Outline of T-Group 2.0 Practice
tl;dr list is at the bottom of this page.
The “What” and the “Why”
T-Group 2.0 is a practice of intense present moment awareness, just like yoga or meditation. But instead of working alone, we bring that same meditative skill, called the “witnessing awareness,” into the process of communicating and relating with each other.
The way we communicate in a T-Group is really different from what we’re used to in our daily lives. There’s no topic of discussion, and the only thing we’ll be talking about is whatever is happening right now, both within ourselves and in the connections between us.
And believe it or not, just staying in the present moment with each other gives us an incredible amount of stuff to talk about. Because at any point in time, we are all:
Noticing things about each other
Interpreting what we notice
Having feelings (based on those interpretations)
And having impulses to respond (that are based on the feelings and the interpretations)
Out in our daily lives, this process of notice-interpret-feel-act usually happens in a millisecond, often without any conscious input from us. And most of the time, it isn’t a problem because we can be more or less accurate in our approximations of other people. And that 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 conscious 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 about it means).
When we’re not conscious of what we’re noticing or how we’re interpreting it, we’re far more likely to immediately believe that our story is true, which is another way of saying that we project that story onto the person (the roots of the word “project” literally mean “to throw forward”). 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 actually really irritating to receive, and it will often inspire resistance and defensiveness in the person you’re relating to.
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 the feelings come. But instead of realizing that the feeling is happening as a response to the story, we’re likely to blame that feeling on the other person as if they had “made” you feel that way. And people respond to blame about as well as they do to projection :-(
And to top it all off, once we’ve made a faulty interpretation, projected it onto the other person, and then blamed them for the icky feelings, we’re then compelled to react in ways that are consistent with the stories and feelings. But these reactions won’t be 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? That’s how you get the madness that we’ve all experienced in relationships.
So what we’re up to in T-Group is creating a space where we can slow that process WAY down and remove as many distractions and demands as possible so that we can reverse engineer the chain reaction. In T-Group, we’re trying to stand outside of that chain reaction directly so that we can observe and make discoveries about the kinds of stuff our mind has been up to without our choosing it. This awareness gives us a lot more choice in the whole process, which gives us the power to communicate and relate in ways that will move our connections towards the outcomes we actually want.
When you join us for any T-Group gathering, you’ll be given a hand-held card with The T-Group Feedback Process, which is really the heart of this practice.
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 it can also be 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. The structure we use is:
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 more confronting piece of feedback. 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 really paying attention to me and that you’re understanding me. I feel relieved and grateful, but also a little vulnerable. The impact on our connection is that I feel an increase in my openness and trust towards you, and an impulse to open further and share more. My intention in sharing is to strengthen our connection by letting you know that you are having a positive impact on me.”
People often ask if they have to stick to the steps in a rigid kind of way, and you definitely don’t. The steps of The Feedback Process are like a musical scale. It’s good for beginners to practice it as-is, because it will short-circuit the old habits and embed the new habits into your muscle memory, so to speak. And once you have a grasp of what this practice is really about, you’re welcome to change around the order, use different words, or improvise. Ultimately, if what you’re doing is becoming ever more deeply present to what’s happening right now, then it doesn’t really matter how you say it.
And also, 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 “Right now, I notice ____.” And when you’re receiving feedback from someone else, it’s also okay to simply say, “Hearing that, I feel ____” or “Hearing that, I notice ____.” These are more simplified versions of The Feedback Process, and you are welcome to use them any time.
You may have already noticed that this process is going to invite you to be far more transparent and vulnerable that most of us are accustomed to being, and that it also invites us to say the kinds of intense or edgy things to one another that we might normally conceal or even lie about. The power of The Feedback Process is that it can package even the most confronting 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 seriously damaged a connection into a communication that is extremely useful, both to the other person and for the relationship.
So to use The Feedback Process well, there are three points to remember
The first is that there is a major difference between feelings and stories. There are certain words we all use to describe our feelings that are actually stories. Words like seen, heard, and loved, and also, judged, ignored, or attacked are all examples of stories: they describe what you think the other person is doing - and that’s a story. So instead of saying, “I feel seen,” or “I feel ignored,” it would be more accurate (and honest) to say, “I believe you are seeing me,” or, “My story is that you are ignoring me.”
So in addition to the cards with The Feedback Process, you’ll also be given a Feelings Wheel that can serve as a map for tracking down the feeling word that best describes the emotion that is coming up for you. You start in the center and locate the basic feeling you’re having, and then move outward to find the more specific and accurate word for your feeling. 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 are ignoring me, and I feel embarrassed and sad.”
Now of course there’s no guarantee that you won’t get resistance or defensiveness in return if you speak this way - you still might - but what this form of communication implicitly conveys is: Hey, I realize that I’m not the authority on you, but here’s what happens in me when you behave that way. And even if that’s hard for them to hear, this kind of feedback is so rare and so extremely useful - for everyone involved.
The second thing to keep in mind is a simple frame that we use all the time in T-Group: 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 don’t allow for much contact. Level Two is where we engage in conversation around certain topics or where we share information and stories with one another. More contact is possible on Level 2, but it’s not complete contact because periodically our minds have to leave the present moment in order to retrieve thoughts and memories and data. Any time the mind leaves the present moment, it also partially leaves the connection, because connection can only happen in the present moment. So on Level 3, we strive to keep the mind and the body in the same exact spot, keeping our attention fully on ourselves, the people we’re connecting with, and whatever is happening right here, right now. T-Group is essentially a practice of Level 3 communication, and Level 3 communication is essentially a spoken, relational meditation.
And the third, and really the most important thing to keep in mind is what we call the Ground of Health. There’s so much I could say about this, but to put it very simply, if we want to create cohesive groups that can go into complex and challenging material and provide a truly transformative experience for everyone… 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. It’s also like the neurons in the brain: a single neuron can’t do much by itself, but once it gets connected up with all the other neurons, then together they can do some miraculous things.
And there are three primary things we do to establish the Ground of Health:
Practicing appreciative feedback,
Connecting all the parts,
And creating an environment of mutual risk taking.
So there are two kinds of feedback: appreciative and differentiating. When we practice appreciative feedback, especially at the beginning of our groups, we’re not trying to drum up artificial positive feelings. Rather, we’re choosing to place our attention on the ways in which our fellow group members are already having a positive or enriching impact on us. This allows us to establish connection in a gentle, resourced way. Primitive parts of our brain are absolutely obsessed with safety, as though we were still living on the Savana under threat of preadators. So when we create a safe and connected environment, these parts of our brain can relax and allow the higher functions of our brains and minds to come online.
And we call it differentiating feedback instead of “negative” feedback, because it isn’t good or bad. Rather, differentiating feedback is about noticing and honoring the ways in which we are different: we have different perspectives, different experiences, different preferences, different beliefs, and so on. T-Group is not about getting us to be all the same. It’s about getting us all into connection in a space that lets there be room for all the differences that are present.
Connecting all the parts is about establishing the weave of the fibers in the trampoline, it’s about connecting up all the neurons so that the brain can function properly. You may not have enough time in a group to explore the connection you have with every other person, but if that’s what you’re aiming for, you’ll be right on track.
And lastly, T-Group only really works when we create an environment of mutual risk taking by fully engaging and responding, by bringing ourselves proactively to the group and by responding when others reach for connection with us. That’s why, on the back of the handheld cards, I have some examples of things you can say in those moments when it’s really hard to say something. You don’t always have to say all the things - not at all - and these are examples of ways you can choose the level of depth you want to share at. Something I have seen a lot is that when two members of a group are having a more intense exchange, the rest of the group members will stop engaging and responding. People seem to think that what’s happening over there isn’t about them, or that it would be polite to just hold space. But what happens when folks go into “audience mode,” is that sooner or later, they’ll 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 group process that is extremely engaging and revelatory for everyone involved.
T-Group is a meditative practice of intense present moment awareness,
That let’s us reverse engineer our bad habits in communicating
So that we can replace them with greater awareness and skillfulness
So that we can have less conflict and more authentic intimacy in our connections.
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 the practice in a skillful way, we need to remember:
That there is an important difference between feeling words and story words
That our job is to stay on Level 3, and that it can sometimes be really difficult to notice when we’ve slipped up onto Level 2, and
That if what we want is a deep and powerful group, then we need to co-create a Ground of Health together
Download a PDF of the Outline of T-Group 2.0 Practice
T-Group 2.0 Practice by Crystallin Dillon, MA is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.