The Art of Gathering - Deepstash
The Art of Gathering

The Art of Gathering

Priya Parker


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Gatherings: category vs purpose

When we gather, we often make the mistake of merging category with purpose. We outsource our decisions and our assumptions about our gatherings to people, formats, and contexts that are not our own.

We get caught into the false belief that knowing the category of the gathering—the board meeting, workshop, birthday party, town hall—will be instructive to designing it. But we often choose the template—and the activities and structure that go along with it—before we’re clear on our purpose.


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Arrive at something worth gathering about

  • Specificity is a crucial ingredient. The more focused and particular a gathering is, the more narrowly it frames itself and the more passion it arouses.
  • Uniqueness is another ingredient. Before you gather, ask yourself: Why is this gathering different from all my other gatherings?
  • A good gathering purpose should also be disputable. When the inevitable tensions arise—guest list, venue, one night versus two—your purpose won’t be there to guide you. A disputable purpose works like a decision filter.


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"In a world of infinite choices, choosing one thing is the revolutionary act. Imposing that restriction is actually liberating."



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"Your opening needs to be a kind of pleasant shock therapy. It should grab people. And in grabbing them, it should both awe the guests and honor them. It must plant in them the paradoxical feeling of being totally welcomed and deeply grateful to be there."



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"None of us shows up as a blank slate to anything."



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By closing the door, you create the room

Barack Obama's aunt once told him, 'If everyone is family, no one is family.' It is blood that makes a tribe, a border that makes a nation.

The same is true of gatherings. The corollary to this saying: If everyone is invited, no one is invited—in the sense of being truly held by the group.


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The purpose of a gathering

Having a purpose simply means knowing why you’re gathering and doing your participants the honor of being convened for a reason.

And once you have that purpose in mind, you will suddenly find it easier to make all the decisions that a gathering requires.


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"I reminded them that it’s hard to build a movement if you don’t know who’s in it."



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How to exclude well

What’s wrong with someone who’s irrelevant to the purpose? The crux of excluding thoughtfully and intentionally is mustering the courage to shift your perception so that you understand that people who aren’t fulfilling the purpose of your gathering are detracting from it, even if they do nothing to detract from it.

Particularly in smaller gatherings, every single person affects the dynamics of a group. Excluding well and purposefully is reframing who and what you are being generous to—your guests and your purpose.


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Isn’t exclusion in gatherings something we’ve been fighting against for years? Isn’t exclusion, however thoughtful or intentional, the enemy of diversity? It is not.

When I talk about generous exclusion, I am speaking of ways of bounding a gathering that allow the diversity in it to be heightened and sharpened, rather than diluted in a hodgepodge of people.



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Magic numbers in groups

  • Groups of 6: Groups of this rough size are wonderfully conducive to high levels of sharing.
  • Groups of 12 to 15: 12 is small enough to build trust and intimacy, and large enough to offer a diversity of opinion and constructive unfamiliarity.
  • Groups of 30: It starts to feel like a party, whether or not your gathering is one. Groups of this size are generally too big for a single conversation.
  • Groups of 150: It’s the tier at which, “intimacy and trust is still palpable at the level of the whole group; higher up, the group becomes an audience.”


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