Priya Parker photo
ATD Blog

What Is Your Need for Coming Together?

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Will you be open to risk? How will you show up? Priya Parker’s keynote at ATD23.

Gatherings, whether of eight people or 9,000, are a dance between the we and the I, explained Priya Parker during her second-day keynote address. They involve giving up an amount of the “I” to be part of the “we.”

In “The Art of Gathering Live Experience,” Parker—a facilitator, strategic advisor, author, and lifelong curious learner—stated that gatherings begin before people sign on to Zoom or walk into the room. They begin with how we create space and are dictated, in part, by the architecture of the meeting. For example, a seminar that has rows of chairs incentivizes people to talk to the person next to them rather than mingling.

The first 5 percent of the gathering—as Parker described it, “a temporary alternative world”—will be instrumental to having meaningful experiences, and this is not just reliant on the host, it’s also a matter of how we “guest.” We have a lot of power as guests; we “help the group find itself.”

In conducting research for her book, The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters, Parker found that a memorable, transformative gathering is created when people don’t have a specific idea of what the gathering must look like. So, to improve the gathering experience, you should be free from preconceived notions.

Rothstein - ATD23 - Priya Parker
This temporary alternative world may include pop-up rules—rules or norms that the group decides to abide by among themselves. Parker provided an example of a journalist who wanted to have a party. Parker asked the journalist about her needs. A brief discussion led the woman to state that, apart from her profession, she was a worn-out mom who hadn’t tended to her own needs for far too long. The need for the party, therefore, emerged as other worn-out moms needing to have a break from that aspect of themselves and their routine. A rule for the party was that whenever anyone slipped into talking about their children, they had to do a shot of tequila.

Parker’s interactive session included her posing questions of attendees: “Are you a smoother-overer or peacemaker; a troublemaker or prodder?” She mentioned that individuals who have both qualities are disproportionately likely to be part of transformative conversations.


It is as dangerous to have unhealthy peace as it is to have unhealthy conflict, and far too many institutions have too much of the former. Transformation involves risk; change does not happen without risk. Parker then posed four questions that can be considered vis-à-vis risk and gatherings: What is this group avoiding? What is the gift in helping them face it? What is the risk in helping them face it? And is the gift worth the risk?

To effect change, Parker advised attendees to learn their own conflict style (if you don’t know yours, ask your teammates—they know it).

Help “strengthen the backflip” (in other words, change up the opinions, dynamic, or culture) was her second piece of advice. For example, a manager came to Parker for help because the manager was perceived as only wanting to hear the positives. At Parker’s urging, the manager began to start meetings by asking for everyone’s roses and thorns of the week (a good circumstance and a negative circumstance). There was no stipulation to keep the discussion work-related. After several weeks, the psychological safety of the team grew. This method also changed the final 55 minutes of the meetings and the perception the team members had of their manager as only wanting to hear about the roses.

As you set out to plan your next meeting or training session, first determine the need for the gathering. Stay curious and ask, “What is needed now?” Understand that your needs will change and you should reevaluate your answer regularly.

About the Author

ATD23 News is your source for news, updates, and session coverage for ATD’s 2023 International Conference & EXPO.

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Very insightful session with a lot of learning.
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