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20 min

Warm up, catch up, and get going!

Step 1: Icebreaker

Group activity

1 min per member

An icebreaker is a powerful tool to help us become present with one another and ourselves. One by one, fill in the sentence below and share it with your Circle. Listen carefully as each member takes a turn and say thank you when she’s finished. Avoid the urge to slip into conversation.

  • Today I am feeling . . .
  • What I most want to bring forth in my leadership is . . .
  • That is truly important to me because . . .

Step 2: Member Updates

Group activity

2 min (or less) per member

Once you’re warmed up, go around your Circle and share personal updates. As a general rule, personal updates should be brief and focus on big changes and important decisions in your life. (It’s OK not to have one every month!)

If you have a One Action update, share that with your Circle at the same time. (A One Action is one concrete action you committed to take at your last meeting; the goal of a One Action is to step outside your comfort zone or practice a new skill.)

For example, a member update might go like this: “Since our last meeting, I asked my boss for a big assignment and got it. I’m thrilled but a little nervous [personal update]. For my One Action, I asked that coworker I’ve been struggling with out for lunch. She immediately said yes, and I was surprised by how easily we got along. I can see it helping in the office, and we’re going out for lunch again next week—her invite! [One Action update].”

Activity 1: Key Takeaways

Individual activity

5 min

Before you jump into today’s meeting, review the key takeaways of our “Framing” video individually or as a group:

We all have difficult situations, but we can learn to manage our experience. We all face upsets or difficult situations where we do not operate at our best. We do not get the outcome we most hope for, and as a result, we feel bad. While we cannot control the outcome, we can choose the experience we want to have.

Start with self-awareness. As you think about your upset, try to step outside yourself to see the movie of the event unfold. Notice how you feel physically—this is an important clue to what is being triggered in you. Notice how you are feeling emotionally, too. Without judgment, get curious about what is happening in you and the messages it is sending to others.

Identify your triggers, fears, and unmet needs. As you think about a few of these situations, you may begin to see a pattern of what triggers you— and what gets triggered in you. Deep down, what are you most afraid of? We all have fears, and when they get activated, we tend to lose control of our emotions and behaviors. If you cannot recall fears, think about your deepest needs. In difficult situations, what needs of yours are threatened or unmet?

Your amygdala at work. In the heat of the moment, we operate without self-awareness, because we are in the grips of what is called an amygdala hijack (when that region of the brain signals the release of cortisol and adrenaline that activates our defense system). Thousands of years ago, we were kept alive by our amygdala responding to perceived physical threats. It continues to serve that purpose today, but it does not distinguish between physical and emotional threats. Either type kicks it into action before the executive brain can process what’s really going on. It takes about six to ten seconds for your “thinking brain” to reengage.

Learning to pause to understand yourself. When you pause, you give your thinking brain the time it needs to assess the situation. In that time, you can see yourself in your own movie with detachment—and start to understand what is actually going and why you are upset. As you assess the best way forward, you have the choice to experience the upset differently. That freedom to choose opens up a window for learning.

Learning to pause to understand others. We judge one another by what we see—the words said, behaviors exhibited, and actions observed. But we don’t know what the other person in a conflict is thinking or feeling but not expressing—this includes her values and beliefs and, deep down, her unmet needs and deepest desires. When you pause, you create time to think through what’s behind her upset and may gain insight that helps resolve the conflict.

Reframing takes practice. If you gain more self-awareness when you are upset, that’s already a great start. If you also pause in that moment, you will be able to step back and think about what is really happening in you and others.

Whether you pause in the moment or reflect after a conflict, you will see more choices for how to respond to the situation. Having choices helps you shift from victim to being in charge of your own experience—and be more effective.

Simply put, when you choose to shift your mindset, new behaviors emerge naturally. Perhaps you might end up enjoying the challenging situation because it helps you grow faster. Imagine that!

Activity 2: Personal Reflection

25 min

Step 1: Reflect on a difficult situation

Pair activity

5 min per partner

As individuals, spend several minutes thinking of a situation when you were not at your best and did not get the outcome you wanted—choose one that really made an impact on you.

Then break into pairs and describe the situation briefly to your partner, using the following questions as prompts. (You can also switch meeting guides and have your partner take notes for you below.)

  • What is happening?
  • Who is involved?
  • What are you are doing (or not doing)?
  • What you are saying (or not saying)?

Step 2: Identify your reactions

Group activity

10 min

The first step to reframing is self-awareness, or recognizing the clues that indicate you feel threatened. Reflect back on your difficult situation and identify your physical and emotional symptoms. Make note of them below. Check all that apply and add your own.

Common Symptoms:

Physical symptoms

  • Sweaty palms
  • Increased heart rate
  • Dizziness/faintness
  • Butterflies
  • Pit in the stomach
  • Flushing/turning red
  • ___________________
  • ___________________
  • ___________________


  • Anxiety
  • Shock/disbelief
  • Anger or defensiveness
  • Embarrassment
  • Intolerance
  • Confusion
  • Blame
  • Retaliation
  • ___________________
  • ___________________
  • ___________________

Then go around your Circle one by one and share one physical and one emotional symptom. If you hear one that you experience but forgot to note, take a moment and add it to your list of symptoms.

Step 3: Identify broader patterns

Individual activity

5 min

Write.Now step back and think about other situations that tend to trigger a negative reaction in you— the types of conversations or behaviors that derail you from being your best. How are they similar to the difficult situation you already shared? How are they different? Are they with the same person or with different people? What is the pattern you are seeing? For example, perhaps you’ll discover you get nervous when speaking to senior members of your team or whenever you’re challenged in a meeting.

Activity 3: Strategies for Pausing

10 min

Once we are self-aware, the second step to reframing is to learn to pause in the moment. When we avoid our natural urge to fight or take flight, we give our thinking brain an opportunity to kick into gear.

Write. List the ways you find your “center” in the moment.

Some examples:

  • Smiling
  • Counting to ten
  • Taking a few deep breaths
  • Feeling your feet on the floor

Then go around your Circle one by one and briefly share your favorite one or two strategies for pausing and centering.

Activity 4: Facing Your Fear

20 min

Step 1: Share your biggest fear

Group activity

5 min

In big letters, write down one fear or unmet need that rises to the top for you. When you’re done, hold up your paper so everyone can see it. Look around your Circle and match up in pairs who have the same (or similar) fears.

Step 2: Explore how fear works

Pair activity

5 min per partner + 5 min for debrief

Understanding how fear works is the first step in working through it and shifting your mindset.

With your partner, take turns asking each other the following questions. As you answer, jot down notes you want to remember for yourself:

  • How does this fear serve me well?
  • How does this fear limit me?
  • When I am feeling this fear, what do I do or not do? How do I act? What is my body doing?
  • When I behave this way, what is the likely outcome?

Activity 5: Shifting Mindsets

20 min

Step 1: Try to reframe your difficult situation

Pair activity

5 min per partner

You’ve accomplished a lot so far. You’ve reflected on a difficult situation, perhaps feeling the trigger of it again. You’ve recognized your symptoms, uncovered the types of situations that trigger you, and identified strategies for pausing. You’ve reflected on how your biggest fear impacts you. Now it’s time to practice shifting your mindset so you can be at your best when you experience difficult situations.

Return back to your pairs from Activity 2, when you shared your difficult situation.

Think back to that situation and talk through the following reframing questions with your partner. They are designed to help you shift your mindset so you can see the situation differently. Then switch roles and repeat the exercise.

  • What can I learn from this situation?
  • What do I want to happen in this situation?
  • What is my true intention?
  • What can I do to bring about a better outcome?

Step 2: Reflect on the power of reframing

Pair activity

5 min per partner

Now spend time considering how reframing can help you in the moment; use the following questions to shape your discussion.

  • What would I have discovered in my moment of upset if I used the questions in step 1?
  • What would have I said or not said, done or not done?
  • How would I have felt physically and emotionally?
  • Do I think it would have affected the outcome? If so, how?

One Action

20 min

We recommend you close every meeting by committing to a “One Action”—one concrete thing you’re going to do before your next Circle meeting to step outside your comfort zone or practice a new skill.

Step 1: Identify the experience you want to create

Individual activity

5 min

Reflect on the type of situation that most triggers you and the mindset that you want in that moment.

For example, you might say: “When I meet with senior team members, I want to create the experience of feeling connected and like a peer.”

Complete the following: When I (describe difficult situation)_______________, I want to create the experience of (describe new mindset) _____________________.

Step 2: Write down the pause techniques you’ll use

Individual activity

5 min

Take a moment to consider what technique(s) you could use to pause in the moment.

For example, you might say: “When I’m in a difficult situation, I will take a breath and tell myself that challenges help me learn and grow.”

Now choose one that you intend to use and complete the following:

When I’m in a difficult situation, I will (describe pause technique) _____________________.

Step 3: Share your One Action with your Circle

Group activity

1 min/ member

One by one, go around your Circle and complete the following using your responses from steps 1 and 2, moving quickly from member to member:

  • When I ... [insert your difficult situation]
  • I want to create the experience of... [insert your new mindset]
  • To help me accomplish this, I will... [insert your pause technique]

I plan to practice this before our next meeting and I will report back on my progress.


10 min

What’s next, and a few final words.

Step 1: Finalize logistics of your next meeting

Group activity

10 min

Before you break, make sure you have the basics covered for your next meeting: day and time, location, food and drink. Decide what you’re going to do when you get together or who’s going to send out ideas. You may also want to talk through what worked—and what didn’t—in today’s meeting and brainstorm improvements going forward.

Step 2: Close on an energetic and inspirational note

Group activity

2 min

To punctuate the end of this meeting, go around your Circle one by one and complete the sentence below:

  • I am feeling . . .

Optional: One Action Update

Use the following prompts to give your One Action update during your next meeting. You can even prepare your answers ahead to maximize your time with your Circle.

  • In a recent difficult situation, I tried _____________
  • What worked well _____________
  • What I’m still working on _____________