the art of gathering
Priya Parker wrote an excellent book called ‘The Art of Gathering’.
‘How we meet’ is a vital human experience, but too often we don’t give it enough thought.
We spend our lives gathering, with family, friends, in school, at weddings, business meetings, class reunions, dinner parties, sports groups, religious ceremonies, and at the end of our lives, our loved ones gather at our funerals.
We all intuitively know that gathering is important. We can look back and remember times that ‘we gathered well’ and times that weren’t so well. The awkward dinner party where one too many guests were invited, or the social where you weren’t very social.
More and more, we are unhappy with the way we meet. Going to conferences, work meetings or drinks parties, we find that the host has rarely given thought to how guests will connect, why they are meeting, and what they will take away.
There are ways that you can ‘gather well’.
1. Know why you are gathering
You should be explicit to yourself in why exactly you are gathering. ‘Think less about the what, and more about the why’. For example:
Take a birthday. If your ‘why’ is to surround yourself with your loved ones, then invite a small group and have an intimate dinner. If your ‘why’ is to reconnect with old friends and colleagues- then invite a larger group for a barbecue.
Knowing why you are gathering, is the starting point for the rest of your decision making
2. Good gathering requires exclusion
Once you know the underlying purpose of the gathering, you can choose who to invite. And more importantly, who to exclude.
Include only people relevant to the gathering. If you intend to spend time with your school friends, and the intention is to ‘catch up’ - don’t invite a work colleague. (Unless the intention is to meet new people).
The ‘more the merrier’ is not true. How many people depends on the ‘reason why you are gathering’.
3. Don’t be a ‘chill host’
An engaging and generously authoritative host will always deliver than a laid back host
Hosting is a skill. It requires attention and effort. An abdication of power as a host often fails guests rather than serving them.
You have ‘power’ as a host. The author talks about a time she was at a housewarming party, and there was a lull after dinner. The author suggested that they play a game of ‘werewolf’ but the host wasn’t sure that ‘everyone’ would enjoy it. They were unwilling to exercise their power. As a result, the moment passed and the party broke up in an unsatisfying way.
Another example was where the author facilitated a conference with the purpose being to bring together people involved in the agricultural industry. There were 120 people who didn’t know each other. So she utilised her power as a host, and asked that every attendee get up and move to a different table after each speech. Initially it seemed like an imposition, but ultimately at the end of the day, everyone was grateful. This simple rule facilitated the reason ‘why’ they were implicitly gathering - to form new connections. By being at the same table the whole time, they wouldn’t fulfil that purpose.
4. Having rules can be freeing
An addendum to the above. Depending on the gathering, you can set rules as a host. Exercise that power.
Rules can allow for playfulness and meaningful gatherings. Examples include : no phones, arbitrary mixing rules at a social.
5. Introductions and Starts
Prime people before the event of what to expect. Give them a little synopsis. If hosting a dinner, let people know who is coming, what you will be serving, any activities planned, and roughly when it will start and finish.
Then when they arrive, acknowledge this explicitly. Make introductions if needed. Serve them food/drinks. Show them around if a dinner.
6. Encourage authenticity
We all crave authentic interaction. I’ve been in situations where the conversation barely left the superficial, and then led to the group just sitting next to each other on their phones. Most gatherings in university were disappointing in my experience.
How can you encourage authenticity? This is another intention you must hold as a host, and there is no one way. You cannot demand authenticity, but you can create an environment which fosters it.
You can make guests feel comfortable. You can be vulnerable yourself. You can ask for stories about other people’s lives. How to tell stories is a skill itself.
Have an explicit ending. The peak end heuristic states that we remember the peak and the end of any experiences the most.
Therefore ‘how things end’ matters a lot. Make it explicit- if for example hosting a dinner party, you can let guests know that they can leave if they want to, but if they choose to stay they can retreat to the living room etc.
8. Create rituals
Ritualised and regular meet ups are powerful. Try to commit or create a group around a shared purpose. Then aim to meet regularly. This is how you form deeper bonds.
- Sunday brunch
- Coffee and climb
- Evening walk
- Sports clubs
Be the host. Don’t wait for others to open their door. Open yours.