Circling 101

If you are new to circling or never even experienced it, this article contains what you need to get started. What you’ll find here is a very basic simplified practice of circling for you to try with your friends. The idea is to give you enough to taste what circling has to offer without giving you so much that you are overwhelmed and confused. I suggested circling as I’ve outlined it here until you find it easy or second nature.

Setting Up

Make groups of 3 people each. Each group is its own circle. Each circle should have enough space between it and other circles to give a sense of privacy. This distance will also help you hear each other and not be distracted.

Choose who will be “circled”. The person being circled will be receive the questions and attention of the other two. The other two are the circlers. So now we have two roles: circlee and circler.

Set a timer for 15 minutes. Put the timer where it cannot be seen but can be heard. You don’t want to be distracted by the time. I suggest a bell tone that is gentle in nature and just loud enough to hear but not distract the moment it rings.

These are all the logistics of setting up the circle. Once you’ve completed them, start the timer, and enter into your role as circler and circlee. The instructions for each role are below.

In summary:

  • Make groups of 3 and spread the groups out for privacy.
  • Choose the circlee.
  • Set a 15 minute time and put it aside where it won’t distract.
  • Start the timer.

Circler

Your role is to ask questions from genuine curiosity. That’s it. But what does that mean? It means if you ask the question and the circlee chooses not to answer you would maybe be disappointed, or hunger for the answer, or the question would stick in your mind. Genuine curiosity isn’t any different than curiosity… I’m just emphasizing that I don’t want you to fake it. I want you to feel it. Like when you’re a kid and you see a frog. You follow the frog because you are fascinated by it. You pick it up. You look at it. You are curious!

I emphasize curiosity by prepending the word “genuine” because often we ask questions and we really don’t care about the answers. Typical questions of this nature are “where are you from?”, “What do you do?”, “Do you have any siblings?”, “What is your name?”, “What did you do last weekend?” Now. Don’t avoid those questions just because I listed them here. You might genuinely be curious about where someone is from, what they do, or what they did last weekend. But take a moment to check before asking.

We find our genuine curiosity by waiting in silence looking at the circlee. It may feel awkward or uncomfortable. Stay with it.

The question you want to ask may edgy. You may be afraid or embarrassed to ask it. I challenge you to ask the question anyway. Though I do want you to use your judgement in deciding to ask the question or not. So for this beginner practice I suggest you lean into that discomfort a little and ask the questions that are a little edgy. You can increase the edgy-ness as you continue to practice.

Keep your questions short. A short concise question will give time for the circle to move on a journey through the circlee’s world.

Some common questions that I’ve seen come up when people are asking from genuine curiosity are “What’s your love life like?”, “How do you feel right now here with us?”, “What’s something you’re passionate about?”, “What’s your biggest fear?” Just like with the questions I gave as examples of not-genuine-curiosity, do not use these questions just because they are in this list. These questions appear here to prime your curiosity.

If you’re ever feeling bored… then there is something you’re holding back. This practice is anything but boring! Consider that you aren’t asking about what you’re really interested in!

In summary:

  • Ask questions from genuine curiosity.
  • Wait in the awkward silence for the genuine curiosity to arise before asking.
  • Lean into your edge to ask the scary or “embarrassing” questions.
  • Keep your questions short.
  • If you’re bored, perhaps you’re not asking from genuine curiosity.

Circlee

Your role is to answer questions honestly or choose not to answer. That’s it.

The choice to not answer cannot be understated! This is a powerful way to help the circlers find their curiosity. If you find the question uninteresting or boring to answer then there’s a good chance the circler will find it boring to and maybe just isn’t curios about the question they asked. You may simply say, “That question isn’t interesting to me.” or “I think I’d be bored answering that question. Will you ask another?”

Another reason to choose not to answer a question is if you feel too vulnerable answering. I want you to lean into your edge and give honest open answers, but if a question is too edgy or too personal for you then you may opt to skip it. The point of circling is to get to know someone more deeply, so if you don’t answer any personal/edgy questions then the circle will be flat and boring. The circlers will not know you any better and you will not benefit by being seen. You must pace yourself here, lean in to your edge, don’t jump off a cliff of vulnerability. You’ll become more and more transparent over time and more and more comfortable sharing what you use to consider really personal. And you’ll always have something too personal to share in a give moment with a given audience. That’s normal and healthy.

Keep your answers short. If you take too much time answering then the circlee’s will not have the chance to follow the threads you open up with your share. Their curiosity may fall flat. We want each question and each step to be small and on the path of curiosity. Long answers take us off the path.

In summary:

  • Answer the question even if it is edgy.
  • Don’t answer if something is too edgy or too vulnerable for you to share.
  • Don’t answer if something isn’t alive for you.
  • Keep your answers short.

Closing

Closing the circle should be done in 1-5 minutes after the timer rings (plus the initial 15 minutes that makes a maximum of 20 minutes for the circle). Set a timer for 5 minutes if you must to be sure you honor the time. We don’t want to abruptly end the circle if something is alive or someone is feeling something strong.

On first hearing the bell, allow whoever is speaking to finish. One of the circlers should verbally acknowledge the bell with a statement like, “I heard the bell. So we’ll be wrapping up shortly.”

Circlers may ask closing questions like “Is there anything more you want to share before we close?”, “Is there anything you need from us?”, or “Would you like some silence / a hug / or a hand to hold?”

If necessary, bookmark things with statements like, “I see this is really alive and we could explore this much more. How about we close here and we can revisit that another circle if its still alive?”

Circling takes energy and focus. The time container helps limit the time we exercise just like when you’re doing physical exercise. You need a break. A break to let the muscles of your mind rest.

In summary:

  • Acknowledge the bell after the current speaker is finished.
  • Ask closing questions.
  • If necessary, bookmark what’s alive for another day.
  • Close on time so you can rest.

Debrief

This is your opportunity to reflect with each other on what went well and what might be changed. This can be an open conversation about anything you experienced or think.

I suggest you start by answering these two questions:

  • Circlee: what do you wish the circlers asked that they did not ask?
  • Circlers: what moment felt most alive for you?

In the interest of time you may stop there and have another few circles. Though sometimes a longer debrief can be valuable.

Conclusion

This should get you started circling. It is a very simple version of circling designed specifically for beginners. It should be a great way to start the practice.