my office is doing “circle work” with “offerings to the ancestors” and lots of talk about feelings

A reader writes:

My nonprofit workplace has started doing “circle work” with staff and the people we serve. This is apparently a version of restorative justice circles. I say apparently, because I’m really not convinced that this is a work-appropriate activity. The idea is that you sit in a circle, an item is passed around that allows you a turn to speak when it comes to you, and you can share … your feelings? The goal is apparently that you can resolve conflicts with dialogue and sharing.

Pre-Covid, my boss turned one of our regular meetings of area managers into a circle, which one of my colleagues led, starting with an “offering to the ancestors” and a few other quasi-hippie, quasi-religious statements. It made me very uncomfortable, and so when the “talking” item was passed to me, I asked a few pointed questions to the group about the appropriateness of this activity in a workplace setting, where there was no opt-out and the power dynamics were not level.

This was not received well.

My boss told me that I was allowed to sit out the activity. I responded that because this was a work meeting that I was normally obligated to participate in, that was not how it seemed. The activity resumed, and I made minimal effort to participate. It made me very uncomfortable.

A few weeks later, my boss called me to a meeting where she was very upset about my actions in the circle, and I tried to point out to her that this was exactly what I was concerned about — that in a workplace setting, there was no understanding or obligation of trust, since when you’re at work, you are obligated to participate in job-related activities, and the power imbalance was real and could be problematic. She did not understand at all.

Fast forward and I’ve now been asked (by a team member at another location) to have my team and another team participate in “circle work” together, in a virtual setting. I let him know that I would ask my team if anyone wanted to participate and get back to him. I did not tell him that I would not attend, but I won’t be attending.

I guess I feel like I’m one of the few people here who doesn’t see this as a team-building activity but something that could be potentially harmful in a hierarchical workplace. Am I overthinking it? This just doesn’t seem normal to me.

No, you’re not overthinking it.

The kind of “circle work” you’re describing is intended to create a safe environment without power structures to facilitate “authentic dialogue.” (Here’s some info about them.) The problem, of course, is that work is not a safe environment for many people and has power structures that don’t get erased because we’re sitting in a circle.

This is a co-opting of a concept that might be useful in some contexts but isn’t appropriate at work.

The quasi-religious stuff / culturally-appropriated stuff is problematic too.

There’s been a trend in recent years for (some) companies to want to bring Feelings to the forefront of (some) work interactions, without an understanding that asking people to be vulnerable at work makes a lot of them uncomfortable, and rightly so. Lots of people feel violated by demands that they lower their boundaries or share personal emotions with colleagues, and those expectations can open people up to discrimination too. (For example, the risks of seeming angry at work are a lot higher for Black people than they are for white people.)

And pushing people to be fully honest when there can be professional consequences to doing that is a good way to destroy trust rather than build it. (Look what happened to you when you were honest about your hesitations.) It’s a rare manager who can keep what happens in these groups completely separate from other work interactions.

Then there’s the inefficiency. It is true that teams that understand and trust each other work together better than those that don’t. But you can build understanding and trust in ways that are much more relevant to work — like by working on actual work projects together, with good management that lays out clear goals and expectations, provides support along the way, listens to and offers feedback, and addresses problems forthrightly when they come up.

None of this is to say that teams shouldn’t be open to listening when a person wants to express their feelings. The problem is with insisting that people share them and building ongoing work rituals around them.

All that said … if most people at your company like these circles, there might not be much you can do. You can ask to opt out, but it sounds like you might miss info relevant to the projects you work on. You can ask that attendees not be pushed to speak if they prefer not to participate silently. You can point out that these circles aren’t “safe” if people risk being chastised for their behavior in them afterwards. If the circles are given quasi-religious framing, you can object to that piece specifically. And if it turns out that other employees feel like you, there might be room to band together as a group and express your concerns. Sometimes companies just go off in weird directions and feedback can rein them back in.

But otherwise, it sounds like your company’s culture might be moving in a direction that isn’t a great fit for you anymore, and if that’s the case you’ve got to decide if the rest of the job is enough to make you stay or not.

{ 370 comments… read them below }

    1. Dasein9*

      I mean, the whole point of the circle is to listen, right?
      But that’s exactly what they are unlikely to do, as evidenced by the boss being upset when the LW had concerns.

      1. JustaTech*

        LW: Is open and honest in the circle, which is supposed to be a safe space.
        LW’s boss: stews for weeks and then is upset with LW for being open and honest.

        Therefore: the circle is not a safe space and deviation from the desired outcome will be punished.

        Why do people do this? Do they not think it through at all? Or is this actively nefarious, trying to get people to give up dirt on themselves?

        1. pancakes*

          It seems far more common for people who experiment with this sort of thing to be disordered in their thinking or poorly educated on best practices rather than malicious.

        2. Yelm*

          They do it because they experienced it somewhere—perhaps somewhere it was appropriate—and got all excited and wanted to lead something similar themselves, and they have a captive audience at work.

    2. Koalafied*

      Agreed. If you want to support your employees emotional needs you:

      1) Have an EAP and make sure all employees are familiar with what it offers and how to use it.

      2) Have clear policies about what types of work accommodations may be available to people who need them, and let people ask for them without having to divulge any more personal information than is necessary. For instance, does the company allow flex time, telecommuting full-time or part-time, modified schedule, leaves of absence, personal days, etc? What are the rules for using those options, and do you grant them based on whether their role can be done that way, or are you making people justify why they’re requesting it (and even worse, sometimes deciding that the reason they gave isn’t a good enough reason, even if the role can be done that way and the employee is doing good work)?

      An employer should not be actively involved in mental health interventions. What a good employer does is provide a work environment that is stable yet flexible, so that the employee doesn’t have to rule out treatment options simply because their employer is more rigid than their role actually requires.

  1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Oh I’d be verging on physically ill if I was asked to do something like this. OP you have my sympathies.

    Possible silver lining – does your employer have a pattern of starting off-the-wall things like this, and then giving them up after a few months? Can you possibly hunker down until it passes?

    1. Selena*

      Good point: so much of this nonsense tapers of after like 2 or 3 meetings when the novelty wears off. If that’s happened before than OP might try to hold their head down and sit this one out.

      If the next HR teambuilding project is way more normal than it might be that this was just a 1-time slip-up and not indicative of the company moving into crazy-town.

      1. Selina Luna*

        1. You totally stole my screen name (just kidding)
        2. It sounds like this has been going on for longer than 2-3 meetings and like it’s expanding
        3. I would definitely hate this. I don’t even mind talking about my feelings at work, but partially because of how my anxiety disorder works, I tend to cry in things like feeling circles that have any feelings whatsoever.

    2. Junior Assistant Peon*

      Great point! That has been my experience with almost every off-the-wall faddish thing I’ve ever seen at work – once the novelty wears off, management is distracted by some other shiny object. It’s very likely you can wait this one out.

      I once worked for a company where I learned not to get too concerned about changes I didn’t like. Invariably, a new management team would always undo the last one’s changes within a couple of years!

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        I once worked for a company where we would get “Drop everything!” notices to do some time intensive task changing stuff around, then a week later we would get “Drop everything!” notices to put that stuff back where it had been before. After a few of these I learned to wait a week or two before following directions.

        1. TardyTardis*

          There’s a wonderful song called “Moving the Bones” about the crew at a museum eventually ending up right back where they started (noted for making ‘chungtogosaur’ scan).

    3. HerdingCatsWouldBeEasier*

      The OP mentioned that the circle where she brought up her concerns was pre-COVID, so it’s been over a year at this point. If they can’t find other people to band together with against this, I think it’s time to start looking for a new job. Just thinking about this makes me deeply uncomfortable for them!

  2. ENFP in Texas*

    Yikes. Being forced to get to this level of vulnerability in a work setting is horribly inappropriate.

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Exactly. I’m not sure I’d want to do this kind of thing outside of work, but it’s especially invasive and inappropriate in a work setting.

    2. Rebecca Stewart*

      That’s…. very close to what happens in a neopagan worship circle, and there is no way in the nine hells I would ever ever be comfortable doing that at work. Part of the reason there’s a slow and careful selection process for people for a pagan circle is because people are going to be vulnerable and need to trust all the other people to be safe and that they will participate in keeping their secrets. You don’t get that at work.

    3. Fred*

      I can barely come up with an “interesting fact” about myself at group intros that would be acceptable for work. This is my nightmare.

    1. Suzy Q*

      Yikes, indeed. If I had been in that circle with the LW, I would have backed them up immediately. I truly hate this kind of kumbaya shit.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        In the 70s, my teachers would host ‘rap sessions.’ We sat in a circle, sang songs, and were expected to talk about our problems, concerns, fears, and issues in front of a loving, accepting peer group who were all going through the same things.

        We were in middle school. There was nothing loving or accepting about any of my peers. I hated that kumbaya shit then, and I still do.

        1. Taycan*

          Oh boy I thought you were about to say you had t actually rap. Semi relieved that wasn’t the case but your experience was still cringe none the less. What were you supposes to say…”My peers don’t understand me, I’m struggling with acne and I have a crush on Mike?!?!?!?”

          1. SheLooksFamiliar*

            Rap sessions back then was, well, talking about your feelings while sitting in a circle. Lot’s of ‘Free to Be You and Me’ type songs and messages.

            And you’re right, that was what our teachers were trying to get us to talk about, because we could see that everyone here has the same fears and struggles, there was nothing to be ashamed of. I wonder if my teachers really understood how ruthless 8th grade boys and girls could be.

            1. Humble schoolmarm*

              No, we get it, we really do! But the people who have no idea keep telling us that we can teach kids going through a very jerky phase to be less jerky through this sort of thing. As in any group, there are some true believers, a lot of half-assers (hi!) and some brave souls who rebel to the facilitator’s face (while, of course, sitting in a circle and passing the talking stick).
              The circle program we currently do at our school involves teaching a weekly greeting because the program designers are convinced the problem with ‘kids today’ is that no one thug Sighht them to shake hands. Sigh.

                1. SheLooksFamiliar*

                  I feel for you, I noticed ‘Lot’s of’ in my posting earlier. Grr.

                  Also, I think most teachers really DO get it, like you do! Many of my dear friends were/are teachers. They tell me they learned to pick their battles and silently roll their eyes, and focus on the desired outcome more than the process their administration chose to get there.

                  Kinda curious, though. What’s the greeting you have to teach?

                2. Humble schoolmarm*

                  Oh, an exciting variety! We start with a week of “Hi, my name is —–, what’s yours?”, then a week “Good morning, name” (with eye contact and a smile), then we expand to “Hi ——, how are you today” before going back to “Good morning” with a handshake. I think there may be some high-fiving at some point.
                  I teach grade 7.

          2. Gerry L*

            Back in the 60s where I lived (Detroit) the word “rap” was slang for “talk.” No doubt that is where the music genre got its name.

        2. JustaTech*

          yeah, I had some camp counselors try this one year with a bunch of 10th grade girls. “Let’s talk about our issues!”
          Except I went to girls school and didn’t have any boy stories to share and even naive and socially-unaware me knew that I could not say “I am the punching bag for all of you because it is trivial to make me cry, please stop.”

          While no one was surprised that it didn’t fix the fighting, I was impressed that no one obviously used what was shared as ammunition.

          1. Good Vibes Steve*

            I’m having a violent throwback to the time I was bullied, reported by bullies to a teacher who went to them and told them “you should be nicer to GVS!” Imagine how well that worked.

            All I learned from it was to not involve an adult when I had a problem.

        3. Violette*

          OMG, my teachers did the same thing in the 70’s except I was in elementary school. I still remember being called in from recess and being directed to the cafeteria instead of my classroom and sitting at a table with 6-8 fellow students (4th grade, maybe?) and one of the teachers (not “our” teacher), and being told by her to talk about whatever we wanted, to get anything off our chests that might be bothering us.

          Someone said something about their older sibling and I jumped in with the thing weighing most heavily on me about my older brother and my family: He loved Strawberry Nestle Quik so that’s all my mom would buy, no matter how much I hated it and wanted Chocolate instead. So unfair.

          And that was about as deep as we 9-year-olds could go.

          I would totally use that in any “feelings circle” at work.

          1. LisaNeedsBraces*

            Aww. I hope your teacher was able to facilitate some restorative justice in the form of chocolate NesQuik at lunch.

      2. Restorative Justice JD*

        This “ish”, as you call it, does have roots in indigenous cultures. Over the last few years, justice and educational practitioners have been using the concept of circles effectively for community-building and conflict resolution. That being said, all participation should be voluntarily. All people in the circle should want to be there, and there should be a trained circle-keeper. I also think the idea of using this practice in a workplace–whether a nonprofit or for profit–should be approached cautiously and thoughtfully, and that it should not be coercive–as fundamentally, it must be a process everyone wants to be a part of.

  3. Anon for this one*

    I work in restorative practices, and this company is doing it WRONG.

    If you can’t opt out, it’s not restorative. If you can’t pass even once you’ve opted into the circle, it’s not restorative. It’s performative and coercive.

    And aside from a Land Acknowledgement at the beginning (acknowledging that we’re working on land that was taken from specific indigenous tribes), I have never experienced any “ancestor work” in a circle. That is definitely something people need to opt into, preferably outside of work time.

    1. bunniferous*

      I wonder if OP can find someone like you who would have the standing to tell the company what you just said

        1. bunniferous*

          One of my most precious possessions! And it has never asked me to do anything work inappropriate….lol….

      1. SeluciaMD*

        I’d suggest the OP see if their county/city/region has a Conflict Resolution Center. Often times, CRC staff are trained in Circles as one option on their “menu” of restorative practices/alternative dispute resolution services.

    2. Kristina*

      Thank you so much for posting this right up top! I posted below my workplace has been doing these for about 2 years. The reality is my (well run) circle IS helpful to me and they can be good when done correctly. But they are so often not run correctly, and when they aren’t, they are REALLY harmful. Most importantly, readers who are interested in them should know this: if leaders don’t get these right, staff confidence in their overall competence PLUMMETS, and fast.

      1. Selena*

        I think the whole concept is crazy, so it’s interesting that there may be situations where it might help people

        1. GreenDoor*

          We’ve been doing a circle in our daily meetings since the start of Covid/work-from-home and it’s helped. But we do it right. The question is a silly/benign question like “does pineapple belong on pizza?” or “what is your dream car.” It makes for a safe, funny start to the meeting and establishes a positive tone carries through when we’re discussing actual business. You’re free to Pass and no one has giving anyone a hard time for passing. It’s been good for keeping up the team spirit throughout all this and functioning as a way to check in with each other in a non-intrusive way. Once in a while the boss will ask a deep/feelings question but 1. it’s always work-related and 2. she always prefaces it with “I want your thoughts on this deep thing, but if you don’t want to share now, you are always welcome to contact me privately” and 3. if you contact her privately with your concern, she actually makes the time for you and then follows up.

        2. Mongrel*

          I think the problem with a lot of these concepts isn’t that they’re inherently crazy it’s just they way people want to weaponize feelings as another management tool.

          I’m introverted and don’t like sharing so trying to tell me at a mandatory corporate back patting day that it’s a safe space in a room with 300 strangers – F you*. And then they get stroppy when the exercise doesn’t go as well as it did in their head

          * It was some sort of ‘Split off into these defined groups and do something artistic\expressive” wankery.

          1. Introvert with a Capital I*

            I feel you there. Some time back (long before Covid) we had a “professionally administered” MBTI with exercises following. They had assigned us seating in the room with little name cards and had set up the tables with these weird angles so there were no straight lines to the exit. I am the maximum introvert (I scored a 30 on that particular element, which was the highest possible number, meaning that I answered 0 questions in a manner consistent with extroversion). They put me square in the middle of the room (even though these outside people had access to all our scores and should have known better). I hadn’t even wanted to go to this (I already knew my MBTI type). Then they wanted us to go around and say our name (like we didn’t already know each other) and some statement about ourselves. I had a panic attack instead.

            Then, later, when I came back with permission to not participate in any further activities, they had these videos that were supposed to show the difference between different types. Still remember the introvert/extrovert one, where all I kept thinking was that the “extrovert” was just flat rude. The scenario was that the two people were having some sort of business meeting, and the “extrovert” kept checking her phone and speaking to whoever called while the “introvert” said “Maybe we should reschedule.” Then the introvert’s phone rang, he looked at the display and then turned the phone over, and the extrovert was gob-smacked that he didn’t take the call. That is *not* introvert/extrovert.

            More to the point was a later exercise where they split everyone up (they’d tell you where to go, but not why you were assigned to that group–turns out that it was basically the strongly-expressed introverts, the strongly-expressed extroverts, and the weakly-expressed of both. The question was “You come home from work and your significant other surprises you by saying that you’ve just been invited to a party that evening. How do you respond? What do you do after you get to the party?” Well, the extroverts and the weakly expressed group were all in … the only things they were worried about were logistics like child care and what to wear. Most of the others in the introvert group were like “well, I don’t really want to go, but I’ll go and try to put on a good face”. Then there was me: “H*ll no, I won’t go! There is no ‘after I get there, because I will *NOT* be there.”

            But the panic attack in the early part was something that I wish I had never had to go through in front of all my co-workers, and it could have easily been avoided by making it clear up front that it was a voluntary event (on the contrary, it had been pretty much indicated that it was mandatory and only after I had the panic attack was it “oh, this is voluntary”).

              1. Mongrel*

                Agreed. There seem to be certain types of people who treat introverted as a challenge rather than something to be worked with.

                As for misunderstanding what an introvert is or how they act, that seems to be a common theme amongst management fads, apparently the last thing they wasted money on (FISH) featured a bunch of shouty men and ‘the quiet one’ just didn’t shout very much.
                That was a good day as I managed to refuse to do turn up to the training. First they invited us up to HO to attend, a 5 hour trip in the UK, and expected us to make a long day of it. When we asked if we could attend by video conference “No, eye contact is very important”, so no one from our end attended. When they setup the day at our end we were about three weeks from being shifted to WFH (pre-plague) so”what’s the point of being taught this if it requires face-to-face”. I was the only person in the office that day and it was lovely

    3. Bagpuss*

      My first thought when I saw the bit about ‘offerings to ancestors’ was that this looks a lot like cultural appropriation (LW’s letter doesn’t sound as though she’s part of a culture where vernation of ancestors is a normal part of her and her coworkers lives) , AND like something which has the potential to be deeply uncomfortable and potentially offensive to people whose religious beliefs don’t include any form of offerings to / veneration of ancestors.

      Even without the issues of power imbalance and being expected to expose personal vulnerabilities in public in a non-therapeutic setting, this element of the whole thing would raise so many huge red flags for me.

      OP, do you think your workplace / HR would be any more receptive to raising concerns about those elements than they seem to be able the specific concerns you have already raised?

      1. Anon for this*

        Thank you for addressing this part of it! A part of my workplace (higher ed) recently decided that their response to a series of sexual assaults would be to host a “listening circle” practice of a specific culture from another part of the world. This culture has no or very few members on our campus and no one involved had ever participated in such a thing. Objections were raised that this was offensively appropriative, and the response from the organizers was that “it’s important to be culturally inclusive.” They seemingly just could not see that appropriation is not inclusion, especially when no members of the culture in question are even present.

        1. ecnaseener*

          Jeez, the tone-deafness of that is astounding. “Ah yes, let’s respond to sexual assault by…..taking what we want from another culture just because we want it. People who feel violated will love to know that we’re violating others for their sake”

        2. Well...*

          Sounds like a cover-their-behind move. If anyone says this isn’t an adequate response to sexual assault (are the perpetrators getting punished? Expelled?) Then the uni can turn around and claim that criticism is unfair to the culture they are appropriating. Typical diversity & inclusion = thoughts & prayers BS of the academy.

        3. Chinook*

          The problem with this type of cultural inclusiveness is that it doesn’t recognize that the culture it is appropriating from is not a monolith. I know individuals from the same First Nation who have conflicting viewpoints on this ritual because they have different religious and spiritual views (and being Christian and a member of a First Nation is not mutually exclusive nor does one mean you devalue the other).

          And don’t even get me started on how disrespectful it would be to have someone not of that faith/cultural background to be leading it. Is there an Elder there or have they been trained by one to make such an offering properly? And is the leader willing to make real, practical changes so that they are more inclusive of First Nations’ companies and employees? When was the last time they interacted with the local Tribal Council? Do you know which Treaty land you are currently located on or is the land unceded? Have they even read the summary of the Truth & Reconciliation report (in a Canadian context, this is the bare minimum you can do)?

          Do you get the feeling that this is a sore point for me? I worked for an company that did the work with dozens of First Nations to work on their land (some reserves and some unceded), including working with them to create band based businesses who had priority on our contracts, and still got destroyed in the media by the 2 or3 that publicly refused to deal with them (and a dozen more that had no physical contact with the actual location of the work). And not once did anything like what the OP said come up. We had band chiefs come and do presentations on their culture and language to a room packed with employees and it was so much more effective.

          1. Anon for this*

            I’ve just come back to this thread a couple of days late and wanted to say thanks for this comment. You’ve made some excellent points that help inform my thinking on this and that I may be able to raise when such appropriative ideas are presented in future.

        4. Artemesia*

          If some other culture has a good idea that would work well for us, great. That is precisely how civilization has evolved. It is not surprising that the great leaps forward in development occurred where different cultures met and borrowed from each other.

          But having lived through the T-groups of the 60s and 70s etc, the OP identified precisely the issue here i.e. it isn’t a safe space by definition when your boss whines at you about what you said, and digging into people’s personality and personal emotional space is inappropriate in the workplace — whether it happens in a ‘circle’ or some other format.

          I remember some disasters that occurred in my workplaces when people were ‘honest’ about their feelings about each other in badly managed team building exercises borrowing from insanely stupid ideas about communication. Honesty is a much overrated virtue to quote Elizabeth Bennet.

      2. Clorinda*

        It would also be deeply uncomfortable for people whose spiritual tradition DOES include veneration of ancestors. There’s no possible way it would be done in a manner that would seem authentic.
        Other people’s spirituality is not your gift shop!

        1. Artemesia*

          yeah faux religious exercises are a good example of the evils of appropriation.

      3. Cat Tree*

        Yes, there’s just so much wrong with this situation that the cultural appropriation almost gets overlooked. But it’s so problematic. Are the people leading this groups even from a culture where these circles are practiced? I’m betting they aren’t.

        1. F.M.*

          This was my first thought on that point. Issues of appropriation and vulnerability at work aside… What about people whose ancestors, recent or otherwise, were terrible people? Are they supposed to honor those people, or just honor the concept of ancestors, or… what? Ugh.

          1. Anonny*

            … Late family pets?
            (I’m sort of kidding. My family went a while without having any pets and eventually found ourselves sort-of venerating the dog who had died like, eight years prior.)

          2. Anax*

            I can say that in the neopagan circles I’m familiar with, if you don’t want to venerate your actual biological ancestors, it’s commonly suggested that you follow ideological forebears, in the sense of “standing on the shoulders of giants”. You might honor suffragettes, for instance, or say, if you garden as part of your spiritual practice, you might honor the generations of gardeners who came before you.

            This does read as hokey and uncomfortable to me, yes; I don’t do ancestor veneration because mine were fairly terrible people, and it makes me really uncomfortable.

            Obvious caveat, of course, that pagan circles are often FULL of cultural appropriation and historical revisionism, which is itself super problematic. I suspect that this office’s ideas are coming out of some kind of warped new age / pagan ideas though, and not one of the many longstanding cultural traditions, so maybe knowing what they’re likely to counter with would be useful. -_-

            (Srsly y’all, I love some aspects of pagan spirituality but if I hear the Burning Times myth one more time it’ll be too soon.)

            1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

              Glad to hear from someone else who’s as tired as I am of the “Burning Times” falsehood! We have enough to do untangling non-pagans’ misconceptions about our religion (“No, pagans aren’t Satanists – we don’t believe in Satan any more than Christians believe in Set or Loki!”) without perpetrating ahistorical whoppers of our own! (Sigh!)

            2. Good Vibes Steve*

              Honoring ideological forebears as “alternative ancestors” sounds like a convenient way to erase a history of oppression of others that leads to current day privilege.

            3. Chinook*

              I would even be hesitant to to honour suffragettes because I may not agree with everything they did or believed. The Famous Five in Canada who did so much with the “Person’s Case” were women that had many points of view that I harshly disagree with when it comes to things like alcohol, immigrants, “fallen women” and non-Protestants (to name a few.). I will absolutely honour their work towards my rights but never them as women who I should model my life on.

        2. Coder von Frankenstein*

          Yeah, my mother’s family is Southern upper crust. I’d bet a year’s salary that a lot of my ancestors were slaveowners. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them fought for the Confederacy too. I’m not real interested in getting in touch with them, thanks.

          1. JustaTech*

            Oh, I know my family tree is full of Confederates. And I’m sure there are plenty of slave owners too.

            I’ve got an archivist on one side of the family and a genealogist on the other side, so I *know* what kind of jerks, weirdos, people “of their time”, progressives, regressives, daring-do-ers and just plain folks are in my family tree. For every race-car driving aunt there’s a slave-owning Confederate.

            While there isn’t anything I can *do* about them (you don’t get to pick your ancestors) I’m certainly not going to go around venerating them!

          2. Crooked Bird*

            I have a dear friend who’s literally descended from Nazis. I have to wonder what she’d say if this ridiculousness was pushed on her.

            She’d probably be very polite about it, knowing her, but geez.

        3. Anax*

          Same!!! Slave owning, Salem witch trials, murder, child abuse, etc.

          I *do* follow a spiritual tradition which often includes ancestor veneration, and I opt out of that particular aspect, because hoo boy is it uncomfortable. And I do not trust this workplace to keep it to “safe” topics – even something like “tell us what you learned from a relative who has since died” or “tell us about a family tradition” can be really uncomfortable if you’re estranged from your family, and a lot of people just plain don’t believe in estrangement.

          1. KoiFeeder*

            “tell us about a family tradition”

            “Clinical depression, apparently” would be a fun answer, but I don’t think anyone would like that very much.

            (I have many more evil and dark answers.)

            1. Anax*

              That one actually happened to me this past year, and my workplace is usually great. They wanted us to talk about family holiday/Christmas traditions. Since my childhood Christmases mostly involved “being yelled at because the house wasn’t clean”, I … think I feigned internet problems and dropped the meeting. Classy, I know.

              1. KoiFeeder*

                Hey, it’s classier than my idea of gleefully upsetting people who ask overly personal questions.

            2. BubbleTea*

              In my family the tradition is divorce. Only one couple still married on their first go-round going back three generations. I’m proud* to be the first to keep the old traditions going amongst my generation.

              *I’m not proud, but I am resigned I guess.

              1. KoiFeeder*

                For what it’s worth, I think you’re allowed to be proud of the fact that you were willing to choose your own happiness and well-being over not rocking the boat.

          2. Not Your Sweetheart*

            Go further back. Honor the primates that were ancestors to all humans. Or even the primordial ooze.

      4. meyer lemon*

        Yes, the cultural appropriation piece made me immediately skeptical that they are approaching this in anything resembling a thoughtful and appropriate way. Not that I think this kind of mandatory feelings performance is ever appropriate at work, but that part alone is such a signal of how insular their perspective is.

      5. Chinook*

        That was my thought too.

        My initial reaction would probably be verbal and something like “it is an an insult to my ancestors to make offerings to them as they are not gods. Why are you asking me to insult them?” This is not me commenting on the practice in general but on requiring me to take part in a way that personally offends not just me but the spirits/souls/people they are thinking they are honouring.

        I would then be making a beeline to either HR or the provincial labour board because this is about 10 different levels of wrong.

    4. SeluciaMD*

      100% THIS. I came here to say this exact same thing. We also offer Circles in a variety of settings and while I am not trained in Circles, my understanding is that when using it to address or resolve conflict there is also generally a neutral facilitator leading the discussion and NOT YOUR BOSS. This is just bad.

      These people are completely missing the boat on how and why you use Circles. OP, I am so sorry!

    5. Oh, definitely Anon*

      And aside from a Land Acknowledgement at the beginning (acknowledging that we’re working on land that was taken from specific indigenous tribes)

      I realize this is off-topic, but I’ve always wondered if the indigenous tribes have land acknowledgments mentioning that they had taken the land taken from them from someone else? How far down do the turtles go?

      1. Cambridge Comma*

        If you can’t work out the difference yourself, probably nobody can help you.

        1. Oh, definitely Anon*

          I guess I’m a hopeless cause, then, but humor me anyway. What’s the difference?

        2. Oh, definitely Anon*

          Eg, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy was notably expansionist in the pre-colonial period, fighting regular wars with their neighbors in what would be upstate NY, driving them off the land or forcing them to join the Confederacy, and generally acting like quite the imperial power at the time.

      2. Overeducated*

        Uh, the turtles go down to about 1492, land acknowledgements are a recognition of the impacts of colonialism.

        But yes, indigenous land acknowledgements can also recognize the histories and attachments of other tribal nations to where the person giving the acknowledgement lives or works (which may be on or off tribal lands). That’s totally a thing. Awareness of history and relationships is very much the point.

        1. Oh, definitely Anon*

          But yes, indigenous land acknowledgements can also recognize the histories and attachments of other tribal nations to where the person giving the acknowledgement lives or works (which may be on or off tribal lands). That’s totally a thing. Awareness of history and relationships is very much the point.

          Interesting. Thanks.

      3. Astor*

        A land acknowledgement often refers to which people traditionally used the land and so it may include multiple nations because they either shared or fought about the land. Some land acknowledgements will explain further: I know in Canada that places in the prairies will often name the treaty assigned to the area, while on the West Coast there are few treaties and it’s often stated that it’s unceeded land.

        But I encourage you to learn more about land acknowledgements, because a fair bit of it is specifically recognizing the effects of colonization and commenting “how far down do the turtles go” sounds really dismissive about the people it still affects. Since I’m in Canada, here’s an overview by the government which mentions what to do when multiple people used the same land, and a Teacher’s Guide which describes the larger context.

      4. Well...*

        Not everyone who took land committed genocide. That is a false equivalence that completely misrepresents the reality of settler colonialism. 1) do better and 2) should this thread maybe be removed since it’s off topic af?

        1. Oh, definitely Anon*

          Not everyone who took land committed genocide.

          Sure, but the acknowledgment isn’t about genocide.

          That is a false equivalence that completely misrepresents the reality of settler colonialism.

          I’m sure the communities driven off their land by the Haudenosaunee would be glad to know that their suffering doesn’t merit any acknowledgment because it doesn’t rank as low as you think other things do.

          1) do better

          I think doing better would be acknowledging all the history in its messiness.

          should this thread maybe be removed since it’s off topic af?

          I’d make a joke about cancel culture but I don’t think you’d find it funny.

  4. Clorinda*

    My ancestors were con persons and scammers with a long and proud tradition of skiving off work whenever possible. I’m pretty sure they would find a way to turn this to their advantage somehow.

    1. Jack Be Nimble*

      “In honor of my ancestors, I’ll be leaving early and also helping myself to the contents of your wallets. Thanks for understanding!”

      1. BubbleTea*

        “To this circle I bring the traditional offering of my ancestors: herring. Lots and lots of herring. I’m descended from Scottish fisherfolk. Also I would like to conduct this entire meeting in Doric.”

      2. Scarlet Magnolias*

        My ancestors were Vikings with a proud history of raping and pillaging and destroying gentler civilizations

    2. UKDancer*

      Yes my great grandmother was a drug seller (laudanum mainly) and a black marketeer among other fairly dodgy activity. I would not want to give her an offering because she’d probably run away with the contents of my wallet with any encouragement. Having lived a long time ago, doesn’t make someone a nice person.

      Having to make an offering to my ancestors would make me extremely uncomfortable. I think of some of them fondly but that doesn’t mean I would want to venerate them or give them all space in my head.

    3. DJ Abbott*

      Cue the manipulative, narcissistic show-off who will take all the attention for himself and manipulate the boss into giving him special favors.

    4. ursula*

      My ancestors were mostly horrible racists and the idea of fetishizing them as part of a process clearly co-opted from Indigenous traditions is absolutely stomach-turning.

      1. CoveredInBees*

        Yeah. Some amount of ancestor worship/acknowledgement is part of many cultures, including mine. But it is so individualized and I cannot see myself doing anything remotely related to it at work, especially as part of an compulsory group activity.

        That said, my ancestors were gamekeepers and itinerant fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pantsers. Better take a walk in the woods for some amount of time TBD.

      2. O.P.P.*

        I think there is confusion over the ancestral offering. Unless you are Native American working on North American soil, the offering is to the indigenous people who occupied the land prior to their displacement by your ancestors. As I understand it, the offering is basically an apology for your ancestors’ displacing those indigenous peoples from where your company/org is currently situated.

        I actually find the practice incomplete and silly. Where does the offering end. The expectation is typically those of European decent are apologizing to those of BIPOC heritage. What if those (the last to occupy the land prior to European colonization) you are making an ancestral offering to were a warring tribe who stole the land from another group; how about the homo sapiens that took the land from Neanderthals; are we limited to people, what about buffalo? Where does it end and who gets to decide who is honored.

        The organization I work for has a strong and growing circle culture. They have recently included in the ancestral offering an acknowledgement/offering to the black people (slaves) who were forced to cultivate and develop these lands for those who currently occupy it. I use to think that the offering was a nice way to pay tribute to space/location (although it has a decidedly anthopocentric take). Now, I feel it is just a tool to promote humility among those with European ancestors.

        1. The Rules are Made Up*

          This makes even less sense. Ancestral offerings are….. not that. At all. Indigenous people and African diasporic cultures often include veneration of their ancestors. It has nothing at all to do with white people and their colonization. I have neverrrrr heard of any version of an ancestral offering that includes white people giving an offering to other people’s ancestors as an “apology” because the tradition literally isn’t about white people at all. So whoever it is that told you that either WILDLY misunderstood or twisted the actual meaning so they could center themselves and their “apology”. Which makes it even worse than the usual amount of appropriation because now it includes people dissecting the value and purpose of spiritual and cultural practices that are not theirs.

        2. ThatGirl*

          You’re thinking of land acknowledgments, not ancestral offerings, and I suspect that you’re the same person who started arguing about how far back it goes above?

          1. UKDancer*

            Yes, I could see the sense of a land acknowledgment and that feels like the right thing to do.

            On the other hand I don’t want to make offerings to ancestors (mine or anyone else’s) because it’s not a thing I believe in and it feels wrong to me to go through the motions of making an offering to something I don’t believe in. It’s wrong for me and it’s kind of insulting to people who do believe in that to have people going through the motions and meaning none of it.

        3. ceiswyn*

          Neanderthals in North America? If you have evidence of that, I think you can publish in Nature.

          But scientific reality aside, I don’t think it’s at all a bad thing if those who have benefited from generations of structural inequality feel some humility about it.

    5. KoiFeeder*

      My great-grandfather would’ve called this boss an idiot and walked out. Very blunt, he was.

    6. Fiorinda*

      Mine were Huguenot refugees who left France due to religious persecution. “Today I will demonstrate what I have learned from my ancestors by noping the f*** out this situation with alacrity. Salut!”

  5. Allypopx*

    OP I just want to say I think you’ve handled this really well so far, and I’m sorry that your boss is so unsupportive.

  6. PJ*

    I could maybe see this being a good approach for the meetings with the people you serve (which you mentioned). It might help people who would otherwise not participate to come to the table.

    But yes, your concerns are understandable. The intentions may have been good but for all the reasons both you and Alison listed, the negatives outweigh the positives.

  7. kittymommy*

    Oh hell no! Everything about this would make me deeply uncomfortable beginning with the very idea that centuries of innate privilege/misogyny/racism/sexism/etc. can be erased/fixed with sitting in a circle and holding a stapler (or whatever they want to pick). It’s uncomfortable, ridiculous and offensive.

    1. Margaery Tyrell*

      Yeeeeeeaaaah the “offerings to the ancestors” part honestly reads to me like white people co-opting other cultures’ traditions for…. workplace conflict resolution?? C’mon, people.

      1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        Well, many cultural traditions all over the world honor ancestors, so doing so wouldn’t exclude people of European descent. And we don’t assume that only people of Middle Eastern descent have the right to practice Judaism, Christianity or Islam, or that only people of Asian descent have the right to practice Buddhism or Hinduism! We do tend to apply the concept of religious cultural appropriation very selectively…and not think about the implications of generalizing it to include ALL religions. But all that’s beside the point in this letter!

        What the LW is describing is totally inappropriate for the workplace – their experience in trying to convey this to their manager proved their point! I’m also concerned about how this could affect people with emotional and mental health challenges. This is NOT a therapy group they’ve voluntarily joined and it’s being run by people who are NOT trained to deal with a participant becoming very, very upset in the circle. This was a disastrously unprofessional idea that never should have gotten off the ground!

        1. ADHSquirrelWhat*

          There’s a very big difference between religions that actively reach out – Christianity and Islam, f’ex – and religions that are tribal or otherwise NOT reaching out to other people. There’s also a difference between mainline culture and cultures that have already been hurt by the mainline culture.

          Cultural appropriation is the saying of “hey, we stole your land, broke your stuff, treated you like crap, did all these horrible things .. but the bits of your /whatever/ I can see from here look shiny, so I’m gonna grab them and use them as I see fit. Be honored by that because I say so.”

          Our culture gets /imposed/ on others. Of course appropriation is applied selectively – you can’t appropriate what’s being shoved into people’s faces! Appropriation is inherently the taking of /what is not offered/.

          Given that these circles are also about demanding openness and whatnot /that is not offered/, appropriation is the name of the game from start to finish.

        2. metadata minion*

          If they were inviting everyone to light yizkor candles, that would also be enormously inappropriate, as that is a Jewish tradition that doesn’t belong in a non-Jewish workplace. Even outside of the workplace, having random non-Jewish people do it is anywhere from deeply offensive to just bafflingly weird depending on who you talk to (unless your ancestor was Jewish, in which case that gets much more complicated but in any case would be a very personal decision and not something you just invite random coworkers to do).

    2. Night Vale Seems Good by Comparison*

      Yep yep yep. I followed the link Alison provided to learn more and… I have NO WORDS.

      Here’s just one circle type listed: “Healing (Harm) Circles allows for anyone impacted by harm to to tell their story, express their feelings about the impact, and name their needs to healing.”

      Anyone suggesting such a thing by me would see how fast someone with two replaced knees can run!

      1. NoviceManagerGuy*

        What does “name their needs to healing” even mean? Anytime people start seeming like their “movement” or “method” has its own grammar, I’m out.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            And full-time WFH, 2 days/month on site to be scheduled in advance.

        1. pancakes*

          That’s a bit much too, though. Look up “term of art.” Many (most?) industries have them. The problem here isn’t that people are using specialized language, it’s that they’re not clear on what they’re trying to do and why they’re trying to do it.

          1. NoviceManagerGuy*

            Yes, I know what a “term of art” is. But “name their needs to healing” strikes me as somebody being deliberately mysterious.

            If you have to learn all the jargon to “heal” your healing isn’t very accessible to those most in need.

            1. pancakes*

              It looks more like sloppy editing at the source or a cut and paste error to me. That phrase doesn’t appear in the letter, and a search for it returns only this post, here on AAM today. I don’t want to talk about needing to heal at work either, but I don’t think it’s nearly as mysterious as you make it out to be.

        2. JustaTech*

          I’m thinking it could mean something like “be allowed to sit where people can’t come up behind me”, or “not be asked to give a major presentation on the anniversary of my child’s death” or something like that?

          Yes, the grammar seems awkward.

        3. Massive Dynamic*

          I have a friend who has traveled quite far into a lot of this stuff. There is definitely a different grammar structure at play in what she and friends of hers post on social media (the link Alison provided is much more tame). From what I’ve seen, much of it morphs nouns into verbs and vice versa, as a way of representing what has and doesn’t have, or transfers, or gives, or takes, power in one’s life.

      2. anon impacted by harm*

        “I’d like the company to fully fund my EMDR.”

        I suspect that they’re thinking more along the lines of honouring (paying lip service) than actually supporting (paying professionals).

  8. Detective Amy Santiago*

    OP mentions working for a non profit and doing this with the population they serve as well as internally. I’m really curious about what kind of work they do, because I could see this being something that would be useful in settings where you work with vulnerable people and may have some residual trauma (like if you work with abuse victims or something).

    1. ADHSquirrelWhat*

      it could also be massively problematic, given the religious structure and the issues with coercion. Can a client opt OUT and still get services? do they KNOW if they can?

      I honestly don’t see something like this as any different than having a surprise Catholic Mass sprung on people – it doesn’t belong in the workplace. And it doesn’t belong in any situation where someone feels they need to play along to get services.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        That’s a good question. My impression is that they aren’t necessarily spiritual or religious in nature, but it sounds like in OP’s case, at least some of their colleagues are treating them that way.

        1. ADHSquirrelWhat*

          The problem is, in my experience in the neo-pagan community, they can BECOME religious very quickly – and the people running them don’t always know where the boundaries are. The concept of circle-as-shape and circle-as-religious-ritual overlap – and I’m seeing enough in this letter from what I’ve seen in the neo-pagan community to be really side-eyeing this.

          There’s a LOT of “oh but it’s not religious BUT” type stuff. And lack of awareness for where the conflicts are. After all, “what’s the problem with a /shape/????”

          1. Can't Sit Still*

            Yep. Also, lots of folks are prone to make things religious that aren’t or shouldn’t be, e.g. a former job’s altar to the copier. That went from a joke to completely out of hand basically overnight, with people going from joking about leaving offerings to the copier to demanding that offerings be made to the copier before using it. OTOH, the powers that be replaced the copier very quickly after that, so I guess you could say it worked? (That’s still one of my all time best work stories, though.)

            1. Shirley Keeldar*

              Wait, what? People demanding offerings… the copier gods? Please tell this story in more detail. I am agog.

              1. Anonny*

                Look up ‘Kuai Kuai’. Humans are weird and strangely prone to bizarre quasi-religious behaviour.

            2. ADHSquirrelWhat*

              I’m gonna ask for the story too! That’s … wow.

              That said, I once ran a chat where the stupid thing only stayed running if the “subject” involved goat sacrifice in some way. started as a joke – but the software was buggy, and it seemed to work … weirdest darn things become standard that way!

        2. Astor*

          But also, you can’t always know what’s religious to someone because of their own culture! You don’t have to have spiritual or religious intentions for it to *be* so for other people.

          One example I often use: As an adult, I joined a martial arts community and a struggled with the rules to bow to your seniors in any context sepcifically because it was drilled into me as a child that as Jewish people we only bow to God. I’m not particularly religious and was personally fine with bowing in the context of the classroom/training but it was really hard to get people to understand that my refusal to do it if I ran into a senior in another context was legitimately religious and not embarrassment. By bowing in those contexts, it literally felt to me like I was hiding that I’m Jewish.

          (Disclaimer: each Jew is different, there is a huge variety of ways that Jewish people feel about bowing.)

          I also note that the senior leadership was mostly white and interpreted it through that sort of Generic Christian Canadian lens. I state this both to make it clear that the conversation might have been different with people from a different culture or religious background who are used to that weird line, and also to make it clear that it’s not enough to go “but this practice isn’t part of their religion and therefore it’s not religious” because you have to take into account the people participating not just those leading or designing the practice.

      2. Pippa K*

        This is an excellent analogy. Particularly because the general position in Catholicism is that non-Catholics aren’t allowed to/shouldn’t take communion if they attend mass – so why would it be ok for nonmembers of an indigenous religion or culture to treat those practices as something they can just do if they feel like it? It’s one thing to observe or participate if invited by the actual practitioners, quite another to decide you’ll just take the rituals for your own use.

        1. pancakes*

          Not all religious practices or cultures resemble Catholicism in that way, but I don’t disagree that taking up unfamiliar religious practices should be done thoughtfully and with great care.

    2. Amy*

      Hello, I made an account to say that it is exhausting and damaging as a survivor of trauma to be expected to open up in these circles. People mean well and I’m sure you do too! From what I can tell, no one in that circle is a trained or licensed clinical therapist or social worker so they would have no idea what to do with negative feelings (as demonstrated by LW’s confrontation with her boss), let alone real trauma. I’ve had jobs in non-profits that demanded vulnerability in similar circumstances and I was worse off each time. I also had a boss treat me noticeably worse after being honest because these types are not prepared or trained for real trauma or distress. I don’t need my coworkers to know anything other than “Sorry, I need a few minutes because something upset me and it caught me off guard” when I am in actual distress. Actual distress is luckily pretty rare these days because my current employer invested in great health insurance with mental health coverage instead of this nonsense and I talk to a real therapist trained to help. These circles don’t actually help the people who most need it and instead force one more occasion where I have to put on an emotional mask and perform just the right emotions to please other people.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I think this is a really important point, and one that’s come up in a few similar letters.

        The activity assumes there’s nobody in the room with an actual history of significant trauma or PTSD, but that’s likely wrong.

        What are LW and their coworkers supposed to do if someone discloses that they survived neglect, abuse or assault? Value their lived experience and then move on to Wakeen’s difficulties with the parking lot?

      2. ShinyPenny*

        Exactly this. The sheer obliviousness to the potential for harm is remarkable.

      3. Anon teacher*

        Omg. Your final sentence just provided me with so much clarity and insight into my own aversion to this practice at my workplace. Thank you.

    3. Feelings*

      Not without trained therapists. And consent is crucial to anything medially related, including psychological trauma.

    4. LTL*

      Only if it’s consensual. It’s healing for me to talk about abuse with my therapist, maybe my friends, it’s not healing for me to be pressured to speak about it or else my livelihood is threatened.

  9. Mockingdragon*

    OFFERINGS TO THE ANCESTORS!?!?! Good freaking lord, I’d be so uncomfortable. Good for you for speaking up in the moment. You’d be my hero if I were sitting there stammering. Wow. This is gonna be a great comment section today.

    1. Pants*

      I want to know, specifically, who these ancestors are before I go offering up anything.

      1. irene adler*

        And will there be compensation for said ancestors’ attendance at this work activity? Specifically, compensation paid to ME on behalf of my ancestors. Cuz, they have no need for the bucks, but I sure do!

      2. Amaranth*

        I think half my unease is with the quasi-religious introduction but since that was by a colleague, I’m curious whether a different employee might do any type of introduction they wished. In that case, the ‘offering to ancestors’ might at least not be an ‘official’ part and LW could address that there need to be guidelines about not adding any religious elements and they can change things up. Of course, the other half of my cringe is for making it mandatory sharing.

    2. Sara without an H*

      I’m Roman Catholic. “Uncomfortable” wouldn’t begin to do my feelings justice in this situation.

      1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

        I’m not Catholic, and I do have kind of a thing for my ancestors, but it’s not religious and it’s not for anyone but me to have that connection. I’d be so offended by someone trying to encroach on that, or appropriate it. This is one of those “Something to offend everyone” activities.

  10. Mockingjay*

    The only advice I can offer is that if you are stuck participating, stick with bland platitudes and problems. The more general, the better. “If ya can’t beat them, join ’em,” at least temporarily.

    Hopefully @Alton Brown is correct and this is a passing phase…

    1. Generic Name*

      I was thinking that OP could just make a bunch of stuff up. The more uncomfortable the better.

      1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

        See, the problem is that OP sounds like an honest, decent person. And it’s hard for honest, decent people to lie like that, even in self defense.

      2. Chilipepper Attitude*

        I am planning on what to say/do if I find myself in this situation.
        Option #1: I plan to have vaginal problems that impact my emotions.
        Option #2: I plan to be emotionally distressed over cultural appropriation and unequal power in the circle.

        1. Humble schoolmarm*

          I have been trying to get up the intestinal fortitude to say 2 for years now.

      3. New Here*

        I vote you treat this like that episode of The Office where Michael makes the employees all sit in a circle, throw a ball, and describe someone close to them dying……that is to say pretend a ridiculous movie plot is your life (because this activity is equally absurd with the added perk of cultural appropriation). Bonus points if you can work in Ryan’s “oh it’s a long story, it would take probably an hour and a half to tell it” line when talking about his uncle Mufasa dying while they were on a safari.

      4. CoveredInBees*

        I used to do this in an office with a few super nosy gossips, one of whom was really unpleasant as a person too. For various reasons, they were untouchable and could negatively impact your work if you crossed them. I’d drop random overshare nuggets once I figured this out. It was great. Some were true, some were fake, and others were somewhere in between.

        1. Sabina*

          I and a couple coworkers convinced the office busy body that one of us was dating Richard Gere (back when he was young and hot.) She believed it for months, it was hilarious.

  11. anonymouse*

    I haven’t even finished the OP’s letter and I had to jump down here and write:

  12. SparkleConsultant*

    I am so sorry that you are dealing with this! It’s totally inappropriate and a reasonable workplace should have responded to your concerns. At least now that you know for sure that being vulnerable and honest is not really safe there, you can adjust your “sharing” accordingly. I like to pre-write talking points for inappropriate demands of vulnerability like this. So when someone asks me to share, I am ready with a watered down version of what I would share with actual friends. Like “Wow this year has been tough huh?”, “I’m nervous about this hurdle with project X.”, “I could really use support on task Y.” Basically just treat it as a work meeting.

    1. Sara without an H*

      Ditto. My organization went through a “sharing” phase a while back, although not this awful. I found it useful to just prep in advance a few innocuous things I could “share” without compromising myself. Eventually the whole silly thing petered out.

  13. Kristina*

    My work place, a high school with over 100 staff members started doing circles once a month about 2 years ago. Each group is about 10 people. From what I can ascertain, I am in one of the best (if not the best) groups there are because the leader of my group is both good at it and not an administrator. The people who are stuck with administrators (roughly half our staff) are totally miserable and I hear horrible stories from them afterwards. They’re never honest in the circle because of the power imbalance described here. It’s been part of a disastrous cultural shift. All I can say is, people who are NOT trained psychologists should not be trying to facilitate therapy-adjacent activities at work. It’s just so awful for staff. I really sympathize with the LW, because the types of leaders who are committed to this kind of stuff almost always have a huge blind spot about all the ways it can go wrong.

    1. civil rights type person*

      Yikes, this sounds absolutely awful. I wonder if there are places that have implemented this in ways that don’t try to unrealistically cut across power dynamics by putting workers and supervisors in “a circle”? As is, it sounds like a way for more powerful people to self-soothe by feeling like they’re creating a safe sharing environment, while implicitly silencing the less powerful people.

      1. knitcrazybooknut*

        Very well put. I think we’ve all seen or existed in workplaces where the preaching of “Trust” and “Togetherness” and “Respect” was matched only by the bitterness, backbiting, and sheer contempt held by the staff for each other, the head of the department for their direct reports, or both.

      2. Amaranth*

        I’m sure some people have the very best intentions but my cynical side wonders if all a good number of these amateur attempts to bring mental health practices into the workplace are for PR. Do they look good in the annual report?

        1. Kristina*

          I think it definitely looks good on the leader’s resume, especially in social fields. They are “progressive” and “taking direct action” against the school-to- prison pipeline, systemic racism, etc. But the thing is, circles should not be led by bosses. Period. People are never going to feel anonymous or vulnerable with their boss leading.

      3. Lizzo*

        My workplace does have an opportunity to share at weekly meetings (we are a small staff, so this is done at staff meetings), and the structure of the sharing is *one good thing + one not so good thing from the past/upcoming week*. It can be personal or work related, you can share as little or as much as you want, and if you only have a good thing or a bad thing to share, that’s fine too. This is a practice that has come about during COVID while we’ve all been virtual as a way to have some sort of personalized connection to everyone. Nobody is trying to play therapist when the bad stuff is shared–the closest we get to that is colleagues being extremely empathetic to others’ struggles. So far, it has worked very well, but we also have a culture where employee well-being is a priority.

    2. anon for this*

      Even people who ARE trained therapists need to take a good hard look at intent and potential for harm, and then think about potential for harm some more, and then suggest other ways of teambuilding that don’t ask people to narrate their own reliving of trauma for everyone’s um entertainment and/or discomfort. I don’t know about you, but there are things that might be said which cannot help but alter all of our relationships in ways that don’t belong at work, and it’s not as though someone can untell me of the abuse they suffered that they told everyone at once while the facilitator asked probing questions and everyone cried.

  14. Tehanu*

    Well, aside from all the other great arguments against this, it’s full-on cultural appropriation (ESPECIALLY when talking about “offering to the ancestors,” eek!). I’d say that’s a pretty strong argument against it, no? Unless it’s an Indigenous company I’d say they need to be rather careful about a justified accusation of racism.

    1. Ell*

      That was the part that grossed me out the most. I mean, I’m horrified at the whole thing, but non-Indigenous folks really really really need to not bastardize cultural traditions for the sake of supposedly stronger team dynamics. So icky.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        Yes! My employer has a cultural competence component. This completely fails that.

      2. Anon for this*

        My employer was actually presenting it as “look how diverse we are!” thing but this isn’t evidence of a diverse community, it’s just colonization.

      3. Archaeopteryx*

        Yes that whole tendency just feels so ’90s “white-people-mythologizing-indigenous-peoples”. It’s gross. It’s part of the vaguely New Age trend of taking “flavor” from indigenous culture while acting as though actual indigenous people a) were impossibly flawless and b) are extinct.

        1. nona*

          I mean, white people have been doing it (in the US) since at least the 1890s (if not earlier), with the old-tyme medicine shows that would often be selling “cures” from the Indians (they weren’t) or snake oil (which they stole from the Chinese immigrents – and worked, when you used a specific Chinese snake…). In both cases, the exotic nature of the out-group was used by white people to sell something to other white people.

    2. KoiFeeder*

      Solid agreement- I actually think I recognize the set-up from third grade, my third grade teacher was real big into “Indian Talking Circles” in a way that makes me cringe like a slug in the snow over a decade later. Are they calling everyone their brother/sister and passing around a talking stick, too?

        1. KoiFeeder*

          Ironically, someone broke the talking stick over my head because I would NOT shut up about dinosaurs.

          And then that teacher replaced with a talking HAT. Guess how well that one went?

  15. Ashley*

    Since you are a manager thank you for pushing back so your team can see not everyone is cool with this. I would probably try to use the religious and cultural appropriation angles to push back. Assuming you are willing to mention your religion at work you could talk about why this is problematic or could be exclusionary for people of different religions. I would get some documentation on why specific aspects they are doing is inappropriate cultural appropriation. Sometimes the best way to get stupid stuff to stop is to offer a new solution … it is definitely more work and not fair but that can help solve the problem.

  16. SentientAmoeba*

    I will pick my jaw up off the floor when figure where it bounced to because this made it fall completely off. As you noted, your boss literally proved your point about you being upset at being forced to participate when she got upset at you for not wanting to participate. Which means anyone else who is uncomfortable about participating but not willing to speak up is being forced into this. Such wow.

  17. Boo Radley*

    I wonder if we could use this space to brainstorm a multi step process for responding to and pushing back on this sort of thing. It seems to crop up without warning in places you don’t expect it. This past summer, we had the EAP team join an all hands call and in all seriousness ask everyone to share a new mental health need they encountered over the pandemic. I had a previous employer ask everyone in her leadership team to share a painful story from growing up. Those are wildly inappropriate, but circle time is sneakily anodyne enough that most people would go along all while feeling non-specifically uncomfortable. If there was a framework to look at and respond to these situations i think we’d all feel better about waiting out these next 10 years until this cycles out of the zeitgeist.

    1. FrenchCusser*

      Oh, gosh, at our last in-service we were asked to share what ideas about gender and sexuality we got from our birth families.

      I declined to answer and didn’t get any push back, thankfully, but still feel like the question was inappropriate in a work setting.

      1. SparkleConsultant*

        Oof! That sounds like it would be super high pressure for any LGBTQIA staff. Especially if folks aren’t out at work.

        1. ThatGirl*

          For sure, but it’s also broadly just … not appropriate workplace conversation and intensely personal! I could *maybe* see gender discussions in some settings, but less so sexuality…

          1. PeanutButter*

            Yeah my answer would have to include, “I was told by my family and church that erotic dreams were really demons trying to rape you, and if you consented in your dream you consented spiritually and were a sinful Jezebel at risk of having a giant for a baby.” Super appropriate for work.

            1. Chinook*

              The flip side is that those woth more conservative views who still treat colleagues fairly either have to lie or risk being subjected to being re-educated to the current viewpoint. This is not how you win people over.

        2. UKDancer*

          That sounds way too personal and intrusive for anyone. I mean I don’t want to talk about this sort of thing at work. I don’t mind discussing making sure we have policies that are inclusive and respectful of the views of others and create a positive envronment but I don’t want to talk about my family background because that’s private.

    2. Rebecca1*

      This is my specialty! I don’t know if it’s the type of jobs I’ve had or what, but I’ve been in this situation many many many times. It’s become a bit of a game for me to come up with things that satisfy the requirements while not being more vulnerable than I’d like.

      My basic principle is that I try to think of an answer that nearly everyone in the meeting/ circle will identify with, and/ or that happens to be an especially engaging story. Mostly the former, because I only have so many engaging stories to work with! Also, I try to use music and/ or pop culture. Here are some examples of ways I would talk about the questions that have been brought up in this thread or by the OP, including possible embellishments as relevant to the situation.

      Painful story from growing up- the time I fell off my bike and broke my nose when I was 8. Embellishments: detailed but humorous description of the bruise, the “supportive community” story of the neighbor who rescued me and carried me home, and/ or the “gumption” story that I happily hopped back on my bike the following weekend.

      Gender roles/ sexuality from growing up- I watched Disney movies growing up, and so did everyone all over the world. Embellishments: how Disney music has affected my musical tastes, changing female beauty standards over history, and/ or the queer-coding of specific characters (Ursula from The Little Mermaid is good for this).

      New mental health need: I usually say “anxiety” about whatever work-related issue the person in charge has seemed to be most anxious about recently. If it needs to be personal, I talk about missing whatever friend I haven’t seen recently. There’s always SOMEONE I haven’t seen lately, even in non-pandemic times.

      Feelings: If I think it really needs to be a negative feeling, see above. Otherwise, I say I am “grateful” to a person who has helped me with anything lately, at all, even if they were just doing their job. Embellishment: this gives me a chance to talk up any colleagues who I think deserve it.

      1. Rebecca1*

        Also, I have memorized stock answers.

        If I had a superpower it would be flying.

        If I were an animal, I would be an ant because they value strong communities and teamwork.

        My favorite food is pizza.

        On vacation I’m looking forward to seeing specific people or to reading a specific book.

        My favorite movie is ET (embellishment: talk about how technology has made it so much cheaper and easier to “phone home” than it was back then; talk about the Speak ‘n’ Spell I played with as a child).

        1. Rebecca1*

          For the offerings to ancestors, I’d say something about the cultural appropriation, but I’m not sure what exactly.

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        Music! I could work with that. “I feel like the cadenza to Ligeti’s violin concerto–not the one he wrote, but the Thomas Adès cadenza. Next!” If pressed about how that cadenza makes me feel, I can throw out random words, confident that no one there has the faintest clue about it. Extra points for sticking to words of three syllables or more. “Exultant, remorseful, integrated, tangential, but at the same time contrapuntal and calligraphic. Next!”

        1. Spencer Hastings*

          “To understand how I feel, you’d have to listen to Satie’s ‘Vexations’…the whole thing.”

        2. Rebecca1*

          Adès, eek, that’s a little triggering for me! I like a little polyrhythm but I have my limits.

      3. Mouse*

        These are really good suggestions. I’m going to try to think up similar stories from my own life to memories for if I get stuck in a situation like this. Thanks!

    3. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      I feel like there should be a stock phrase that someone can say when one of these is proposed, which encourages people who are good at extemporaneous speaking to really ham it up, and absorb as much time as the circle will allow.

      For my part, I tend to go full Milton whenever a sharing exercise like this is suggested. Just rattle on about something mundane (like network architecture, the joys of blue-tooth enabled toothbrushes, or the benefits of A4 paper over letter size), recursively repeating myself every couple of moments, in a barely audible murmur. Usually this makes everyone so uncomfortable the exercise never happens again.

      Sometimes it backfires and it turns out people hold Opinions about the A4 paper question – no solution to this has been found yet.

      1. Sled dog mama*

        You would be my hero at one of these. Anyone who is willing to step up and fill up time by talking is my hero but especially someone who can hold forth on mundane things. I was an adult before I realized that my dad has this skill and used it judiciously when his mother skated too close to subjects his teenage children were uncomfortable with.

  18. Glomarization, Esq.*

    This sounds like an activity for part of a non-profit’s goal-oriented weekend retreat (strategic business planning, annual meeting, workshopping a new mission or vision statement, etc.), not for a regular office meeting. Source: have spent most of my career as an employee, volunteer, or legal counsel for non-profit organizations.

    1. Allonge*

      I know, right? It’s horrid either way, but why does anycompany need a continuous conflict resolution process?

    2. Maxie*

      Pressuring people to be vulnerable and share feelings with coworkers, subordinates and bosses for an entire weekend would be so much worse.

  19. highbury house*

    Ah, everything old is new again! I had to do this in my first post-college job, only back then it was because the boss was an est adherent. The meetings were held before work started, were mandatory and unpaid. And everybody had to ‘share’ something not about work.

    Yes, readers, I made shit up. And left six months later. Life’s too short for that kind of nonsense.

    1. Cshelled*

      Could you imagine getting written up or even fired for refusing to join in on a religious activity in a non religious setting? I’m sure getting unemployment would be a breeze.

  20. Lucious*

    I agree : people are emotional beings, and a good workplace makes an effort to ensure people’s feelings are considered in operational decisions. This “circle work” practice is not how you do that.

    In fact, this strikes me as a remix of the classic high pressure sales meeting. Instead of an “Alec Baldwin” character at a podium emotionally invalidating everyone with a “closers or losers” lecture, this circle work thing is individualized invalidation delivered one team member at a time.

  21. anonymouse*

    So many things to hate about this, so I will pick the most heinous problem that I can see.
    The manager is representative of the company, but the company is not a living entity. It is not there to guide you, help you, serve as a therapist in someway. Employees should not be forced to work through traumas in a work meeting. And (most) employee issues with coworkers are not traumas and should not be treated like it. “You need to understand that when you miss a deadline, you are hurting me by X, Y, Z.” No. You are not hurting me, you are messing my flow and making me do more work faster. Stop doing that.
    If you are honestly mistreating or abusing me, I should not be forced to confront you at all, much less in a group setting. My manager should be working with HR and stopping it.
    This is absurd.

  22. Anon for this*

    My workplace implemented mandatory questionnaires the managers have to fill out once a month detailing how their employees are doing in their personal lives, that they then have to hand off to their VPs for analysis. It’s quite clearly supposed to be about Feelings, but fortunately the question is worded vaguely enough that updates and pictures on the continuing inventiveness of my cats satisfies it. Also my boss’s boss loves hearing about them which is always a plus.

    1. UKDancer*

      Wow that sounds unbelievably intrusive. I mean I ask my staff how they’re doing and if they want to talk about their personal lives as they intersect with work then they can but I certainly wouldn’t dream of recording it to share with management. That’s far too creepily interested for my comfort zone.

    2. irene adler*

      “detailing how their employees are doing in their personal lives”
      Um, non-starter there, for me. Boss is not privy to my personal life. “It’s fine” is all boss is getting out of me.

      What happens if someone is not doing well in their personal life? Someone gonna step in and fix it? Fat chance! Do they lose out on the plum assignments? Makes me wonder.

      1. Anon for this*

        Yeah, no one in the department’s very comfortable with it, so we collectively decided that nothing in the way the question’s worded says it CAN’T be about pet updates. Then again we are the department in charging of finding and closing loopholes in policy, this is one we are in absolutely no hurry to tell anyone about.

    3. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      Pet updates are an incredibly convenient way to handle a lot of these “personal life” intrusions. Why yes, I *am* currently having a struggle in my personal life that I’d like to share: my dog is currently having trouble where he likes to steal the ball from other dogs at the park rather than chase the one I brought for him blah blah blah blah blah long dog story, possibly with pictures. (Note that this only really works with relatively healthy pets having minor behavior issues, as I have no interest in getting pet health advice from co-workers.) I also recommend this approach to social media if you need to have a “professional” personal social media account for whatever reason.

      Gardening can also work well if you don’t have suitable pet issues. “I’m struggling with what to plant to have cut flowers later than the daffodils but before the roses bloom” or whatever.

      I also have established myself as someone with a Weird, Obscure-But-Work-Safe Hobby that I can go into a lot of detail about and which no one else in the office has any interest in joining, which can be a good way to not get called on to share in the first place. This is dependent on you actually having one of these, but will probably cause less interest in your updates and sharing than telling people about your pets or garden.

      1. Charlief*

        Sewing stuff is a good one for this because you are always shit at stuff that no one else notices. Like at every level there will be things you need to learn unless you are a couturier. Endless endless mild irritation and minor successes that no one else is very invested in. You can also talk about it for a really really long time….

  23. Carolyn*

    The circles are one thing, but then the ancestors part? That’s straight up religious, and I’m sure about the religious practices/ethnicities of the people saying it, but also probably cultural appropriation.

    1. Sara without an H*

      Indeed. I can also think of several religions, including mine, which don’t do ancestor veneration and would consider the practice offensive.

      And even someone from a religion or culture that practiced ancestor veneration might well object to doing it in the work place.

      1. NoviceManagerGuy*

        I assume that the hundreds of different ethnoreligious groups that do venerate ancestors likely have mutually incompatible ways of doing it.

        1. Sara without an H*

          Probably. And I’m sure that most of them would object to their performance in the workplace.

      2. Mono*

        As somebody who does make ancestor offerings (not necessarily biological ancestors), yes, it is absolutely religious and incredibly intimate and I would be horrified to be asked to participate in it at work. I agree that it’s not “quasi-religious,” it’s just religious.

      3. Name (Required)*

        No. no. no. While you might not agree with them, you can’t say you find other religious/cultural practices offensive – even those practices that some countries find so abhorrent governments have made laws specifically against them.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Sure you can. Why wouldn’t you be able to be? A workplace might need to accommodate those practices, depending on the situation, but there’s nothing saying you can’t find, for example, the institutionalized sexism of some religious offensive.

    2. Lime green Pacer*

      Not just Indigenous, either; some (many? most?) Buddhist practices can include offerings to ancestors.

    3. Lentils*

      Yeah, I admit I don’t know a whole lot about how it works, but Chinese folk religions often involve ancestor veneration, so I guess technically this could apply to me (biracial Chinese-American)…but my Chinese family have been Christians since at least my great-grandfather and I don’t think my ancestors would be keen on random veneration from me for a bizarre work requirement, lol.

    4. Name (Required)*

      Which culture? Ancestor veneration stretches from Asia where it continues (e.g. 8,000 years and counting in China, recorded) to Africa and even to White people with the Romans with their nine-day festival of the Parentalia and also the Celts.

  24. Campfire Raccoon*

    Yikes times a million.

    This is exactly the type of setting where if forced to participate, I would push back so hard I’d be fired before I finished describing my feelings on being made to share my feelings in public setting. And if everyone was too shocked to do anything in the moment, I’d make up stuff or overshare so much their insides would melt.

    I’m not a good person.

      1. Campfire Raccoon*

        Every day I fight against the overwhelming compulsion to drop a duce in the filing cabinets. One day I will lose. I’ll file it under “F” for “Feelings”.

  25. Spearmint*

    Does their sort of practice put the nonprofit in jeopardy of discrimination lawsuits? I could see someone arguing it was a (non-church) workplace trying to impose religious practices and beliefs on its employees during work meetings. Imagine if a non-religious organization made employees say Christian prayers at meetings.

    (I am not a lawyer so I may be completely off base here)

  26. Typing All The Time*

    As someone who is not BIPOC, I would feel my involvement in this measure would be inappropriate.

    1. Typing All The Time*

      I have a lot of respect for the word ancestry and don’t want to insult its significance.

  27. LKW*

    I’ve never heard of this technique and I’m struggling to understand how it fits into a workplace context. Can someone describe to me a work issue that would be addressed in this manner? My workplace is not very emotional but it is very diverse and we often focus on diversity issues and discuss overt racism and microagressions. Is this like a lessons learned? Or just a reframed bitch-sesh?

    1. I'm A Little Teapot*

      It doesn’t fit into a workplace. You’re struggling to understand because it simply doesn’t make sense.

    2. Chilipepper Attitude*

      Picture a group of employees at a meeting.
      Someone says, “its time for circle!”
      Everyone circles up and the leader holds an object, makes some announcement about “this is a safe space.” Then says, “I honor my ancestors for giving me my height or some aspect of my personality,” then passes the object to the next person who is expected to say, “I had a fight with my spouse and am feeling stressed today.”

      Then the object is passed on. When it gets to me I say, I am having troubles with my vagina and I don’t feel 100% at work today.”

      At least, that is what I am picturing.

      1. Chilipepper Attitude*

        Sorry, meant to add, for LKW, this is not about a work issue or project!
        Though I guess you could say, Susan waved at other people yesterday but not at me and my feelings are hurt.

      2. LKW*

        So it’s not even a targeted bitch session? I was picturing either a prompt like “Tell me how llama grooming has affected you.” or “Tell me how llama grooming could be improved” or even “Our clients have complained about our llama grooming capabilities. Let’s discuss what’s wrong and then what we can do better.”

        Now I’m even more Team-OP. Every time I’d be sitting there and as soon as I got the talking stick I’d be saying how adding this meeting to my workday was preventing me from completing things and it was stressing me out and asking every single person who owed me stuff when they were going to deliver it and how it made me sad and frustrated and impatient.

      3. Amaranth*

        Now I know where I’ve heard this before. That line ‘Its time for circle!’ evokes such nursery school vibes.

    3. Humble schoolmarm*

      In a classroom it works something like this. Let’s say there’s a new student coming
      Step 1: Ask an ice breaker question (How was your weekend, how are you feeling this morning, what’s your favourite pizza topping) and hand the talking stick round the circle so each person has a chance to speak (passing allowed, though).
      Step 2: Ask the question you want to discuss (What are some way you can make someone feel included: Turn to your partner ie. the person next to you). Allow a brief time for discussion.
      Step 3: Go around the circle again and ask each pair to summarize their discussion.
      Step 4: Teacher or facilitator sums up the points covered.

  28. Dust Bunny*

    Uuuugh this sounds like Hell.

    I wish there was a way to write my employers a thank-you for being humane and understanding without parade All The Feels.

  29. Some dude*

    It’s interesting to read all the assumptions that this is somehow cultural appropriation. I work in social justice circles, and I have seen variations of this theme, but always led by people of color. It is something that makes me deeply uncomfortable, because there is a very religious vibe to the whole thing, but I have never seen it as a white-led thing. It has always been about different non-European groups trying to reconnect with ancestral healing practices, which, great, but not something I want to practice at a work meeting.

    1. Forrest*

      I think the fact that OP is describing it as “quasi-hippy, quasi-religious” is what makes it overwhelmingly likely to be a culturally appropriative practice? Like, I’d guess that in any setting where it is culturally appropriate, part of the process would be making sure everyone was aware of where the practice originates and what its meaning / significance is. If OP feels it’s a “hippy” thing, that presumably hasn’t been done.

    2. tg*

      From over here, a long way away, it sounds like a Native American thing, so just having people of colour lead it doesn’t mean it isn’t cultural appropriation. Mind you, it sounds like a hodge podge anyway,

    3. Spearmint*

      Yes, and also “ancestor worship” is such a general concept that I don’t think it’s necessarily appropriation. Ancestor worship is a very common practice across time and space, including many white cultures.

      Now, if it they said “we’re doing an offering like the such and such tribe that we’ve never interacted with and read about on Wikipedia”, *that* would be appropriation.

    4. Anonnnnn*

      Agreed. I have had the same experience. There are a lot of assumptions in this thread that the people leading these circles are white and that the practice relates to some amorphous indigenous culture. The post had no evidence of that. Most of the ancestor acknowledgments and the like I have heard come from Black Americans (descendants of slaves) expressing connection with their African ancestors.

  30. Feelings*

    The irony of them wanting you to share your feelings….. then they get upset when you do. I would say ‘buuuuut you told me to share my feelings’….

  31. Richard Hershberger*

    I have read and re-read the OP, and I have no idea what this is supposed to be about: what it is trying to accomplish, or even what would be expected of me when my turn came. If it came late enough I would be able to use the time beforehand productively, coming up with some banalities. But if I was early in the process, I would be completely stumped. Under no circumstances would I say anything substantive, of course. The question would be what constitutes acceptable BS’ing so things can move along and hopefully eventually turn to useful work.

  32. Momma Bear*

    For my own team, I’d push back and make it just a scrum or something. You know, work-related and not boundary crossing. It’s telling that in that “safe space” you spoke up honestly and were given flack for it. They don’t want true feedback. They want blind compliance.

  33. Feelings*

    When they want you to share make stuff up or just use COVID. ‘I feel great that we have a vaccine and soon we will all be vaccinated’. If you want to push it I would say ‘The dog from next door told me he wants special treats, only from me’. I’m the dog whisperer!

    1. LKW*

      I’d just throw out what my ancestors were telling me “My dead grandma is speaking to me directly. She says it’s ridiculous that any business would spend thousands of dollars letting people whine about things that aren’t going to change and probably won’t get fixed. But you know, she was always pretty blunt.”

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        “She also says to bet on Rombauer to win the Preakness. What? That was last weekend? Darn it, grandma! Give me something I can use!”

        1. Momma Bear*

          12:1 odds!
          Grandma says the reception in this circle is very spotty and slow. You should upgrade your wifi.

  34. H. Regalis*

    My old job we had to do something like this where it was basically, “Sit in a circle with your boss and coworkers. Talk about times when you have been racist at work.” I HATED it. I get what they were trying to go for—have an honest discussion about your behavior and ways you have shown bias—but the power dynamics make work the absolute worst place to do this. I depend on my job to live. If I didn’t have a job, I wouldn’t be able to have food or medicine or a place to live. I have every possible interest in not portraying myself in a negative light.

    1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      “talk about times when you have been racist at work”

      Did Mao come up with this idea?

    2. UKDancer*

      That’s completely the wrong way to do this type of thing anyway.

      The way we’ve done it in my company is that we discussed some of the things which are generators of privilege and how you asses what you have in terms of privilege which others may not. We then discussed some of the issues to be tackled in the workplace (e.g. white staff having better promotion prospects than BAME staff and men getting more bonuses than women and non-binary staff) and how we can think about it differently. But you don’t look at it as what you’ve individually done wrong but what we can collectively as a company do better.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Yeah, confessing your individual wrongs reeks of that particular brand of white “ally”-ship that’s all about individuals Not Being Racist and completely ignores systemic problems and solutions. Once you’ve confessed your sins and been absolved, you are Not Racist and your work is done.

        1. meyer lemon*

          I really hope that their BIPOC colleagues didn’t have to sit and listen to a litany of their coworkers’ racist actions. That sounds like a disturbing thing to have to witness.

          For that matter, this exercise sounds like it’s designed to make it harder for everyone to work together without having to constantly have a reel of your coworkers’ worst moments playing in your mind.

    3. HerdingCatsWouldBeEasier*

      This is giving me flashbacks to the time in elementary school where one of the boys was being badly bullied. They made us sit in a circle with him in the middle, and we all had to go around and say one thing we disliked about the boy, supposedly to ‘help him figure out what he was doing wrong’. Talk about victim blaming, right? Myself and several others tried to refuse, but were told we had to. The bullies, of course, had a great time, and the poor boy ended up crying. Nothing good comes out of people with no therapeutic training trying to implement something like this.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*


        When I started reading, I thought it was going to be “sit in a circle and say one thing we LIKE” as a stupid attempt to force bonding. And yet, this somehow ended up FAR worse.

      2. Lizzo*

        I’m physically ill reading this comment. Who could possibly think this would be anything other than horribly mean?? I’m sorry that you and your classmates were subjected to this.

      3. Lils*

        “Nothing good comes out of people with no therapeutic training trying to implement something like this.”

        1. HerdingCatsWouldBeEasier*

          If so I hope it didn’t leave as many scars for you as it did for me.

      4. Tom*

        Realizing that that’s a bad idea doesn’t require training. That just requires you to be a functional human being.

    4. Goldenrod*

      Exactly! A very similar thing is happening at my job, where some of the people in charge are bullies, and so the power dynamics make it absolutely impossible to actually be authentic. Like, I’m supposed to call someone out for a racist comment, when that same person completely lambasted me yesterday because her lunch was cold?? No thank you!

    5. jy3*

      “I have taken part in an activity that seems designed to give you excuses to discipline people. If this workplace is actually as enlightened as it’s trying to look, you should already understand why that is racist. Next.”

  35. Shirley You're Joking*

    I’d be so dismayed by this that I would look for another place to work and, once I had something else lined up… I would really go all in on this circle to raise it to a new level of inappropriateness just to see what would happen. I’m thinking of an offering to the Flying Spaghetti Monster (Pastafarianism) and sharing things that happened to my ancestors, using the plot of Outlander to generate stories. And then oversharing and going all TMI on everyone. I’ll take your circle and raise you!

    In all seriousness, though, OP, it sounds like you expressed the concerns well. You did great. Sorry you don’t work with a manager who can see this stuff for how inappropriate it is.

      1. Shirley You're Joking*

        Ha, Surely!

        By the way, I realize that I should have added that if it were a real circle ceremony by a group where everyone was participating because it’s part of their culture, I would be excited to be included as a guest. It’s the part of it being at work that makes it so wrong. Just wanted to be sure I didn’t come across as mocking everything related to this. I’m only mocking enforced circles at work. I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence.

  36. Joan Rivers*

    I get the point.
    But to play devil’s advocate here: Would, say, “meditating” be considered “cultural appropriation”? It comes from somewhere.
    Acupuncture? So does it. And it gets covered under health insurance.

    Not that you do those things at work. But I just think people sometimes feel threatened by something without even trying it.

    This circle may be a bad idea at work, but I think a kneejerk reaction against it needs to be examined.
    But then, I’m part Native American and, while not registered w/a tribe, I have studied N.A. spirituality. And I see how white culture often either ignores or steals or denies or frames N.A. culture as “clownish.” Mostly ignores it.

    1. Gimble*

      To me, a big part of the problem is exactly that this is borrowing practices that do have real, deep roots—not because those practices are clownish, but because they *aren’t*. Either it’s shallowly borrowing from meaningful practices in a way that feels like appropriation, or it’s genuinely using spiritual practices in the workplace. Either option seems weird and inappropriate.

    2. Your friendly neighborhood Zen Buddhist*

      Whether or not meditation or some other mindfulness practices in a work/school setting is cultural appropriation and/or religious instruction is something that is absolutely seriously discussed.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        Yeah, I have tried to teach breathing exercises, mindfulness tools, and slowing-your-brain techniques to high school students (with varying success). I would never call it ‘meditation’ or anything like that.

        1. Huttj*

          Heck, I learned autonomic relaxation from a therapist, literally taking conscious control of things like slowing my pulse and increasing my hand temperature (it worked, I tested it against a control, was neat) to relax.

          That still was never called meditation.

    3. Spencer Hastings*

      I don’t think it’s about feeling threatened — more about not wanting to pretend to be someone or something you’re not.

  37. Queer Earthling*

    There are some pagan-y approaches to ancestor work that aren’t necessarily cultural appropriation, but this is vastly inappropriate regardless. It’s still a private religious or spiritual practice, not appropriate to a work environment, and some religions are blatantly against ancestor worship, some folks just aren’t interested, and…like…just…what?

    And of course, the fact that they’re giving you crap for questioning the practice is double-plus ungood. If the circle is supposed to make for a more open work environment, well, that experiment sure failed.

    1. Macaroni Penguin*

      And what if your ancestors were mostly a bunch of colonial lunkheads?
      Other than praising Grandma’s Chocolate Chip cookies, ancestor veneration doesn’t belong at work.

  38. MPerera*

    I’d go along with this if the item passed around in the circle was a conch shell. And then I’d ask if someone was on watch by the fire, and did we really need to hunt so often?

    1. HerdingCatsWouldBeEasier*

      After which I would take the conch and solemnly intone, “There are no grownups. We shall have to look after ourselves.”

  39. introverted af*

    I can maybe sorta kinda see that if this is part of the work you’re doing with the population you serve, you need to have an understanding of how it works, so the leadership jumps to having you participate in this to see what it’s like from the other side. But it still feels icky, because if that were the goal, you would also pick a topic it sounds like? And let staff come prepared for that, knowing what the experience is for with some pre-training, and not just dump them into it.

  40. Shell*

    Under ordinary circumstances, I would have no problem sitting respectfully through someone’s religious or spiritual ceremonies, but at work? No.

    Also, my own religious beliefs would prohibit me from making an offering to my own ancestors or anyone else’s ancestors, so the wording here would be tricky for me. If the leader of the group is saying “I make an offering to the ancestors,” I would find that inappropriate at work, but I could sit quietly through it. If the leader says, “we make an offering to the ancestors,” I would get up and leave and make a complaint about coerced religion in the workplace.

    1. Unkempt Flatware*

      dang it! You beat me to it. It’d have it in my calendar as “circle jerk” and would never stop referring to it as that.

  41. CouldntPickAUsername*

    god, we keep seeing letters about work places doing this stuff, some sort of hamfisted attempt at mental or spiritual health sessions that they have no expertise to conduct.

    Dear employers if you want to improve the mental health of your employees here are some simple things you can do:
    1. pay them more
    2. give them more PTO
    3. respect your employee’s time and abilities
    4. tell bigots and bullies to gtfo
    5. pay them more
    6. give better benefits
    7. pay them more
    8. respect that they have a life outside of work
    9. pay them more.
    10. respect reasonable boundaries.

    1. Sara without an H*

      Institute a “No Glassbowl” rule in hiring and promotion.

      Do this, and many of your employees’ stress and mental health problems will disappear.

          1. Sara without an H*

            It’s a euphemism for a*s-h*le. Carolyn Hax popularized it in the syndicated advice column she writes for the Washington Post, which still thinks of itself as a “family newspaper” and won’t print a*s-h*le.

    2. Some dude*

      Hey, so we aren’t going to fire the manager who thinks women are inferior to men and gets handsy at office parties, we aren’t going to hire additional staff so that you no longer have to work 80 hours a week, buuuut, we are going to encourage mindfulness, so you can be fully present and aware of how much we suck.

  42. Raincoaster*

    I can certainly see the value in circles among certain groups, like a group of clients with one moderator or a bunch of people on the same level in a group, but it’s literally incompatible with hierarchies. And the straight-up religion of “an offer to the ancestors” has no place outside of an organization about that particular religion. It’s offensive to people who don’t practice that religion AND offensive to people who do, because it’s appropriation. The same doesn’t as ply to circles because that’s an interpersonal technique, not a religious practice.

  43. Naw*

    You said you would ask your team and get back so maybe ask in your next zoom meeting (between actual action item discussions), “Show of hands who wants to lay bare their soul at work for ‘circle time?’” When you get a lukewarm response you can tell your boss there wasn’t enough interest from the team for this activity.

  44. Unkempt Flatware*

    Man, the title of this lends itself so well to calling it something that rhymes with Circle Work. Start calling it that at the water cooler and maybe it will gain traction so much that the managers hear it.

    1. Amber Rose*

      It took me a second and then I choked. This is EXACTLY what this is and exactly what I’d be calling it in my head at all times (and out loud with friends).

  45. Storm in a teacup*

    I find this so interesting. We have a ‘circles’ mentoring program at my work that is specifically for women. It’s a one year program and facilitators are women in senior roles. The program is across the global company so all of the people in my circle are not colleagues I would interact with normally and has been brilliant for networking too. We focus each month on a different topic and I’ve found it brilliantly led and managed and had really helped me to reflect on how I approach work in a positive way.
    On the flip side, last year following BLM protests my manager wanted to hold a team discussion workshop about racism. I felt very strongly that I didn’t think their proposed idea was useful because of how they were planning on running it. Initially they decided that I could facilitate if I didn’t want to join in. I then pointed out as the only POC on the team they were essentially saying you can facilitate a group of non POC discuss what racism POC experience?! It took an extremely blunt (on my side) telephone discussion with my boss to explain why this wouldn’t be appropriate in the format they were considering but they did listen.
    Our wider organisation I feel has taken some great steps on listening to issues faced by POC, especially African American colleagues at work and have begun the process of addressing these at an organisational level eg considering how we run our internship programs so not disadvantaging people because we focus on certain schools or academic records only.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      Ooh, a positive example! That’s cool–what kinds of topics do they discuss?

  46. Richard*

    I’ve recently moved to a more progressive field in a very progressive city. Where I haven’t experienced anything as inappropriate as this, I’ve seen a similar messy confluence of politics, spirituality, and business that can be unwelcoming to people who are not already fully invested in that culture. Good on you for pushing back and good luck with how this resolves.

  47. rachel in nyc*

    I still think everyone’s offices should just give up and join my office in being cheap and play online bingo for team building.

    Every want to know both how competitive your coworkers are, while both being unable to listen to directions? Online bingo will teach you this.

    And the answer is that my coworkers and I are incredibly competitive. Over bingo. On computerized cards. The whole game is as random as a game can be.

    But yeah, now there is a bingo addiction- it’s all we play cuz that always gets the vote.

  48. Human Embodiment of the 100 Emoji*

    This reminds me soooo much of another inappropriate workplace “exercise” I experienced at an internship. The head of education for the program was leading some sensitivity/bias training activities (which were mostly fine). The last one ended up being a “cross the line” type activity, where you would cross a line and face your coworkers if the statement was true for you. I think this exercise could have maybe been ok if the questions were carefully selected, but they ended up being things like “cross the line if you have a relative in jail” or “cross the line if you’ve ever contemplated suicide”. Not okay!!!

    That internship was wild start to finish, I still can’t believe half the things that went on there. This isn’t even like, close to the wildest violation of workplace norms.

  49. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    I am very woo-woo in my private life (Wiccan high priestess, even) but even if I were working with a group just like me, this is NOT APPROPRIATE AT WORK.

  50. Deborah*

    I’m getting involved in prison and policing abolition activism, and so I am learning about what restorative justice really is and it’s literally sickening to see it coopted into an authoritarian structure in this way! Restorative justice is about finding ways to deal with harms that have been done in ways that heal the community instead of centering vengeance.

  51. Rachel*

    As someone who, myself, is also deeply skeptical of / impatient with “feelings forward” workplace practices, I think I should point out that when you are asked to participate in this stuff, there’s a respectful way to object, and a confrontational way to object. I’m reading between the lines here, but “pointed comments” at the first meeting, followed by getting called out by the manager who is “upset about [their] actions” in the circle suggests the LW’s approach may have been more at the confrontational end of the spectrum, at least at first. With such a bad start, even with effort it’s going to be hard to minimize participation w/o coming across as engaging in passive aggressive resistance.

    I also think there’s a big unaddressed assumption here that the LW’s desire to minimize their own participation equates to their entitlement to put a stop to the practice for everyone. Can’t help but notice there’s no assessment given for how other people in this workplace feel. Is it b/c the LW didn’t even take a temp check before deciding they need to fight this? I mean, sure, I too would love to not see a lot of performative “feelings” stuff like this at work, but I don’t necessarily feel that I’m the person who is either obligated or ENTITLED to put a stop to it. But even if I were, the right way to do it is probably not through disruption and passive aggression.

    1. Chickaletta*

      I do agree that LW’s approach was confrontational and started off the dialogue with her bosses on the wrong foot. Trying to have a conversation with them at this point isn’t going to go very far – both sides have clearly staked their ground and her boss has been put on the defensive. There are softer ways she could have brought up this issue for sure. But I do think she has a right to be able to stop it – everyone at work has a responsibility to make their workplace safer and appropriate.

      For the record, I would hate being forced to participate in a sharing circle. I’m a fairly private person and I also like to keep up a reputation for professionalism at work – it’s part of why I like my job! I get to be known for being the better aspects of my personality I like. Tearing that wall down would not make me a better employee or coworker, I am pretty certain of that.

    2. Coder von Frankenstein*

      “Entitled to put a stop to it?” Anyone who gets something like this dropped on them at work is absolutely entitled to put a stop to it. You don’t have to stop and do a temperature check when a work meeting turns into a quasi-religious ceremony.

      Now, maybe OP’s approach at the start was more confrontational than necessary, and there might have been a more diplomatic way to handle it. But a) that is water under the bridge now, and b) it’s asking a lot for somebody to hit exactly the right level of assertiveness in the moment.

    3. LizM*

      This is a good point. I don’t necessarily think OP’s points were wrong, but I do wonder what “a few pointed questions to the group about the appropriateness of this activity in a workplace setting” looked like. If other people were participating in good faith and felt like they were getting something out of it, it could have felt like an attack to them. Especially if clients were there.

      You can be right, and still raise issues in a non-productive way.

    4. New Jack Karyn*

      In a way, this is kind of like extreme sports team-building activities, or rounds of golf, or sales meetings at the strip club. They are all exclusionary activities and don’t belong at work. Able bodied people may love the white water rafting, and (some of the) men might enjoy afternoons at Paulie’s. But other folks are rightfully put off by them–and when they don’t/can’t participate, they lose out on work opportunities. Even if those opportunities are just ‘being seen as part of the team’, it can be detrimental to one’s career.
      That’s why this kind of thing doesn’t belong at work.

    5. ADHSquirrelWhat*

      This implies all boundary transgressions need to be dealt with /softly/.

      Sometimes lots of people agree with something that is still WRONG. Sometimes the harm to the one person outweighs whatever good-to-neutral everyone else gets.

      If I was in this workplace and suddenly shoved into an unexpected religious ritual, I would absolutely blow my top. The supposed good to other people does not outweigh the fact that I am being coerced into crossing a very important boundary for me.

      Some things should be opt-in at MOST. Some things are simply not okay. And if the response is confrontational – why is that bad? Why not confront? Respect goes both ways, and having this shoved on people is not respectful of them. Especially in the workplace, where your options are limited to begin with.

      I’m very bothered by the idea that confrontational reactions to having one’s boundaries napalmed is .. bad? Disrespectful? How ELSE does one respond?????

  52. Angel S.*

    As a Native American, this sort of thing always makes me extremely uncomfortable. It feels very much like appropriation…and people usually do not take it well when I vocalize that. Our traditions are often watered-down and misapplied by people who don’t understand (and often make no effort to do so). I have seen people do sweat lodge ceremonies for “team-building”! It’s offensive and I wish people would stop (especially the sweat lodge, which can be and has been fatal when run by people with no proper training).

    Perhaps the LW might want to mention to HR that this sort of thing—especially the ancestors part—could offend people with certain cultural-religious beliefs? I’m willing to bet that spending some time on Google would produce evidence that this is not the smartest or the legally safest method of team-building available.

  53. STEMprof*

    My kid’s school uses the circle approach, but without any spiritual stuff (it’s a public school), and with licensed psychologists or social workers facilitating. I think they only do it to address specific issues, eg conflict between students.
    OP’s description sounds like a nightmare.

    1. LizM*

      Restorative Justice makes a lot of sense in the school setting, especially as an alternative to traditional discipline (which has disparate racial impacts). It’s not just an activity to make everyone feel better.

  54. LizM*

    It’s been a while since I attended a Christian church, but an ancestral offering feels like it’s verging on a violation of the 10 commandments. I don’t mean that sarcastically – I am pretty sure that there are some Christian denominations for whom this would violate their beliefs. I know it would have made me incredibly uncomfortable when I was a practicing Evangelical Christian.

    I work with Native American Tribes and it is insulting to see their sincerely held religious beliefs co-opted into “rituals” with people who do not share those beliefs. No one would insist that everyone in a non-religious workplace participate in holy communion to “connect with our ancestors”. It’s well recognized that is a ritual tied to specific beliefs about the Last Supper (even if there is disagreement within the Christian community about how, exactly, to perform the ritual).

    1. Mental Lentil*

      Yes, this exactly. Yet another example of non-native people performing cultural appropriation, and moving rituals and traditions out of their context into a different one where they don’t belong. It sickens me, and people who pull this kind of crap need to stop, and then read up on why this is so offensive to indigenous populations. (Your example about holy communion is a great one which I will be stealing.)

  55. Embittered Curmudgeon*

    I would ask that everybody be respectful and inclusive of my view, as my ancestors were not worthy of respect, and, in fact, now join me in my spirituality in this time for all of us to hail the glorious Satan! Don’t judge me!

  56. Anon For This Comment Too*

    Hmm. I had a different reaction. But I saw things differently. As a person of color, if this was say, led by Indigenous people and the people being served by the nonprofit were Indigenous, I didn’t see a problem with it. That’s how I saw it at first and I thought it was great. Maybe not for day-to-day, though. And if it were informed by the folks who held these practices in stewardship for millennia I could trust that. I don’t know what this nonprofit is for. Could be for folks passing away, a convalescent home . . . I know I worked at a Christian nonprofit that people sent in requests for prayers with their donations. And I was told that privately, probably not during the work day, the senior staff members did pray together for those people. It’s all in how you do things.

    But unfortunately, that is probably not what is happening here. Context is so important. When something is taken out of its context and dropped into the workpace it becomes problematic. I’m not even going to center the workers since many folks have offered in other comments that perspective. What do the people who are served by this organization feel by this? Does it feel supportive or performative to them? Those are the folks I’m wondering about because ultimately, I think this workplace may want to help people. And the letter writer says that they people they serve are present in this. (They might be seriously offended or embarrassed, or feel supported. It’s difficult to know.)

    I reread the letter and it’s the letter writer’s opinion that it is quasi-hippie, and quasi-religious. But some practices were and are some folks’ cultural and actual spiritual practices. I don’t think employees should be obligated to attend any more than I was obligated to pray for the folks who envelopes I was opening to process donations. But I wouldn’t necessarily scorn these practices anymore than I would scorn a patron requesting a prayer.

    Cultural appropriation is a real thing. That could be exactly what is going on here. I don’t have enough information to know that for sure. I think that people need to tread lightly, because work isn’t safe for everyone and opting out without penalty should always be a choice. Involve the folks who actually started these practices, ask them if they are okay with you using it this way. Center that. Everything can’t just be transplanted into the workplace without careful discussion and deliberation. As for the OP, I think they were trying to do something good and mistepped. I usually take that up with people privately if I can.

    1. retired*

      I appreciate your comments. I participate in groups that try to “decolonize”. First, non indigenous people have to be really clear about their own white privilege and that takes a lot of courage. Believing you are a good person isn’t enough.

    2. Charlief*

      I worry about the power dynamic between the nonprofit and those ‘served’ by it.

      Feels like yet another time people who need help have to perform their own private experience in a way that gatekeepers approve of in order to gain access to whatever it if they need.

      I also feel that outside of the original context this feels like it’s an ideal way for abusers: con artists within the community to access and manipulate victims.

      1. Charlief*

        Finally fianally- a few people have said stuff like ‘when I’ve been involved in this it was run by BIPOC so it must be ok in those situations.

        It may be- however just because a person is a certain colour or says the right things doesn’t mean that person is helpful to the community. The absolute most conniving and harmful people I have met have been in ‘non hierarchical’ activist groups. Doesn’t mean we need to through everything away, but if something feels bad to you maybe don’t assume it’s great for a more vulnerable community because the leader is from that community.

        1. Anon For This Comment Too*

          Good points. I simply wonder what the people who are there for these circles that the organization serves, how do they feel?

          We just don’t know. Also, how to do the people whose culture these practices come from feel? No assumptions about how they feel, just questions.

          Just a thought that there could be another way to see the situation. But it’s difficult to know without being there and talking to everyone present. But that too puts people on the spot so how honest could they be? There is a lack of nuance and consideration in how this was handled from how the LW describes it.

  57. the cat's ass*

    OP, I’m so sorry.
    This is performative, tone-deaf and so very intrusive.

  58. Mrs. Hawiggins*

    I don’t have much to offer the OP other than humongous amounts of sympathy, and to add that there is NEVER a dull moment on this blog. I’m pretty sure if this was me and I was handed the talking stick, “I quit,” would utilize my full turn.

  59. Lily of the field*

    If I understand it correctly, one cannot, by law, be required to participate in religious ceremonies at work? How is this even being allowed? Am I incorrect? The “offerings to the ancestors” is a part of quite a few religions, and not only could this be taken as highly disrespectful, but also as requiring employees and clients to participate in religious ceremonies that they might be very uncomfortable with said requirement of participation. I consider myself to be a person of faith, but required participation in any type of religious ceremony while at work is not something I would be able to support. This is a dumpster fire on every level.

  60. JSPA*

    Sounds toxic as described and planned, but with a bit of subversion (or let’s say, re-direction) it could be redirected into something positive.

    Reframe the goal not as sharing one’s inner feelings, but as bringing some harmless and positive tidbit from one’s life, that will help people think of you as a real human being, not a job description. “Tell us something positive you’d like us to know about you” is the least-threatening, most individually-controlled version of this circle game.

    One option is to be proactive about it. If you have the guts for it, you can go back to the people above and say, “Due to concerns about cultural co-optation, personal autonomy, and the risk of bringing interpersonal drama and awkwardness into our smoothly-functioning professional workplace, I’d be interested in leading a different sort of brief circle, with an intentionally-limited focus.”

    Then, think of it all as an exercise in, “how to I know someone well enough to get them a card that says something other than, ‘it’s your birthday’ in block text on a plain background.”

    You start the chain. Something humanizing, but really low-stakes: “I don’t have or want a dog, but I have a soft-spot for corgis. The way they smile at me makes me grin like an absolute loon.”

    Someone who has anxieties talking to “the boss” may be more relaxed talking to “OP, the boss who grins at Corgis.” You feel thought-of, when you get a corgi-themed birthday card. And so on, around the circle.

    “My school club once built a chain of 5000 dominos in only three hours. We were so in the zone, it was amazing.”

    “Every summer, I forget how much I like the first crunch of winter ice under my shoe, then every winter, I get to rediscover it.”

    “There are robins building a nest outside my window!”

    “I often say I like books better than people, but for people, you guys are pretty decent.”

    “There’s a new mural at first and main–it’s a real pop of life.”

    Basically, if people under stress are tempted to treat their coworkers as a set of functions rather than as people, this low-level humanizing counters that urge. That does have value. The rest, though, is a big overstep, and not a good model for what sorts of emotional exposure belong in the workplace.

  61. Sleeping Late Every Day*

    Now, I’d just say “This is against my personal spiritual beliefs so I can’t participate.” If anyone was clueless enough to ask what that belief is, look ’em in the eye and say “Personal.” Repeat as needed until the circle jerks catch on.

  62. Elsewhere1010*

    A far as circle work on the job is concerned you can replace “wo” with “je” for a more accurate description of the activity.

  63. Iowa Teacher*

    I work in education and this is absolutely something I could see happening in my workplace. My administrators are obsessed with Brene Brown, and constantly force us to watch her TED Talks and other speeches during professional development and then having sharing time to discuss our vulnerabilities, etc. It’s absolutely framed in a personal way that I do not feel comfortable going into with coworkers. Zoom has been a blessing this year because I just keep myself muted and don’t participate unless I have to.

  64. Twill*

    I mean no disrespect to anyone’s belief system when I say this. Honestly I don’t. But I have never rolled my eyes so hard. I am an adult who works in your office. Treat me with respect and fairness. That’s all I really need for my employer and we don’t have to talk about our feelings. Ever

  65. Happy*

    Object comes to me, “I FEEL sorta sick and pressured by this whole activity.”
    And ancestor worship? I’m very religious, so should i talk about who I worship? Your work place is so weird and intrusive!

  66. singlemaltgirl*

    i get the sense that the op’s workplace is looking to de-colonize some of its structures and culture. they appear to be doing it in a way that’s abrupt and a little abrasive but i wouldn’t condemn the deconstruction aspect and it being slightly uncomfortable. de-construction and breaking norms usually does feel uncomfortable. and just b/c we’ve been doing it the colonial way doesn’t make it the right way – just the default way of doing it the way you’re comfortable with and know. that being said, there are ways to do this that don’t alienate your workforce. and it appears that it’s not alienating others but it certainly is alienating the op.

    personally, i wouldn’t have raised my issues at a ‘circle’. these have been happening for awhile (pre-covid) so i would have taken my concerns and my discomfort to my boss directly in the spirit of what the circles are supposed to represent but which i may not be feeling. by doing it publicly after having been doing it for awhile, you blindsided your boss and probably other people in general. can’t say for certain b/c there seems to be a lot of missing context here.

    what is clear is the op is uncomfortable and doesn’t like the shift in culture and doesn’t feel heard. she may not be the right ‘fit’ for where the culture is heading and it may be best to find a new org sooner rather than later.

    1. Charlief*

      Something that is appropriate in a context where everyone knows each other, probably knew their parents and their parents and have to work together cooperatively in order to survive will probably not work in a different context.

      I would suspect that the tribes who use to us have a lot of experience with them including a lot of unsaid rules and traditions that keep them safe- making it actually a safe place (although I would suggest that the idea of a ‘safe’ space is really weird when those people have to work together anyway and there will be various hierarchies in place anyway).

      The whole thing seems coercive to me and seems to be predicated on people not being people in a way that seems funky to me.

  67. a sound engineer*

    Oh man, this reminded me of a nonprofit I worked at that did the whole safe space circle thing. Another volunteer and I were picked to lead the quarterly member’s meeting, which we did, and then the circle began… and quickly devolved into accustations, recriminations, yelling and tears, and went on and on and on while the rest of us sat through it both horrified and fascinated. The people and volunteers that I worked with directly at that spot were great, but the office staff were something, that’s for sure… I wonder what it was like the morning after when everyone went into work.

  68. Maxie*

    This is wrong for all the reasons everyone else discussed. Depending on what staff and clients discuss, these circles could lead to secondary or vicarious trauma. The whole thing is messed up on so many levels.

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