It is a Wednesday evening. One by one the participants knock on the door and are greeted by Catherine, their professional coach. While waiting for the last Fellows to arrive, the small group checks that the meal is ready. Every time, one of them is charged with bringing the dinner.
Even though this is only the third time the group meets, the atmosphere is like a group of old friends spending an evening together.
“The Conversation Circle is a safe space that we organise for ourselves. Right away, we feel at ease and comfortable with each other. This is mostly due to the values we set with Catherine: benevolence, non-judgment, and confidentiality”, says Wafaa.
The objective is simple: to share one’s challenges and benefit from the guidance of peers, provide advice and reflections to others, and connect with each other at a deeper level.
Once the group is complete, Catherine sets the structure of the evening: first, a round table discussion where all share their recent personal and professional challenges. Then the discussion focuses on two of the eight Fellows present.
As one of the program coaches, Catherine meets her group of eight Fellows monthly. The coaches are mostly responsible for the form rather than the discussion’s content: “As a coach, my role is to set the framework of the conversations, to adapt the facilitation to each situation and participant, and to ensure everyone finds their place in the group”. During the process, Catherine also more actively helps the Fellows “explore issues more in-depth” and offers feedback on the communication styles within the group.
The success of the Conversation Circles is in the exchange between participants. “Sharing with my Circle allowed me to see my situation from new angles, to gain perspective, to get out of my own head.” For Sherihane, the feedback she gets from other Fellows is something that cannot be found elsewhere.
“It’s rare to be able to talk about very personal things to people who are not your close friends or family. The fact that we didn’t know each other before enables us to be fully honest, as we don’t censor ourselves for fear of damaging long-standing relationships.”
One of the conditions for success is to be receptive. The Fellows must accept divergent points of view and hear questions that challenge them. They must know how to let their guard down, “otherwise it won’t be effective nor enjoyable”, warns Sherihane.
Conversation Circles are one of the four main activities of the 40u40 program. Each month, Fellows meet in groups of eight with a professional coach to discuss and share their personal and professional challenges.
For Diane, Lead Coach and Co-founder of Belgium’s 40 under 40, the Conversation Circles are a key element of the personal and leadership development of the Fellows. “The benefits of the Circles in the program are two-fold. Firstly, there is a real need for young leaders to be offered a space for sharing deep personal challenges with peers.
The second part is that the Circles help develop the Fellows’ leadership skills. Showing vulnerability, actively listening, being empathetic, being able to learn from others’ experiences, asking good questions, and stepping back are all valuable skills they further develop at the Circles.”
The Conversation Circles also serve as a way for the Fellows to create new connections and friendships within the Cohort. By sharing their struggles and triumphs, they develop a sense of camaraderie and trust. They feel more comfortable reaching out to each other for help, and they learn how to be better support systems for one another.
Furthermore, this does not stop within their own Circles but extends to the rest of the 40u40 Community. During the Forums, the Fellows interact all together with the same level of trust and empathy.
In conclusion, the Conversation Circles are a valuable tool for personal and professional development. It provides young leaders with a safe space to share their challenges, develop their leadership skills, and make meaningful connections with their peers. It is an essential part of the 40u40 program, and it is something that the Fellows look forward to each month.