The Pleasure Principle
The Nature of Essence Appreciation
By Lee Glickstein
After a person’s second turn up front (five minutes in most Speaking Circles) listeners have the opportunity to give brief positive feedback in the form of what we call “essence appreciation.” Newcomers are asked to just listen and abstain from chiming in because what is called for in this segment requires a sensitivity to the bigger picture that may take time and experience with this process to grasp.
Essence appreciation is the simple expression of a quality the observer enjoyed in the person up front. At the end of this article is a list of qualities, each of which represents a perfect essence appreciation in itself. Any one or two of these words (if sincerely experienced) would be a fine contribution to this segment.
Saying more before the subtle principles at play here are understood may lead the Facilitator to respond with gentle coaching, though after a few Circles most participants are able to elaborate some and still maintain the standards of essence appreciation.
Toward that end, it is important to remember that feedback is landing on a person who has just spent five minutes in vulnerable presence. If they have truly flowed with the moment, they have been “out of their mind” and do not necessarily remember exactly what they said or how they said it. They are often in a heightened state of grace and sensitivity. Any feedback that refers to their content or their process intrudes on their privacy (as discussed in Guideline #3 of What to Expect At Your First Speaking Circle). It also tends to interrupt their experience of presence and bring them back to thinking.
The most common need for coaching arises when someone offers “content feedback,” which is a reference to what the person talked about in their turn. For instance, if they talked about their brother, you wouldn’t mention “brother” or even “your family” in the appreciation.
Nor would you say something like, “I really appreciated how you tied together the piece about your day at work with the larger issues of creating balance in life.”
If the person talked about gardening, you wouldn’t make a clever reference like “earthy,” even if the person was earthy and even though “earthy” would ordinarily be a good essence appreciation.
Nor would you pointedly use an essence appreciation like “loving” or “generous” if the person had used the word “love” or “generosity” a lot in their turn.
The feedback “courageous” would be appropriate if you sensed it as an essence quality during the turn, but not quite right if you were referring to the risky adventure the person talked about during their turn.
Coaching by the Facilitator takes focus away from the person up front, so they are ideally kept to a minimum. But Facilitators who successfully maintain long-running Circles have learned by necessity to react immediately to feedback that is counterproductive to the potency of this process. They must sometimes coach to keep the room safe for the person who has just had a turn and is standing vulnerably at the front of the room, as well as for the others in the room sensitive to the safety of the container being compromised. Of course they interrupt as gently as possible, since they know it doesn’t feel good to be corrected in public.
Aside from mention of content, here are some other kinds of feedback that are outside the scope of “essence appreciation” and will draw coaching comments from the Facilitator:
-- Feedback that breaks the turn into parts or compares turns:
-- Words that may have a negative or neutral connotation, even
if couched positively:
-- Encouragement, coaching, helpfulness, discussing the person’s
-- Feedback related to appearance or other non-essential traits:
When a person strays from simple essence qualities without having yet comprehended what feedback is asking of us, there are countless potential potholes to fall into. Just to name a few (and understand that there are always new categories that haven’t yet been stumbled into or named):
* Attempts to be clever or glib * Going on and on * Analysis * Interpretation
* Being unclear
If you find yourself confused about what’s expected in this realm, here’s a good rule of thumb: imagine the person had been speaking a language foreign to you. What feedback would you be able to give? If your feedback depends on understanding the language, it’s not attuned to essence.
The goal of the Facilitator is to gently guide individuals toward attuning themselves more and more toward pure essence appreciation over a period of weeks. Getting there is a process, and the Facilitator holds the vision of the group working together as a team supporting the space for each individual to tap into the potency of the work.
Essence appreciation turns out to be a rarefied skill extremely useful in the real world, and those who have transformed their communication through immersion in the Speaking Circle process have along the way mastered the capacity to exquisitely deliver and receive it. For some, this particular segment of the Speaking Circle journey took many months and much coaching. A few felt at times that they would never get it; as if it were a blind spot. But when they finally got it, something transformed for them at the core of their communications.
Most participants pick up the knack for essence appreciation naturally after a few Circles. But to help you along if you need it, here is a handy reference list assembled by Jo Anne Smith, Communications Director for Speaking Circles International.
Essence Appreciation A – Z
Accessible -- generous, welcoming, warm, friendly,
gracious, easy-going, congruent, harmonious