I remember seeing Alan Aykbourn’s play Absent Friends some years ago at the theatre. The main character is Colin, whose fiance has just been drowned and has been invited for a tea-party with friends to help him get over it. The friends are determined not to let this unhappy event mar the event, and so go to great efforts not to mention it. This being Aykbourn, confusion, comedy and pathos follow; for example when asked how she likes her tea one of the character unthinkingly replies “just a spot of milk… don’t drown it!”.
As a solution-focused practitioner, I am always on the lookout for what is working, what strengths people show and to be generally appreciative. This is indeed a key aspect of any good host – imagine how it would be if we were scornful of someone’s dress or hair, for example. However, good hosts also deploy another skill – spotting what is missing.
Sometimes what is missing can be obvious – a guest without a seat, for example. Other times the missing aspect may be less obvious – something is not quite right, perhaps people are a little uneasy about something, or something has not been acknowledged. A good host (and a good host leader) will be alert to such situations and will then act to nudge things in the right direction. The acting, however, is often a gentle nudge rather than a wholesale panic. A chair appears by the standing guest. A confidence-boosting word is dropped into the conversation. A small acknowledgement is given. And then, tension released, we can all get on with the matter in hand.