Confessions of a fast-paced blurter

By: Veronique Serruya

Confessions of a fast-paced blurter

I flew down to Berkeley a couple weeks ago, super excited to do a four-day workshop called Matrix Leadership. True to form, even though I had never done any group work, I was confident I would be a natural. After all, I am a people person. I thrive in groups. Groups love me.

We began a particularly eye-opening activity by identifying the roles we take in groups. Turns out, I’m a producer, manager, initiator, organizer, facilitator, and includer. See a pattern? My list was all about DOING. Then we were invited to take on a role outside of our typical patterns. For me it was the witness, which I thought was the sit-back-and-just-watch role.

Two things happened as I accepted this challenge. One, I began to panic and realized that group work terrifies me because I’m scared of being excluded if I’m not in control. And two, a fellow group member said “oh! I’ll be the blurter then!” (which apparently means I’m more full-throttle and expressive in my doing roles than I thought I was). Anxiety aside, the witness role exposed me to a whole new perspective on how groups function as a single organism. I learned how the role I take influences the group, and likewise, how the group influences me. 

If you want to boost your group work intelligence, I highly recommend taking on a new role. For doers who try out being a witness, here are some tips to ease the transition.  

Slow down! Let the group set its own the pace  

As I sat there watching and listening to everyone else ebb and flow in the group, I realized I tend to miss this. I am normally moving too fast, tacking onto someone else’s idea, inviting someone else to say something—keeping the pace fast. What I noticed was that some people feel more comfortable with a slower pace. And when you let a silence naturally happen, something always flows in. 

By giving others a chance to contribute in their own time I saw the rhythm of a healthy group. Not honoring that can lead to conflict.

Speak up! Don’t sulk on the sidelines

At one point the group dynamic was flowing and I did not feel in agreement with it. I was frustrated that I could not interject (code word: blurt). I started distancing myself from the group and then felt excluded. But once the facilitator asked me if I had anything I wanted to add, I said my piece and it was well received. That’s when I realized I had been excluding myself, not the other way around.

Every member of the group has valuable contributions to make, and not speaking isn’t the same as adding nothing.

Check in! Get in touch with your biases

Being the ever-vigilant doer in groups, I thought I was always one of the most inclusive people. Once I was able to see the natural flow of things, I realized I had several biases that fed my underlying judgements. I used to think fast is always better than slow, and people who sit back in a group simply have nothing to say. Only once I detected these filters, was I able to examine them and see how they colored my actions and reactions to others. 

Differentiation within a group is normal and healthy. But being unaware of your biases can create conflict and, more importantly, prevent seeing things from a new angle.

Try it! A new role offers new insights

The idea of being a witness seemed a little scary. Yet once I took on that role, I noticed it had some advantages. As a blurter, I spend a good portion of time analyzing my conversations with people to waylay my anxieties over whether I offended anyone, cut them off, or made them feel uncomfortable.   As a witness I didn’t have any of that responsibility and I could take the time to carefully choose my words before, well, blurting.   

It doesn’t matter who takes which role, but they need to be filled to sustain the group organism. Changing your role helps you grow your leadership skills while contributing to the collective intelligence of the group.

While shaking up our routine roles provides an opportunity to see the world from someone else’s viewpoint, it also helps us feel more connected to others. This allows for more congruence and less conflict in the group. So, to all my fellow doers: being the witness ain’t so bad. Take it from a (newly) self-aware blurter.


5 lessons in storytelling I learned in Antarctica

By: Veronique Serruya

5 lessons in storytelling I learned in Antarctica

I just spent twelve incredible days in Antarctica, and it blew my mind.  The sheer beauty and untouched majesty of it took my breath away and made me want to capture it in more than my mind’s eye.  There was a professional photographer on the boat who gave a talk about composition, light, and good storytelling.

As she spoke about how to capture our perfect memory on film I thought about all the parallels between storytelling through photography and building strong social media content, or capturing attention with a campaign. Here are a few parameters I like to keep in mind:

1. Know what you want to say

Whether a picture, a post, or a website, it’s the same: diluted content is confusing and ultimately loses the audience.  This picture captured Antarctica in one flawless moment.

2. Don’t try to tell too many stories at once

Pick one story, it’s stronger than attempting to tell too many at once. One day we were in our kayaks, surrounded by 35 feeding humpbacks, which attracted Antarctic albatross as well as penguins to feast on left over krill.  With so much going on around us, it was difficult to hone in on a specific story for our picture–which for me happened to be, “Holy s#$@ that whale is so close it could capsize us all.”

3. Lead with the most interesting material

It’s hard to decide what is most interesting when surrounded by such beauty, but to make my story attractive, I had to choose my focal point. In this picture, I chose these two king penguins in a colony of Gentoo penguins.

4. Create content that sparks conversations or adds value

For every good picture, there was a story that went with it.

5. Be memorable

Good stories inspire people to action. Of all the pictures I took, I am not sure which one is the most inspiring, but I picked this one.

Maybe you will be motivated to witness this pristine wilderness for yourself, or donate to a charity that works to preserve it.