This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….” For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.
Safety, and privacy, first!
(5 minute read)
The biggest rule for your artist support group is, what happens in group, stays in group. So….
Rule #1: Safety and privacy.
They are “one rule” because they so closely relate to each other.
What people share in your group, especially during these sessions, it’s personal. Sometimes painful. It may feel embarrassing to share what holds you back, what we’re afraid of, sharing our failures or set-backs.
Hard enough to share, without worrying about it being shared with others.
It should remain private.
This means you must ask permission from that person to ask a question. You need permission to comment. You even need permission to talk with them about what they’ve shared, while you’re together. (“May I get more information on that situation you brought up earlier?”) And even when you’re not in the group! (“So, what you shared last week—may I talk with you about that?”)
And it means you should not be discussing it lightly with anyone else in your group, and definitely not with anyone outside your group.
Most of the time, people won’t mind giving you permission, especially if you’ve shown that you’re a good listener who consistently asks good questions and offers sound feedback.
But don’t assume. Ask.
Safety and privacy also mean, closed meetings. The only time our first group had a guest was, we hired Deborah to do a mini-observation of one of our sessions, to ensure we were doing it right. Her small but important course corrections were invaluable! But we all had to agree to that beforehand.
Rule #2: Smile!
Body language and eye contact are important for creating an atmosphere of comradery. When my adult son was very, very young, I noticed he often had a frowny face. I actually said out loud, “Why does Doug always have a frowny face when he’s thinking about something?” I happened to be near a mirror, and looked over.
Gulp. I had that same frowny look on my face!
He was imitating how I looked when I was thinking.
When we’re listening, deeply, many of us have the habit of the frowning, thoughtful face. Some of us have “resting bitch face.” (Look it up!) (Okay, never mind. Some people’s relaxed faces just look….grumpy. It’s just a thing.)
But when the speaker/person in the hot seat is talking, when they look around the group, the last thing they want to see is frowning faces. Especially if we’ve been raised to be highly attentive to signs we’re “doing it wrong”. A frowning face, a bored face, a face looking out the window, are all subtle signs that others are not interested in what we’re saying. Not exactly conducive to doing this work!
In fact, Deborah Kruger urged the speaker and the questioner to stand at the front of the group, facing each other. Holding hands. And the questioner’s goal was to keep their face open and welcoming, smiling. Not a big fake grin. Just a smile as if you were welcoming someone into your home.
Which, if your home is a safe place, a haven, is actually a good metaphor for your group! All should feel “at home”, and welcome.
For the questioner, it also helps to nod in agreement as someone describes their perfect studio, their ideal customer, their markers of success, their professional goals, etc. Yes. Yes! Yes!!
I still treasure these beautifully formed little pit-fired pots from a member of my very first artist support group! Thank you, Bobbye!
Rule #3: Don’t rush to comfort.
This doesn’t mean no empathy or sympathy.
It simply means, when things get hard, when someone gets overwhelmed, when they cry, don’t rush to soothe them. Don’t try to stop them.
Just let the tears come. Let them cry.
I learned this in hospice, too. When people cry, WE get uncomfortable. We feel we need to do something. We rush to get them to stop crying.
But that simply puts pressure on THEM to make US feel better. We are asking THEM to take care of US.
So sit with the discomfort. Don’t rush to action.
Be a witness.
And from last week:
Rule #4: Listen
The premise of peer support groups is to empower each member to solve their own issues. We achieve that by learning to believe in ourselves, and by learning to listen to –and trust–our own heart.
Just….listen. Listen carefully, respectfully. Don’t interrupt. Don’t jump in. Don’t offer opinion, unless asked for one, or given permission to offer one. (See Rule #1)
Don’t tell the speaker their reality.
Don’t tell them what you think they should do.
Don’t tell them what YOU would do.
Don’t tell them what someone else did.
Do look for places where the speaker gets stuck. Make a mental note of that. An assumption they’re making that could be tweaked.
You may be given an opportunity to ask your own question about it. You may be asked to share a thought or experience.
But don’t assume you will. Sit with that, okay?
Remember: Hopefully, this group will grow, and repeat this process. There is plenty of time to sort out the inconsistencies between what people say they want, and what they do. (Part of the human condition, actually, and it won’t be fixed in ten minutes!)
Rule #5: Focus, and be present!
You chose this. You chose to try this, you chose to show up.
Embody that decision.
Heaving bored sighs, acting distracted, staring out the window, checking your phone, etc., etc., all indicate you’d rather be anywhere but here. This isn’t fair to the others in your group.
Cross-talk refers to carrying on a conversation on the side. So easy to slip into! So distracting to the rest of the group! Take notes of what’s on your mind, and share it later.
Beyond being unkind and disrespectful, you are missing a chance to learn something.
Take the opportunity to learn from someone else’s experience, their assumptions, and their mistakes–and discover their insights and solutions!
If you are truly bored to distraction, then this group is not for you.
Do yourself, and your fellow group members a favor. Let them know they should find someone else who will be more engaged.
Did I miss anything? If you’ve been in any kind of peer support group, you’ll recognize the playlist.
Feel free to suggest additional thoughts I may have overlooked!
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