The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker

2427 Words • Books • 04/07/2024

My Review:

  • Strange adherence to gender binary with seating chart references and using “his or her” instead of “their”
  • I liked how it’s focused on tearing down hosting etiquette and about what works best for you
  • It gave me the license to be a more involved host, but didn’t give me new skills per se


  • gathering is good and empowering
  • people do not like traditional gatherings like church, hanging with friend, meetings, etc
    • people still try the same thing tho which is bad
    • “insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results”
    • repeated exposure of friends doesn’t bridge cliques usually or maybe long term but still requires activation energy nothing is spontaneous and nothing is repeatable
  • gathering is a human problem and less a logistical one—we are tempted to fiddle with the logistics because they are the most visible and easy to control but it’s shortsighted and misunderstood
  • author is a professional facilitator for dialogues and conflict resolution
    • she strives to center people and work in an understanding of group dynamics and create a sense of belonging
    • Sustained Dialogue
  • she wants to focus on the “way” of gathering people as the main determinant of success of a meeting
    • she mentions that you need not follow all of the points and that it is context dependent
    • you need to have real thought and intention into creating some kind of structure and have a courageous and curious spirit of trying different things

decide why you’re really gathering

  • she says the first step in convening people meaningfully is committing to a “bold, sharp purpose”
  • she thinks that without this we will fall into convention which often times do not serve the best purposes hence wasting people’s time and energy
  • “a category in not a purpose” while the main idea of a networking event is networking it isn’t specific enough to help people
    • it’s important to set a more specific purpose and communicate it out to attendees because people may be operating out of different assumptions of how a certain event should be or what they should be doing if it hasn’t been explicitly set out
    • additionally depending on the specific purpose you may have a more custom format that is more conducive to your specific meeting goals
    • a lot of times purposes of categories are no longer applicable to the modern age, as a result of this drift we have a ritual that we are performing that doesn’t necessarily imbue lots of value to the attendees and instead is more rote in execution and subject to rules/convention that may or may not apply
      • we’re focusing more on adhering to the form rather than the function
  • “commit to a gathering about something” it seems like she wants specificity in a way that commits to it in such a way where it “refuses to be everything to everyone” and “willing to unsettle some of the guests”
    • “the more focused and particular a gathering is, the more narrowly it frames itself and the more passion it arouses.” i do think that passion has to do something but i think it more so just pre selects people to have a more genuine quality core of attendees (especially for an app like Meetups)
    • “the who is often tied to the what” people can see themselves in the group and so you can get a good group of people that have a sense of togetherness
    • strive for uniqueness in events
    • the purpose of the event should lend itself to be an organizing principle in itself she calls it a “disputable purpose” it should be a decision filter and help you make choices but i think she means it to be something like a “philosophically motivated choice” or something like that because it’s arbitrary and each stance leads to different answers on how to organize your event—you should keep asking why until you hit a belief or value up
    • sometimes you can start backward from an outcome and plan from there to find a way to make it possible
    • she says a gathering is opposed to a casual hangout which is usually purposeless or less defined which is fine but probably less transformative than what author has in mind for gatherings
    • you need to choose a purpose and commit because otherwise you can have multiple half baked purposes that compete with each other and cause tension—have a spike

close doors

  • the author states that the desire to keep doors open is a threat to gathering with a purpose
    • not everyone will agree or commit to the purpose which will make it hard to act on purpose or maintain the shared intention
    • sometimes you need to exclude in order to protect the others participating in the event as well (could take them out of it by not allowing them to be their full authentic selves)
    • if you don’t have a purpose then it becomes hard to turn away people but sometimes in intuitively wanting to turn away people you can dig deeper into the unspoken purpose if it hadn’t been previously discussed
  • someone who is neutral should be excluded as well because it takes energy to be welcoming and each additional person will indubitably affect dynamics (could be a safety blanket or attention sink for someone)
  • the language of exclusion really can be rephrased as each person should have a good reason for being there
    • it’s because we are taking the invite list from zero that exclusion comes into play, there are always people you feel like you have to invite but then you have to say no to yourself in this context
  • our goal is to foster connection and to that point control of size and specificity are our greatest tools
  • 6, 12-15, 30, and 150 are her magic numbers
    • small numbers you get more depth and intimacy but at the cost of diversity
    • energy starts to increase as size increases of which you have less control over but anything over 150 it becomes impossible to see and talk to everyone/view yourself as one big group (tribe)
  • environments cue certain scripts, behaviors, feelings etc and you can take advantage of that
  • similarly space is really important to allow effective conversation to happen as well as having physical and mental constraints on events and energy
    • moving to different spaces for specific purposes within the same gathering can be powerful to break up things and serve as transitions as well as narrative structure (can help with dividing up memories and segues)

don’t be a chill host

  • people don’t like the admit the existence or use the power of a host
    • sometimes the group needs some guidance otherwise the group will splinter among the normal groups unless something is done to kept the group together and engaged
    • you should be guiding guests gently, respectfully, and well it’s not an exercise of power but doing something that is good for the group
    • in not exercising power you will have a power vacuum in which someone else might try to co-opt the purpose which might or might not be inline with the purpose that you had for convening
  • hosting and authority by extension is an ongoing commitment
    • you cannot just set the initial conditions of the gathering and then back away, you will have to guide deviance or adapt to circumstances (i.e enforce the purpose and guidelines of the gathering)
    • no one is really invested in the rules or purpose except for the host so without them there is no one to enforce or make people respect the premise
      • you could choose a temporary host in your absence if you have to do something the ritual transfer of authority means that people will be more willing to respect them than try to take the reins themselves
  • you should ideally be an empathetic benevolent dictator, one who guides confidently for the good of the gathering (purpose + guests)
    • the author calls this “generous authority”
  • guests are very important and so you must use your authority to protect them which sometimes means being the bad guy to make someone stop a disruptive behavior
  • you should try to connect your guests with each other because you are likely the only person that knows everyone and so the social structure is very fragile and people will recede back into their cliques or crutches without you making connections or drawing people together to do something

create a temporary alternative world

  • by creating and being up front about engagement rules of the gathering you can create a space/environment/world that exists only in the gathering, perhaps to never again be created
    • these are sometimes called “pop-up rules” and are tailor made for a specific gathering and are used instead of traditional etiquette
    • it’s the ephemerality and temporary nature of these rules that makes people willing to obey them
    • you get to better shape the experience so that people can join in more easily and all buy into the same experience
    • there’s rigidity in the rules but there are still degrees of freedom with the rules and it also allows people to gather in a more diverse manner
    • the rules are like a game and can be fun as long as they serve a purpose that is legible or worthy
  • diversity of class, ethnicity, race, etc means that there is no one etiquette that all guests will follow/know
  • meeting for long periods of time can help dredge deeper
  • rules can help reinforce things that you want people to do, incentivize particular behaviors, or allow them to feel less guilty about things they secretly want to do but feel like they can’t

never start a funeral with logistics

  • the event starts when the guest first learns of the event “the point of discovery”
  • from there you are prepping guests, managing expectations, etc
  • 90% of the gathering happens before the gathering and so there’s only so much you can do during the gathering to change course, which is why you should take prep and priming your guests seriously
    • asking them to do something rather than bring something may get them more in the mood or feel more attached to the gathering
    • it should be so that people can connect with the purpose of the gathering ahead of time
  • hosting an event is a social contract and mostly what the terms are are about what the guest is willing to give (physically, psychologically, financially, emotionally, etc) in return to what to receive
    • if a person knows this they have more informed consent but also if a person is not aligned on what they want from the event then they might not be as good of a guest for a particular gathering
  • naming is one of the best ways to prime your guests about your gathering
  • the time of when guests slowly trickle in should be seized instead of being an awkward time this is a transition point and you can try to establish it to build anticipation to the opening of the event
  • the opening, climax, and closing moments are what people are going to remember and set the tone of the gathering so you shouldn’t waste them on logistical items but instead driving home the purpose of the gathering or welcoming and connecting people or offering a transition of sorts
  • ideally you want to make your guests feel “honored and awed” like they want to be there and are lucky to be

keep your best self out of my gathering

  • how can we get our guests to show up authentically at our gatherings?
  • 15 toasts method
  • people have to be relaxed in order to be genuine and vulnerable
  • connecting over stories rather than ideas helps connect when the story is vulnerable
  • knowing people in the group can sometimes be a blocker because you work to not interrupt their model of you but sometimes that’s what required if you want to change or grow closer
  • as a host you sometimes need to lead off with a very vulnerable story to set a benchmark of depth, and to show that while the people don’t have to match that, that they can try to aspire to that level or just above
  • you are inviting intimacy, but depth is a choice

cause good controversy:

  • obsession with politeness and not rocking the boat can lead to authenticity being lost or at the very least no growth to happen because there is no actual substantive conversations being had
    • if you spend significant time and energy not confronting taboos it can be a barrier to progress
  • good controversy needs structure so that you can healthily channel it so it doesn’t become an all at once explosion of rage
    • this is why rituals like debates can help channel
  • you can try to find hot spots of conflicting ideas within the group and structure conversation that way in a safe manner with rules of engagement

accept that there is an end

  • stopping vs ending: there should be an intentional closing to wrap things up and to transition back to the real world
  • everything must end and trying to prolong it can sometimes ruin the ending because people don’t know when the actual ending is and can’t really prepare themselves for it
  • you can utilize the idea of the last call to prepare people to tie loose ends and get ready for the end of the gathering to it also allows some people to slip out while inviting some others to stay a bit longer with the added cognizance of the end in sight
  • you have to cut the event off when there’s still some energy in the room because it’s better to do it then than to drag it on too long
  • a closing should have a point of looking inward (to reflect on the gathering) and turning outward (preparing to leave and go back into real world)
    • looking inward should help make meaning and connect the group one last time
    • turning outward focuses on re-entry and how people can take lessons into their daily lives
  • don’t end on logistics if you need it make it second to last

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