya Parker shares three easy steps to turn your parties, dinners, meetings and holidays into meaningful, transformative gatherings.

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Showing Revision 10 created 06/11/2019 by Brian Greene.

  1. When I was a child,
  2. every other Friday,
  3. I would leave my mother
    and stepfather's home --
  4. an Indian and British, atheist, Buddhist,
  5. agnostic, vegetarian, new age-y sometimes,
  6. Democratic household.
  7. And I would go 1.4 miles
    to my father and stepmother's home
  8. and enter a white, Evangelical Christian,
  9. conservative, Republican,
  10. twice-a-week-churchgoing,
  11. meat-eating family.
  12. It doesn't take a shrink
    to explain how I ended up
  13. in the field of conflict resolution.
  14. (Laughter)

  15. Whether I was facilitating dialogues
    in Charlottesville or Istanbul

  16. or Ahmedabad,
  17. the challenge was always the same:
  18. despite all odds,
  19. and with integrity,
  20. how do you get people
    to connect meaningfully,
  21. to take risks,
  22. to be changed by their experience?
  23. And I would witness extraordinarily
    beautiful electricity in those rooms.
  24. And then I would leave those rooms
  25. and attend my everyday
    gatherings like all of you --
  26. a wedding or a conference
    or a back-to-school picnic --
  27. and many would fall flat.
  28. There was a meaning gap
  29. between these high-intensity
    conflict groups
  30. and my everyday gatherings.
  31. Now, you could say, sure,
    somebody's birthday party
  32. isn't going to live up to a race dialogue,
  33. but that's not what I was responding to.
  34. As a facilitator,
  35. you're taught to strip everything away
  36. and focus on the interaction
    between people,
  37. whereas everyday hosts
    focus on getting the things right --
  38. the food, the flowers, the fish knives --
  39. and leave the interaction
    between people largely to chance.
  40. So I began to wonder how we might change
    our everyday gatherings

  41. to focus on making meaning
    by human connection,
  42. not obsessing with the canapés.
  43. And I set out and interviewed
    dozens of brave and unusual hosts --
  44. an Olympic hockey coach,
    a Cirque du Soleil choreographer,
  45. a rabbi, a camp counselor--
  46. to better understand
    what creates meaningful
  47. and even transformative gatherings.
  48. And I want to share with you
    some of what I learned today
  49. about the new rules of gathering.
  50. So when most people plan a gathering,

  51. they start with an off-the-rack format.
  52. Birthday party? Cake and candles.
  53. Board meeting?
  54. One brown table, 12 white men.
  55. (Laughter)

  56. Assuming the purpose is obvious,
    we skip too quickly to form.

  57. This not only leads to dull
    and repetitive gatherings,
  58. it misses a deeper opportunity
  59. to actually address our needs.
  60. The first step of creating
    more meaningful everyday gatherings
  61. is to embrace a specific
    disputable purpose.
  62. An expectant mother I know
    was dreading her baby shower.

  63. The idea of "pin the diaper
    on the baby" games
  64. and opening gifts felt odd and irrelevant.
  65. So she paused to ask:
  66. What is the purpose of a baby shower?
  67. What is my need at this moment?
  68. And she realized it was
    to address her fears
  69. of her and her husband's --
    remember that guy? --
  70. transition to parenthood.
  71. And so she asked two friends
    to invent a gathering based on that.
  72. And so on a sunny afternoon,
    six women gathered.
  73. And first, to address her fear of labor --
    she was terrified --
  74. they told her stories from her life
  75. to remind her of the characteristics
    she already carries --
  76. bravery, wonder, faith, surrender --
  77. that they believed would carry her
    and help her in labor as well.
  78. And as they spoke, they tied a bead
    for each quality into a necklace
  79. that she could wear around her neck
    in the delivery room.
  80. Next, her husband came in,

  81. and they wrote new vows,
    family vows, and spoke them aloud,
  82. first committing to keep
    their marriage central
  83. as they transitioned to parenthood,
  84. but also future vows to their future son
  85. of what they wanted to carry with them
    from each of their family lines
  86. and what would stop with this generation.
  87. Then more friends came along,
    including men, for a dinner party.
  88. And in lieu of gifts, they each brought
    a favorite memory from their childhood
  89. to share with the table.
  90. Now, you might be thinking
    this is a lot for a baby shower,

  91. or it's a little weird
    or it's a little intimate.
  92. Good.
  93. It's specific.
  94. It's disputable.
  95. It's specific to them,
  96. just as your gathering
    should be specific to you.
  97. The next step of creating
    more meaningful everyday gatherings

  98. is to cause good controversy.
  99. You may have learned, as I did,
  100. never to talk about sex, politics
    or religion at the dinner table.
  101. It's a good rule in that
    it preserves harmony,
  102. or that's its intention.
  103. But it strips away a core ingredient
    of meaning, which is heat,
  104. burning relevance.
  105. The best gatherings learn
    to cultivate good controversy
  106. by creating the conditions for it,
  107. because human connection
    is as threatened by unhealthy peace
  108. as by unhealthy conflict.
  109. I was once working
    with an architecture firm,
  110. and they were at a crossroads.
  111. They had to figure out whether they wanted
    to continue to be an architecture firm
  112. and focus on the construction of buildings
  113. or pivot and become
    the hot new thing, a design firm,
  114. focusing on beyond
    the construction of spaces.
  115. And there was real
    disagreement in the room,
  116. but you wouldn't know, because no one
    was actually speaking up publicly.
  117. And so we hosted good controversy.
  118. After a lunch break,
    all the architects came back,
  119. and we hosted a cage match.
  120. They walked in,
  121. we took one architect, put him
    in one corner to represent architecture,
  122. the other one to represent design.
  123. We threw white towels around their necks,
  124. stolen from the bathroom -- sorry --
  125. played Rocky music on an iPad,
  126. got each a Don King-like manager
  127. to rev them up and prepare them
    with counterarguments,
  128. and then basically made them each argue
    the best possible argument
  129. of each future vision.
  130. The norm of politeness
    was blocking their progress.
  131. And we then had everybody else
    physically choose a side
  132. in front of their colleagues.
  133. And because they were able
    to actually show where they stood,
  134. they broke an impasse.
  135. Architecture won.
  136. So that's work.

  137. What about a hypothetical
    tense Thanksgiving dinner?
  138. Anyone?
  139. (Laughter)

  140. So first, ask the purpose.

  141. What does this family need this year?
  142. If cultivating good heat is part of it,
  143. then try for a night banning opinions
    and asking for stories instead.
  144. Choose a theme
    related to the underlying conflict.
  145. But instead of opinions,
  146. ask everybody to share a story
    from their life and experience
  147. that nobody around the table
    has ever heard,
  148. to difference or to belonging
  149. or to a time I changed my mind,
  150. giving people a way in to each other
  151. without burning the house down.
  152. And finally, to create more meaningful
    everyday gatherings,

  153. create a temporary alternative world
  154. through the use of pop-up rules.
  155. A few years ago, I started noticing
    invitations coming with a set of rules.

  156. Kind of boring or controlling, right?
  157. Wrong.
  158. In this multicultural,
    intersectional society,
  159. where more of us are gathered and raised
  160. by people and with etiquette
    unlike our own,
  161. where we don't share the etiquette,
  162. unspoken norms are trouble,
  163. whereas pop-up rules allow us
    to connect meaningfully.
  164. They're one-time-only constitutions
    for a specific purpose.
  165. So a team dinner,
  166. where different generations are gathering
  167. and don't share the same
    assumptions of phone etiquette:
  168. whoever looks at their phone first
  169. foots the bill.
  170. (Laughter)

  171. Try it.

  172. (Applause)

  173. For an entrepreneurial advice circle
    of just strangers,

  174. where the hosts don't want
    everybody to just listen
  175. to the one venture capitalist
    in the room --
  176. (Laughter)

  177. knowing laugh --

  178. (Laughter)

  179. you can't reveal what you do for a living.

  180. For a mom's dinner,

  181. where you want to upend the norms
  182. of what women who also happen
    to be mothers talk about when they gather,
  183. if you talk about your kids,
    you have to take a shot.
  184. (Laughter)

  185. That's a real dinner.

  186. Rules are powerful,

  187. because they allow us to temporarily
    change and harmonize our behavior.
  188. And in diverse societies,
  189. pop-up rules carry special force.
  190. They allow us to gather across difference,
  191. to connect,
  192. to make meaning together
  193. without having to be the same.
  194. When I was a child,

  195. I navigated my two worlds
    by becoming a chameleon.
  196. If somebody sneezed in my mother's home,
  197. I would say, "Bless you,"
  198. in my father's, "God bless you."
  199. To protect myself, I hid,
  200. as so many of us do.
  201. And it wasn't until I grew up
    and through conflict work
  202. that I began to stop hiding.
  203. And I realized that gatherings for me,
  204. at their best,
  205. allow us to be among others,
  206. to be seen for who we are,
  207. and to see.
  208. The way we gather matters

  209. because how we gather
  210. is how we live.
  211. Thank you.

  212. (Applause)