Byron's Babbles

Early Departure

file 2I am excited to do a blog post about a new best practice I discovered when reading the great book Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block. I had always felt awkward when leaving a meeting or event early and would tell the host ahead of time and just slip out – hopefully unnoticed. I have since learned this is not best practice. Block (2009) suggested that when a participant leaves early, there is a hole and kind of emptiness left behind. The early exit leaves a void. There is a cost and consequence for this and the departure takes energy and resources from the experience of both the person leaving and those staying behind. We need to take this seriously, because this loss is an element of engagement.

We need to treat the early departure just like any other important element of the meeting or gathering. Here are five steps to how this can be done:

  1. Ask in the beginning for people to give notice of leaving. Ask them to leave in public, not to sneak out in the dark of night or in silence or during a break.
  2. Acknowledge their leaving in a deliberate way. Have them announce to the group that they are leaving and where they are going. This will create some discomfort, but that is the nature of separation.
  3. Have three people from the group say, “Here’s what you’ve given us . . .” This is a moment for the gifts conversation.
  4. Ask the soon-to-be-departed, “What are you taking with you? What shifted for you, became clearer? What value have you received as a result of being here? Is there anything else you’d like to say to the community?”
  5. Thank them for coming.

Clearly, there are variations to what I have provided above that would work. The most important thing, however, is that you do something for acknowledgment of early departing group members. Let me tell you, the first few times of doing this seemed awkward and counter intuitive to letting an early departing guest slip out, but honestly this has made our gatherings much richer. I believe our participants would tell you that it seems awkward to not do the above five steps now. In fact I used this process with a state official who left early during a World Cafe`style stakeholder gathering we did last week. He texted me after he left and thanked me for handling his departure the way I did. He had great insights to share before he left and the group left him feeling worthwhile with their comments before he left. This truly is a best practice.

In fact, if I have to leave a meeting early that I am attending and not in charge of, I ask if we can do this process. We owe it to our communities to take this seriously. How do you handle early departures?

Reference

Block, Peter (2009). Community: The structure of belonging. Berrett-Koehler Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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