This was intense for everyone in the room

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Credit: Lindsay Adamski

The second retreat workshop, “Bank Robbery,” came wholesale from MacGregor’s book. It’s an activity designed to lay bare the communication styles of a group by requiring it to solve a crime. Everyone got two or three unique clues, which they had to share orally, without writing anything down or moving around. YAB, in other words, had to talk this one through. And they had 25 minutes to do so.

I had no idea if they were going to be able to figure out the mystery in time, though I informed them that the process would be illuminating either way. YAB spent the first ten minutes trying to arrive at a reasonable method for sharing their clues. They tried going around in a circle, then they attempted to jump around the group by linking seemingly related clues, and then they argued about whose clues were the most important. Lindsay, Amy, and I kept eyeing each other. I don’t think any of us were optimistic about YAB coming to a solution.

But then something happened about halfway through the process. Brentin said, “Let’s work together,” and Nahjee figured out that they had to sort their clues between facts and accusations. Once things started to gel, the group gained a lot of momentum and people started to make connections between clues. They arrived at all the answers right before their time was up.

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Credit: Lindsay Adamski

The debriefing was really fantastic. I started YAB off with a couple of questions, but pretty soon they were talking to each other rather than to me, and I was able to take a step back and just listen. Keyma and Vanessa noticed that it wasn’t productive to insist that your own clues and opinions were the most important, that each clue was necessary for solving the mystery, and that they had to give everyone’s ideas a chance.

Zhanna pointed out that although the activity was fun, it raised serious issues that YAB consistently finds itself falling victim to. At this point they decided to figure out a solution to their tendency to talk over each other. Jermaine suggested installing a Sergeant at Arms to enforce their “one mic” policy. They debated for a bit about whether or not this should be a permanent or rotating role.

Keyma said that in another group she belonged to they passed around a talking object that signaled who was allowed to speak at any given time. A lot of people seemed to bristle at the idea that they needed to resort to such measures.

“We’re professionals and college students. We don’t need an object.”

“If’ we’re college students, we should act like it.”

Here Brentin started to interrupt, but then he took a sharp breath in and smiled.

“At least you caught yourself.”

So they continued to argue about whether or not they should rely on a talking object and whether or not the Sergeant at Arms should be a permanent role. In the end, they decided to put it all up for a vote at a future meeting.

There was a moment in all this—a very, very brief period—when the room got a lot quieter and you only heard one voice at a time. Nahjee observed that “we all have the capability to not speak over each other.” I hesitated to jump in because I wanted to have a light touch during the reflection period, but I thought that her point was worth underscoring to the group. A friend recently handed me a child development book after I described my program to her. She parents a two year old and said that one of the best tactics she’s learned to build on positive behavior is to praise her daughter for the smallest of actions. So if her daughter is being loud and happens to pause for a breath, she’ll say something like “That’s so good that you’re being quiet!” This advice resonates a lot with what I’ve been reading about in Switch. More than a few YAB members were skeptical, but I am confident that over time they will learn that life’s greatest miracles can have the most modest of starts.

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