The first thing for people to understand is that this is a normal human response.
Here’s a scenario any support group attendee has lived through at some point:
You decide to go along to a meeting, mainly comprised of total strangers. You get in the door without talking, and then find a seat in the last row of the room in the furthest corner from where the ‘action’ is. You find something to read before you sit down so you don’t have to look up before things start.
Of course, there is no eye contact, because if you look at someone then you might have to talk to them. Talking could lead to conversation, and you’re not there to make conversation – you’re here to listen and then get the hell out of there.
If you’ve been in this situation as described you’ll understand the scenario.
With this in mind, how can we make participating in a Support Group a much less daunting experience than it may seem from the outside?
- Each Support Group should have a ‘Greeter’, someone saying hello as people walk in the door, handing out an information brochure on the group as an example. This can be the Facilitator, or another member of the group who feel comfortable in the role.
- You may have a 15 minute ‘cuppa’ time at the beginning and end of the Support Group meeting so new people have the chance to be spoken to – not surrounded – and say ‘hello’.
- If there is someone who is following the example above, of coming in and finding a quiet seat, the Facilitator might go over to introduce themselves and say welcome. You may have forms to give them as an introduction, a phone number to contact the group by and and/or a copy of the most recent magazine.
Each Facilitator, Group or members of the Group may look at introducing some of these for their meeting; some may already run similarly along these lines. At the end of the day, how friendly and welcoming you make your meeting, the safer and more willing people will be to return.
What are your thoughts on welcoming first timers to a meeting?
What steps do you take to make your Support Group a supportive, welcoming and caring environment?