Noticing Circles: A Powerful Coping Mechanism

Sep 14, 2020

An image of the Toronto skyline with two hands holding a circle in the middle of the image. The text "noticing circles" is in the centre of the image.

An image of Ben Martin, former summer intern at Challenge Factory.


By Ben Martin, Former Summer Intern | Contact Ben |
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The daily news has been heavy for a while now, and I know that I am not alone in feeling emotionally drained by the constant bombardment of bad news. To cope with this deluge of tough news, we at Challenge Factory have been gathering over video chat every two weeks and engaging in a “Noticing Circle”.   

The Noticing Circle functions much like a “sharing circle” would in kindergarten. We take turns telling the group what we have been noticing, then as a group, we take each noticing and break it down. Surprisingly, we tend to notice many of the same things, despite being an intergenerational team living very different lives. One week we noticed there was a lot of discussion about being fatigued. At the next Circle it seemed like many were finding decision-making is more difficult during the pandemic. We also collectively noticed an abundance of solutions to problems being offered, but none feeling satisfying or complete. These are just a few examples among dozens of noticings we made over the course of the summer. 

However, the magic of the Noticing Circle is not in each noticing itself, but in the discussions generated from them. As a small, intergenerational team with different experiences and backgrounds, we approach each noticing differently, arriving at the noticings in our own unique way. Personally, the Noticing Circles have been instrumental to deconstructing the hailstorm of stressful news and providing actionable solutions to the challenges we’ve all noticed. 

It is in the breakdowns of each noticing that the strength of an intergenerational team becomes apparent. While we have all generally had the same noticings, the different generations have noticed them in different ways, leading to a diverse range of solutions. As a team, we are able to discuss each noticing and determine how best to approach the challenge or underlying cause. Each noticing becomes a symptom or clue to monitor and decode. 

Take the noticing that we are finding decision-making more taxing than before the pandemic. With new COVID-related considerations added to every decision, making even the simplest of choices has become more difficult. As a summer student at Challenge Factory I noticed my own experience with this challenge differently than our president, Lisa Taylor. It was more difficult to be motivated to go grocery shopping or to see friends because of the new complexities, risks and decisions related to these previously simple tasks. Lisa noticed this pattern of delayed decision-making in her conversations with CEOs and leaders, who were struggling to make business decisions amidst so much uncertainty. I dealt with the challenge by making lists and staying as organized as possible, while Lisa shared some of the in-depth strategies she had presented the CEOs she was working with. More solutions were shared by other team members and, all of the sudden, I had 5 different ways to handle the challenge presented by the noticing. By sharing our different interpretations of each noticing, each team member is exposed to multiple different strategies to resolve the challenges presented by the noticings 

I have found our Noticing Circles to be very helpful during this period of stress and uncertainty and highly recommend this activity, as it provides every team an opportunity to capitalize on its diverse opinions and backgrounds for the betterment of the team as a whole. If you want to try your own noticing circle, here are three tips to get started: 

  1. Find a time every couple weeks to get together over video chat or in person that works for everyone on your team. 
  2. Designate one team member as the Noticing Circle moderator who will direct the conversation. 
  3. Ask team members to come prepared with at least one noticing to make sure the discussion is lively. 

I’d love to hear how your first Noticing Circle goes! You can reach me on LinkedIn.


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