T-Group 2.0 Training Video Outline
T-Group is a practice of intense present moment awareness, much like yoga and meditation. But instead of working alone, we apply this mindfulness to the process of communicating and relating with one another. This allows us to cultivate what’s called the “witnessing awareness,” the ability to observe ourselves and our interactions from a more objective point of view.
But the way we communicate in a T-Group is really different from what we’re used to in our daily lives. Many of the norms and assumptions of ordinary conversation don’t apply. We’re not having a discussion about a topic, nor are we sharing information or stories about ourselves or anything else. The only point of speaking is to articulate what’s happening in the present moment, both within ourselves and in the connections between us.
And believe it or not, this gives us a lot of stuff to talk about. Because at any point in time, all of us are:
Noticing things about each other
Interpreting what we notice
Having feelings (that are based on the interpretation)
And having impulses to respond (that are based on the feelings)
It’s a chain reaction that usually happens in a millisecond, often without any conscious input from us. And much of the time, it’s not a problem because we can be more or less accurate in our approximations of other people. And this means that our feelings and responses will also be accurate enough to the situation as well.
But this process also goes off the rails quite a lot. Especially in complex or emotionally charged situations, we’re far less likely to be aware of:
What we’re noticing, as in the actual cues we’re picking up on, or
How we are interpreting those cues (the story we’re telling ourselves about it means).
When we’re not aware of what we’re noticing or how we’re interpreting it, we’re far more likely to immediately believe that the story is true, which is another way of saying that we project that story onto the person. And when we do this, we forget something really important: that we will never know with 100% certainty what is actually going on for another person. And the stance of, “I know the truth about you,” is often irritating and offensive to the person receiving it, so it is likely to inspire resistance and defensiveness in them.
And that’s just the first half of the process gone awry. Once we’ve believed our faulty interpretation of a cue we weren’t aware of to begin with, that’s when we start to have feelings. But instead of realizing that our feeling is coming in response to our story, we’re likely to blame that feeling on the other person as if they had “made” us feel that way. Now we’ve assumed the stance of, “I know the truth about you and it’s your fault that I’m feeling so uncomfortable,” and this is likely to inspire yet more resistance and defensiveness in them.
And finally, once we’ve projected our story onto them and blamed them for our unpleasant feelings, we’re then compelled to react in ways that are consistent with the feeling and the story. But these reactions won’t be fully accurate to the situation, and they’re likely to create precisely the outcome you don’t want in that relationship. And when you have two people who are both doing this to each other? Things can get really heated really fast, which is why many of us steer clear of conversations that could be difficult or conflicted.
So the idea of T-Group is to create a space where we can slow this process down and remove as many distractions and demands as possible so that we can unwind the chain reaction one link at a time. We’re trying to stand outside of the process, seeing it from the point of view of the witnessing awareness, so that we can make discoveries about the part we play in creating interpersonal dynamics. This awareness gives us the freedom to make different choices, and the practice of T-Group itself will give you a whole new repertoire of of skillful options, which can allow you to create the kinds of dynamics you actually want.
So that was a bit about the “what” and the “why” of T-Group practice, so now let’s jump into the “how.” When we begin the practice, you’ll be given one of these hand-held cards. This is the T-Group Feedback Process, really the heart of the practice, and the card outlines the steps.
In the first step, you identify the specific cue that you’re noticing and responding to; it could be what the person actually said, but often it is something non-verbal like tone of voice, body language, facial expression, and so on.
Then, in step two, you share what you are making it mean - the story you are telling yourself about what you’re noticing.
And finally, you share the feelings that come in response to the story.
So the three main steps are:
When you ____
I make it mean _____
And I feel ______
That’s the basic form, and there are two optional steps as well:
The impact on our connection is _______ and,
My intention in sharing is ______
Speaking to “the impact on our connection,” is your opportunity to name the impulses that arise in response to the story and the feeling. And speaking to your intention in sharing is especially useful when you’re offering a piece of feedback that might be more difficult to hear. Here’s an example of a full piece of feedback:
“When you nod your head as I’m speaking, I make it mean that you are paying attention to me and that you’re understanding me. I feel relieved and grateful, but I’m also feeling kind of exposed and uncomfortable. The impact on our connection is that I feel a bit more open towards you, but also shy and a bit anxious. My intention in sharing is to practice revealing the parts of my experience I usually hide.”
Now sometimes you may want to share something that isn’t a response to anyone else. In that case, you can simply say, “Right now, I feel or notice ____.” And when you’re receiving feedback from someone else, it’s also okay to simply say, “Hearing that, I feel or notice ____.” These are simplified versions of The Feedback Process, and you are welcome to use them any time.
So you may have already noticed that this process is going to invite you to be far more transparent than most of us are accustomed to being. It also invites us to speak to underlying relational dynamics, which is something we rarely do in our culture. The expectation of our culture is to pay attention only to the literal content of one another’s speech, and yet the vast majority of our communication actually takes place non-verbally. So T-Group is an opportunity to explore what’s actually being communicated, so that we can better understand the impact others have on us as well as the impact we have on them and the group as a whole.
This process will also invite us to be more transparent about the feelings and experiences we usually tend to hide from one another. The power of The Feedback Process is that it can package even the most challenging piece of feedback into a form that’s least likely to inspire resistance or defensiveness in the receiver, and is most likely to be heard and considered by them. This is because it prevents both projection and blame by prompting you to reclaim ownership of your stories, feelings, and impulses. It reminds us that although our experience is valid as our experience, it is not the truth about anyone else. In this way, we can transform something that could have damaged a relationship into a communication that is extremely useful for everyone involved.
To use The Feedback Process well, there are three points to remember.
The first is the difference between feelings and stories, the second is the three levels of communication, and the third is psychological safety.
So, there are certain words we all use to describe our feelings that are actually projections in disguise. Words like understood, supported, and appreciated, and also, judged, ignored, or attacked are all examples of stories: they describe what you think the other person is doing. So instead of saying, “I feel appreciated,” or “I feel ignored,” it would be more accurate (and honest) to say, “I believe you are appreciating me,” or, “My story is that you might be ignoring me.”
In addition to the cards with The Feedback Process, you’ll also be given a Feeling Wheel that can serve as a map for tracking down the word that best describes the emotion that is coming up for you. Here’s another example of how to tell the difference between feelings and stories, “When you look around the room as I’m speaking, I make it mean that you might be ignoring me, and I feel embarrassed and sad.”
Now of course there’s no guarantee that you won’t be met with resistance or defensiveness if you speak this way - you still might - but what this form of communication implicitly conveys is your understanding that you are not the authority on them, and that you’re willing to openly share what’s happening for you in the relationship with the intention of working towards greater understanding. And even if what you’re saying is hard for them to hear, this kind of feedback is rare and it’s so useful for everyone involved.
The second thing to keep in mind are The Three Levels of Communication. Level One includes highly-scripted exchanges like, “Hi, how are you?” “I’m fine thanks, how are you?” These kinds of communications allow us to acknowledge one another and convey goodwill, but they are not particularly connective. Level Two is where we engage in conversation around certain topics or where we share information and stories with one another. More connection is possible on Level 2, but it’s still only partial, and the reason for this is that in order to retrieve information from memory, the mind has to periodically leave the present moment, and also the connection. Even if you are sharing a personal story about yourself, you are splitting your listeners’ attention between the you of the present moment and the image of the past you that you’re creating in their mind. So on Level 3, we strive to stay fully in the present moment, where the words that you’re sharing pertain to the you of the present moment.
The third, and really the most important point to keep in mind is Psychological Safety. There’s so much I could say about this, but to put it simply, if we want to create cohesive groups that can process complex and challenging material in a way that’s useful for everyone involved… then we must take the time to build a foundation of basic respect, goodwill, and connection with one another. It’s like the weave of a trampoline: when the fibers are woven tightly together, you could throw a boulder onto it and it would just bounce.
There are three primary things we do to establish Psychological Safety:
We practice appreciative feedback,
We connect all the parts,
And we create an environment of mutual risk taking.
So there are two kinds of feedback, appreciative and differentiating, though they both use the same steps that I outlined a moment ago. Appreciative feedback is about actively choosing to place our attention on the ways in which other people are already having a positive or enriching impact on us. Practicing appreciative feedback, especially at the beginning of the group, allows us to establish that basic ground of safety and connection in a gentle way. This is important because our brains evolved to be constantly on the lookout for threats, especially threats that might jeopardize our standing in the group. Psychological Safety allows these primitive parts of the brain to relax, so that the higher functions of our minds can begin to come online.
And we call it differentiating feedback instead of “negative” feedback, because it’s not about good or bad, right or wrong. Our tension and conflict tend to cluster around our differences, because the predominant norm of our culture is to relate to those differences as threats, and to one another as adversaries. When a difference emerges, we tend to assume that there will be a winner and a loser. The invitation of differentiating feedback, however, is to create a space where we can relate to our differences as resources, and to one another as teammates who are collaborating towards a shared goal. In a T-Group, that shared goal is understanding, connection, and trust, which are the essential components of any successful collaboration.
Connecting all the parts is like weaving together the fibers of the trampoline. You could also think of it as connecting up all the neurons so that the group brain can function properly. Practically speaking, you may not have enough time in a group to establish a connection with every other person, but that is a good goal to be aiming for.
Something I have seen a lot is that when two members of a group are having a more intense or prolonged exchange, the rest of the group members will stop engaging. People seem to think that what’s happening over there isn’t about them, or that it would be polite to just hold space. I call this stance “audience mode,” and what happens sooner or later is that folks start to check out. So in a T-Group, it’s important to remember that everything always involves, includes, and belongs to everyone all the time. And when everyone feels at liberty to weave themselves in, we create a rich, multi-layered, dynamic process that is engaging and revelatory for everyone involved.
And lastly, we generate Psychological Safety when we create an environment of mutual risk taking. We do this by staying proactively engaged in the group, by being willing to step forward and reveal what we are experiencing without being asked. And when someone engages us, revealing their experience, it is important to respond by “closing the loop” and revealing our experience to them.
Since engaging and responding are so important, on the back of these cards, I have some examples of things you can say in the moments where you don’t know what to say. You do not always have to reveal everything you are experiencing - not at all - and these are examples of how you can choose the level of depth you want to share at. For example, “I want to respond to what you’ve said, but I want to process my experience internally before sharing.” Saying that still signals connection and a willingness to close the loop, even without sharing the details of your experience.
That’s it! Here’s a quick recap of the most important points to remember:
T-Group is a meditative practice of intense present moment awareness,
That let’s us de-program our bad habits in communicating
So that we can replace them with mindfulness and skillfulness
So that we can have less conflict and more understanding and collaboration in our relationships.
The actual practice of T-Group centers on The Feedback Process and it has three main steps:
When you _____
I make it mean _____
And I feel _____
And lastly, in order to do this practice skillfully, we need to remember three things:
The difference between feeling words and story words
That our job is to stay on Level 3, where our words are only describing present moment experience
That we must establish Psychological Safety in order to have a powerful and transformative T-Group experience.
And we create Psychological Safety by
Practicing Appreciative Feedback
Connecting all the Parts, and
Creating an Environment of Mutual Risk Taking