Developing trust in a group: silence & laughter

Written by on September 21, 2011

Many groups are starting out this month in some part of the VP3 process. One of the central challenges of Stage 1 is building trust.  As we often discuss in the Facilitator Training Retreats, an atmosphere of trust needs to be fostered for the groups to flourish. Without trust, honest and prayerful discovery will become frustrated. Developing trust requires a way of being with the group that lovingly moves the relationships beyond the pretense and comparison that pervades so many of our daily relational interactions.Trust is not simply built by following a clear set of steps, but there are things we can do. Elements of listening and question-asking and vulnerability and non-judgmental spirits all seem to blend together to make for a safe place. As I have been thinking and praying about the many different facilitators and participants beginning the Emerging Journey or the Equipping Experience or Enriching Conversation, Parker Palmer words have come to mind. Palmer writes of the vital importance of silence and laughter for creating a safe place for the soul.

…both silence and laughter are vital for creating safe space for the soul. Silence and laughter seem like strange bedfellows, but experience reveals that they are not. What, for example, do we call people who can spend hourstogether in silence without feeling awkward or tense and who can use humor to help each other through hard times? We call them, of course, good friends. It takes good friends to sustain silence and laughter because both make us vulnerable. Silence makes us vulnerable because when we stop making noise, we lose control: who knows what thoughts or feelings might arise if we turned off the television or stopped yammering for a while? Laughter makes us vulnerable because it often comes in response to our flaws and foibles: who knows how foolish we might look when the joke is on us? We can share silence and laughter only when we trust each other–and the more often we share them, the deeper our trust grows. The soul loves silence because it is shy, and silence helps it feel safe. The soul loves laughter because it seeks truth, and laughter often reveals reality. But most of all, the soul loves life, and both silence and laughter are life-giving. (Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness, Jossey-Bass:2004, pp.152-3)

So as your groups begin, be mindful of these critical elements in developing trust. Don’t be afraid of there being silence from time to time in your groups when people are thinking through how to respond to a question. Don’t rescue the conversation from the silence. And in regard to laughter, notice and affirm those folks in your group who insert a timely word of humor into the discussion, the sort of humor that does not take away from the group, but adds to group. Trust takes time. Blessings on the journey…

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