Guided Sharing Circles: Creating a Safe Space to Process Emotions + Connect

A woman sits at a desk, working on a laptop. She rests her head on her hand in distress and exhaustion.

Many of us feel overwhelmed by the prevalence of hate crimes and identity-based terrorism that surrounds us. How do we even start to unpack feelings when we see a shooting at an LGBTQ+ club that was supposed to be a safe space? When people are shot at the grocery store in a terrible hate crime? Or when antisemitic hatred is spewed all over the media by famous people?


It can feel overwhelming, and the buildup of emotions requires a safe, welcoming place to share. Offering Guided Sharing Circles within your team is an exercise to promote Team Wellness and wellbeing, particularly after facing trauma.

Understanding How Trauma Impacts Caregivers

It’s no secret that human service professions often draw in empathetic, kind, and compassionate people. Teaching, social services, mental health, and medical services tend to attract caregivers who are emotionally and personally invested in supporting their fellow humans.


But it’s also well-known that these types of helping professions can result in burnout and exhaustion. People often give and give emotionally until they feel depleted. As a result, compassion fatigue, burnout, and vicarious traumatization are common occurrences in the field.


It takes a lot of emotional energy to hold space for others. We may hear about their challenges, which can trigger feelings of guilt (why do I have so much when others don’t?) or inadequacy (how can I do more?). We may also have feelings of shame as we continue our journey toward Cultural Reverence. Overwhelm is also common, especially when many non-profits and organizations are short-staffed, financially strapped, and may struggle with support.


One way to address compassion fatigue and burnout is to create a greater sense of community and support among team members. Not only does this practice lead to better employee retention, but it can also result in better outcomes for those being served. For example, children in foster care have more successful outcomes when one caseworker handles their case throughout their time in the system. Similar results happen with mental health services, teaching, and criminal justice.


Connecting with others and helping them requires building a rapport with those we serve. Cultivating a consistent environment staffed with people who feel invested in the wellbeing of their community naturally creates these connections and keeps them strong.


In sum, team wellness is crucial for positive outcomes in the workplace. Many of us spend most of our time at work, where we may connect with our coworkers more frequently than our family members. A supportive, nurturing work environment helps us thrive professionally and personally.


In situations and environments where employees feel that their needs are ignored or overlooked, people will lose that all-important sense of buy-in. It’s not always about the salary or benefits of a job, but how people feel valued and gain a sense of purpose from their work.


Organizations that focus on team wellness have better outcomes and more employee engagement. Not only that, but this sense of engagement and support is the counterfoil to a world where the trauma in the news and our communities can make us feel unsafe and unseen.

Creating an Opportunity to Share

Guided Sharing Circles allow a team to connect and work together. These types of experiences can happen organically, of course, but a structured approach ensures that it becomes a regular part of the healthy work environment.


So, what is a Sharing Circle? How do you conduct a Guided Sharing Circle? Our facilitators have led many teams through the practice of Guided Sharing. These circles are more than just a talking circle—they’re a chance to receive support and acknowledgment from colleagues and to process trauma as a team. Because of the sensitive nature of Sharing Circles, there are a few steps to prepare everyone for an experience that will be safe and allow for an open, meaningful dialogue.


How often should your team go through a Guided Sharing Circle practice? It really depends on your team and your particular situation. Many organizations find it helpful to do the exercise regularly—monthly or even weekly during their team gatherings.


Other organizations may find that offering a circle of sharing helps foster team support during particularly difficult times within or outside of the workplace. For example, when a national or local tragedy directly impacts your team, it’s essential to offer a space for processing and discussion.


Guided Sharing Circles are also helpful when your team is going through a point of transition. For example, returning to the office after lockdown, during an office move or relocation, a shift in personnel, or any time things feel uneasy within the workplace. The practice offers your team a chance to express their feelings and concerns and allay their fears or reservations.

How Does a Guided Sharing Circle Work?

When leading teams through a Guided Sharing Circle, we work with you to establish with your whole team the reason for sharing circles and set parameters so that everyone feels safe sharing to whatever degree they wish. There is no requirement to go deep. There is only the offer to share what individual team members want and/or need to share. It can be unsettling for people to jump into an activity or practice without context. Giving your team some background will prepare them for the experience.


To establish a safe space, we will ask participants what they need from the group to feel safe sharing. This opportunity allows everyone to build the safe space they need by agreement.


At the beginning of the session, we gather together and have a moment of mindfulness. The practice of mindfulness helps everyone in the Guided Sharing Circle feel grounded and present within the space. It helps shift from the busy workday to a place where we can safely open up.


The group facilitator then reviews the survey responses and shares anything that is needed to help all individuals feel safe to share. We also review the idea of Conversational Agreements. These Agreements are something that we discuss in our Cultural Humility to Cultural Reverence offering. When people engage in dialogue, especially sensitive topics, it is helpful to set Conversational Agreements before beginning. These Agreements ensure that discussions are healthy and that everyone feels respectfully heard.


Once the Agreements are reviewed and confirmed by your team, our facilitators lead a check-in around the Circle. We offer all participants a chance to share their feelings, and what might be coming up for them in the current situation. We all thank the person and acknowledge them after each share. There is no fixing during a Guided Sharing Circle, only sharing, processing, and often releasing.


After the initial check-in of the Guided Sharing Circle, the floor is opened for discussion and further sharing. We will explore how current events might impact us emotionally, personally, and professionally.


After the discussion, the Guided Sharing Circle is closed by doing another check-in with every person in the Circle. Once again, this allows people to process their feelings and find closure after the discussion. Since these shares can often be personal and we may be processing traumatic events, ensuring that the Guided Sharing experience ends with a wellness closure is important.


At Share, we can lead your team through wellness practices to strengthen and support. Our goal is to help you create a work environment that is safe and welcoming for all—allowing your team to thrive and continue to do their critical work within their communities.

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