“I caught a taxi and I’m heading home” I texted my husband after our leadership intensive. John was waiting to hear about Parakaleo’s newest training event and I knew he was eager to discuss how he could use it in his work.

We both travel so you’d think we’d be accustomed to the rituals of reentry. But even with the best of plans it always requires more work then we expect. After John’s own full week, he graciously made sure the house was picked up and a meal ready to welcome me home. We settled down to catch up and reconnect after being apart.

As I shared with him about group stages and dynamics, I remembered what Dr. Penny Freeman, our trainer, mentioned when we are observing group interactions. Under pressure, anxious or tired we resort to our natural style of relating, laying aside the very skills we need to love others well.

I quickly took mental stock of where John and I were in terms of group stages and realized I had disregarded the obvious signals. We were not on the same page.

Whether its marriage, family or another context, all groups go through stages that are vital for the health and purpose of the group. If we miss any of these important stages, we get stuck and are unable to move forward. Think of facilitating a group or reconnecting with your spouse as if you’re hosting a pool party. For everyone to participate and benefit, we have to move through the following four stages together.

*Stage 1 Joining & Bonding (“Feet in the pool first to feel the temperature”) In this stage we wonder, “Can I trust you? Do I belong? Will I be safe?” Some people are as afraid of water as others are of intimate relationships. Not until everyone is on the same page can we move to the next stage. This requires building a sense of belonging and safety. Light and seemingly superficial conversation is important for establishing or reestablishing a willingness to join. Everyone gets a chance to speak, participate and share. We have to take the time it takes.

Stage 2 Trusting & Connecting (“Lets immerse together: No splashing, pushing, or cannon balls”) In this stage we practice advanced listening skills where we’re able to summarize what was said, clarify what might be underlying the spoken words and linking together facts and emotions. In this stage we are willing to be vulnerable and we begin to sense a desire to go deeper. If someone is silent or withdrawn, take note. Trust and connection for them has not yet happened. And until it does, your group isn’t ready to move to stage three.

Stage 3 Working (“Enjoying the pool for a purpose”) For intimacy and trust to be well established, we usually go through some form of conflict but more importantly, significant work has to be done here. In this stage we process what is going on in the here and now. We give feedback to each other that is respectful and challenging. We honor each other’s boundaries and assess where we are as a group or as individuals. We might ask ourselves, “Does she have the ego strength to hear this directly?”

Stage 4 Ending (“Everyone out safely”) Every group has an ending whether it’s a work group or a family dinner conversation. Often we have premature endings due to exhaustion, fear or grief. A person disengages because of prior experiences that didn’t end well or someone may regress into conflict to prevent the group from ending at all. Call these out when you see them. “Sheila, we’re missing your input” or “It looks as if we are all exhausted. How about we revisit this later?”

During John’s and my reentry conversation, I was so excited to share what I had learned that I didn’t take the time to find out how he was coming to the conversation. I skipped over the joining stage of developing safety and belonging and cannoned ball into stage two. Rather than rebuilding trust I dove deep to the heart of what I wanted to talk about. I needed to regroup. Go back to the surface and join my husband at the side of the pool. I stopped talking. We opened a bottle of wine and started over.

*The four stages are just the tip of a wealth of leadership training Parakaleo offers developed by Dr. Penny Freeman. If you’re interested in our training events go to www.parakaleo.us.