February 7th, 2010 by Collin Canright | Filed under Philosophy, Psychology.

One of the more profound experiences I have had in learning how to participate in and lead small groups is my experience joining a group of people I did not know in the role of host. The host role, as understood in etiquette, is the person who meets and greets people and makes sure that they feel comfortable. Typically, the host either knows everyone or represents the place, as in a restaurant.

As an assignment in a personal power learning laboratory at the Wright Leadership Institute, however, the host or hostess role is an assignment given to a new member of the lab, a small group for learning personal life and leadership skills. Assignments form a major part of the learning methodology at WLI and collectively make up the Assignment Way of Living, in which students do assignments in their daily life to master life and leadership skills and behaviors.

The idea behind the Host/Hostess assignment is to introduce yourself to a group. It’s a counter-intuitive assignment in some ways because most of us generally think of a host or hostess as someone who welcomes other people to a party or a restaurant and makes them feel comfortable with the place or with the other guests.

In the Host assignment, in contrast, it was up to me to make myself comfortable, to make myself part of the group. WLI assignments are rooted in the existentialist concept of authenticity. They allow an individual to discover, explore, and practice their own sense of self in relation to other people and to ultimately take responsibility for their own sense of well being. The host assignment is a perfect example.

As a host in this sense, you take responsibility for including yourself in the group. The assignment can be done quite literally, with the new group member greeting each person as they enter the group or serving refreshments before the group begins. Further, the group host may work to see that other group members include themselves in the conversation.

The assignment was quite profound for me. Like many people, I was used to having others include me in a conversation or see that I felt comfortable in a situation. I realized in doing the assignment that it was not up to others to see that I included myself or felt comfortable. It was up to me.

By extending myself to people I did not know and make sure that they felt comfortable with and knew me, I gained a greater acceptance of other people in the group–and of myself as a member of the group. This was a critical first lesson on group dynamics–that belonging to a group is a critical responsibility of the group member.

I belonged not because the other group members helped me belong but because I decided I belonged and, in effect, proved it to the other group members in my performance of the assignment by my welcoming behaviors, which, ultimately, showed them that I had made the effort to get to know them in some personal way. Therein lies a key skill in mastering groups, whether for task performance, business networking, or social interaction.

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