Informal small group etiquette

               Well-rounded, elegant women participate in society to varying degrees based on their knowledge, background, interests, and comfort levels. To sharpen their intellect, share their skills or talents, socialize with others, and contribute to the betterment of society, there exist many social group settings in which a proper lady may choose to participate. For many of these groups, there are meetings in which group participation is expected. The groups to which I refer are informal, voluntary gatherings of people that do not hold to official business meeting procedures, such as Robert’s Rules of Order. In my own life, these are mainly church-related events such as Sunday Schools, Bible studies, or ministry teams. Though not a formal business meeting, following common standards of politeness and consideration of others facilitates a more enjoyable, productive meeting for everyone involved.

               The key to success in an interactive group meeting is to recognize both aspects of participation: speaking and listening. One may choose mostly to listen, seldom or never speaking; however, the woman more inclined to talk must not neglect the importance of listening as well. Even if someone feels she never has something to offer out loud, she should know that thoughtfully paying attention to others is a valued contribution indeed. Whether one speaks or listens, it is helpful to know both when and how to do so.

When to speak

               When a topic is being discussed by everyone, a lady may speak during a proper opening in the conversation (i.e., not breaking in while someone else is pausing for breath). If the group leader is conducting group business, she will not interject until the leader opens up the group for questions. She ought to speak only when she can share a completely formed thought that adds value to the discussion. Interrupting is always impolite, even if someone else is dominating the conversation. She will not express an opinion on every topic that comes up, though she will mentally form opinions on everything in order to stay focused on the group’s mindset and business and to stay mentally sharp. She will not feel obligated to speak every time there is a silence but will recognize that pauses are helpful for the participants to absorb what has been said and reflect upon their own thoughts. She knows that making a statement simply to break the silence will only make her look foolish.

How to speak

               The well-bred woman will make her point succinctly and clearly, staying on topic instead of rambling from point to point. To best reach the hearts and minds of her fellow members, she will stay personable yet impersonal, expressing ideas and insights based on the common knowledge of the group (i.e. the book being read). She will avoid releasing too much personal information to support her insights and knowledge, even among friends and acquaintances. The tendency to become emotionally caught up in the moment of an intense discussion can cause one to feel too intimate with the situation and thus reveal personal information that need not be shared publicly, even if one feels that it helps make a point. A proper lady will avoid the temptation to become too familiar with the group; will not make a statement that singles out anyone in the group, even if she thinks it is a compliment; will not disagree outright with another’s opinion; will not expound on another’s point by assuming she knows exactly what they meant or how they feel; and will never make any comment at another’s expense, even if she thinks she’s joking. She will never join in with others who are joking at someone’s expense, knowing that the latter action is always in bad taste. She will let others speak for themselves, facilitating deeper discussion by asking questions rather than merely stating opinions. In points of disagreement, the well-bred woman will try to find common ground or see things from the other person’s point of view, leading others by her example to return her the same courtesy.

When to listen

               A well-bred woman always pays attention when another is addressing the group, never carrying on side conversations or whispering. When the group leader speaks up over small talk, she will give him her attention.

How to listen

               The thoughtful woman will pay attention to everything that another says, without zoning out or flipping through her phone. She will mentally process everything she hears, which will produce a thoughtful rather than bored or indifferent expression upon her face. If possible, she will respectfully turn toward the direction of the one speaking. She will not jump to conclusions or make assumptions based on what she hears, choosing instead to accept it at face value. Doing this can be difficult with a person who jokes constantly, but by her example of believing and seriously considering everything that is said to her, a woman can eventually influence others to produce more thoughtful dialog in a group setting. If, while listening, she gains insights or knowledge from what is shared and wants to reflect on it further, she will journal her thoughts afterward to gain further understanding on the subject matter. If someone speaking gets choked up or angry or says something awkward, she will graciously participate in the group’s segueing the conversation to another plane instead of dwelling on the awkwardness of the moment; she may do so by either interjecting calmly upon a relevant point herself or looking at someone else who does so, instead of staring at the person who behaved awkwardly and making them feel more uncomfortable.

               The two most important aspects to consider in a group setting are:
1. Creating, fostering, and contributing to an environment in which each person , no matter their age, experience, or opinions, should feel comfortable participating and
2. making the most of each group meeting by keeping contributions high quality, manners impeccable, and the mind open to growing and learning from others.

               There is nothing quite like a group of diverse people from different areas, ethnic backgrounds, socio-economic backgrounds, and educational venues meeting voluntarily for group discussion. To have a truly productive meeting for the purpose of discussion, there is generally at least one point of common agreement, such as a moral standard, religious affiliation, political viewpoint, or social platform; however, the group members need not be carbon copies of each other. Such a uniform group setting would be less likely to have discussion and more likely to have constant reiteration and agreement with the collectively exclusive mindset. So with agreement on the common ground that brings group members together, such as in a charity group, animal rescue group, ministry team, community board, or church group, there ought to be agreement on the basic tenets but variety among other areas in the group members’ lives. When participating in a group, the tendency to only heed those that the group as a whole seems to agree with or to shut down opposing viewpoints can eventually drive a more diverse group to become smaller and more exclusive. While this may feel more comfortable for the remaining participants, it does little for their mental improvement and moral character. Gathering in small, exclusive groups can eventually cause the participants to become shut off from society, incapable of participating in more diverse settings, and increasingly prone to copying the ways of the others in the group instead of making their own decisions based on the wisdom, knowledge, experience, and resources available to them. In my personal experience, I have found that the denomination of the church I attend now is more diverse in their Sunday Schools and small group Bible studies than the denomination of my youth. In the former, not everyone may agree on everything that would be classified as major doctrines, not to mention the smaller things in life; in the latter, it is common to find the people so comparable to each other that there are noticeable patterns among the members, such as a common income level, a narrow range of common career choices, nearly identical lifestyle choices, and even a standard dress code! Thus, beyond simply being polite and considerate of others when participating in small groups, a woman who perceives the merits of diversity and the drawbacks of uniformity will consider the overall goal and future of the groups in which she chooses to participate.


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