How We Gather, Matters...

Summertime has a unique power to bring people together. When the sunshine is out in Chicago, people are gathering at happy hours, team outings, backyard barbecues, Cubs games… the list goes on…

In these settings, we each have our own comfortable routines. We sit near the same people, joke about the same things, and sometimes even drink the same drink on repeat.

Yet, what would it be like if we approached these gatherings differently? What if these outings became opportunities for meaningful connection?

For example, just the other day my team at work met at a colleague’s house for an “end of the school year” barbecue. We usually go bowling, or to a restaurant, so this was a great surprise. I quickly imagined all things traditionally ‘barbecue’: the hotdogs, hamburgers, beer, casual outdoor seating, garden flowers, and friendly banter—a seemingly great time.

To my surprise, this barbecue had its own unique spin. My colleague put a rule on the event; “you must come prepared with a personal question or topic to engage the group.” 

What transpired was hours of laughter and meaningful conversation. I learned my colleagues nicknames, proudest moments, perspectives on healthcare, most embarrassing experiences, dream travel locations, etc.

It was the most impactful four hours I have every spent with this group; I actually felt like we were more than work colleagues, and rather, friends.

As I was leaving, I realized how often I show up at events like this one, play the expected role for that gathering, and then leave, just the same as I came. Yet, tonight, my colleague had inspired a different way to host, to gather, and to “show up.”

One simple addition, a rule for gathering, created an abundance of difference because it created a purpose, boundaries, and new expectations.

Priya Parker, author of The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters, speaks to the importance of creating more meaningful everyday gatherings by embracing a specific disputable purpose. Instead of focusing on doing all the “little things right,” getting fed up on balloons, seating chart, menu, music—focus instead on the conversation, connections, and purpose that’s bringing everyone together…

So, as summer festivities roll in, this is a great reminder to make gatherings meaningful by taking steps to incorporate purpose beyond the “off the rack” party goals.

Here’s a few simple activities to consider when hosting a upcoming, summertime gathering:

  • Ask people to come prepared with a question to ask the group to jumpstart meaningful conversation

  • Create rules or restrictions to curb conversation and interactions, such as, “if you talk about work, you have to take a shot…”

  • Pass around a bucket of themed topics and ask each person to pick one and tell a personal story that fits that topic

  • Create a list of ten questions, assign people numbers, and have them answer the question that corresponds to their assigned number in front of the entire group

  • Have people bring there favorite dish and then exchange recipes

  • Play Code Names— my family’s favorite game that gets the creativity, competition, and energy pumping

Parker reminds us that, “how we gather— is how we live.”

This summer, focus on making both, meaningful.