Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Cross talk

My home group meeting has several newcomers to Al-Anon. And they know each other from their church. So with their familiarity, the meeting becomes a bit dominated by the newcomers who like to cross talk with each other.

Personally, I find the interruptions distracting. Meetings are a sacred place for me. And to have chatter going on about shares is mostly a serenity breaker for me. I guess that I'm a bit rigid when it comes to meeting formats. It's that perfectionist character defect coming up.

Actually, the World Service Organization has no rule against "cross talk" though it is avoided as a matter of custom at most of the meetings I attend. Typically "cross talk" refers to people speaking out of turn, interrupting someone while they are speaking or giving direct advice to someone in a meeting. At most meetings, we each share our own experience and avoid giving direct advice or lecturing a group or individual.

Sometimes the cross talk can take a harmful format though. I've not heard it much but occasionally have heard from newcomers: "You really oughta" or "You need to" or simply not speaking from experience, strength and hope.

Because Al-Anon has no "rules", the ultimate arbiter of the subject is the individual group. I can see that newcomers often need to speak up and are seeing much of what is shared from their own painful perspective. That's really okay as they need to feel safe and just have the courage to speak up in the group.

And if members know one another well, as they tend to in small groups like my home group, they feel comfortable about adding to what another said. Often there will be a crisis situation that will be shared. Last night, a member shared that her son had gone back out and was arrested. She shared her pain and others chimed in to reassure or to share theirs.

But there is a different view point on cross talk too. Having come from a situation in which there was alcoholism, I often felt invalidated and ignored. What I wanted was to be heard and listened to. So giving each other undivided attention and acceptance at meetings is reassuring in many ways. I don't want someone to editorialize my share, belittle what I have to say, or offer advice in a meeting.

For me, cross talk is a fragile balance between being direct and to the point and between interrupting to the extent where I wonder is this helping ANYONE or is this just taking up space and using up oxygen in the room? We are only experts on us. Barring psychosis, we know what we did and where we were and how we felt about it. The "Why" isn't always so obvious and takes a lot of inventorying.

But people who are allowed to analyze other people have to have a degree in psychology and a license. When someone shares in an Al-Anon meeting, the value, besides letting them unload, is in letting us see ourselves through their stories. We may not be in all of them, but we will be in many. And in seeing ourselves through the mirror of another person we can be helped to change ourselves. It is not our responsibility to change that person, and we have no reason to assume we are qualified to point out what they are doing right or wrong.

Another viewpoint about cross talking can be inferred from the Traditions. It may violate Tradition One which speaks of our unity and common welfare. And it also seems that Tradition Twelve which says that we place principles above personalities comes into play. I like the idea of keeping the meetings principle centered and not personality centered.

It is to the particular credit of our program that each group, autonomous yet devoted to the principles of the program is free to develop its own personality and that in many places there are a number of meetings in which each of us can find the group which nurtures us in our growth.


  1. I think that much like you - being heard in a meeting, not validated or given other peoples thoughts but simply being heard is the thing that helps me the most.

    Cross talk does not happen often in my meetings, but sometimes how it is delt with can be just as unfortunate as cross talk itself...

  2. Curtailing cross talk is the table leader's job, but needs to be done in a gentle way.
    I find cross talk to be almost always not helpful. I have seen meetings disintegrate when it starts.

  3. Syd, When I'm leading a table, I will say, very nicely, that we don't allow cross talking while a member is sharing. I know people get embarrassed by that as I was the first time someone said it to me. Its not a big deal, and if they persist, I will just say, 'we heard you when it was your turn to talk now its ______'s turn.' This sort of thing happens all the time. The only time it doesn't work is when someone shows up drunk. And they do.

  4. Like Ann, when I'm chairing, I make a point of reminding everyone that we have chosen not to permit crosstalk at that meeting, as we want it to be a safe place where we can be heard without interupption or comment on our shares. If someone does try to crosstalk, I will remind them that we have chosen not to allow this, and please respect that.
    I have a sponsee now who told me she was so insulted and offended by one of my gentle reminders that she almost didn't return - when she tells this story, she always laughs at the memory of her indignation.

  5. Cross talk annoys the hell out of me. Particularly when it takes the form of someone offering advice or lecturing the person sharing. If they feel such a pressing need to offer words of wisdom, they can talk it outside after the meeting.

    Gratefully, we have a gal in our Womens Meeting who will shut down the cross talkers the moment it gets out of hand. We can always count on her. LOL.

  6. We had this recently come up with one of the groups I attend. A new person was sharing and venting and then everyone started directing their sharing toward the person. I didn't really think of this as crosstalking but it did make the person uncomfortable. I always thought that crosstalk was and exchange back and forth. The group decided to make a statement saying that the group discouraged cross-talk and to share from personal experience and not to direct sharings to an individual. At another meeting recently someone was commending another for taking care of their elderly parents. This was out of turn and disruptive. These kinds of things seem to happen when new people join the group and usually resolve themselves. Without specific rules it amazes me how well things work for the most part.

  7. I am not wild about cross talk in a meeting. It happens, but not too frequently.

    I appreciated your thoughts on this.


  8. Thanks for this post. Preachin' to the choir here. All of my meetings now have no cross talk. One meeting is Call Up and the other two "open it up" for the last 10 minutes or so. I sit quietly usually during those last few minutes (mantra: principles above personalities) as this is when the cronies really get going and I don't understand some of the inside info. that they have with each other. I pacify myself by telling myself they need this, as they're obviously in crisis.
    All of my meetings have a little paragraph they read right after all the the steps and traditons are read about how the meeting is run and that's to avoid cross talk.
    I used to attend one that had people interrupting and talking over each other...ouch! Hurt my heart. None of those folks had sponsers, that's the place for that type of conversation...with a sponser or a group of Al Anons at a coffee shop or something.

  9. Up here, as individual groups we take a group conscience and vote whether we want to allow it. Then draft a statement defining it/discouraging it that is put into the opening welcome.It's group choice.

    And in CoDA mtgs the definitions can be VERY stringent and may include laughter and other noises.

  10. al anons are 'ninjas' on the control-freakery front so no wonder you pick up on the controlling or manipulating aspect of cross talk.

    in aa i know if people act in a way that the group has decided against, it is permissible for the secretary to interject and say 'in keeping with the decision of the group we ask you ...not to share longer than three minutes/ not share if you have had a drink today and someone will talk to you after the meeting/ or whatver.

    that seems to work in enforcing group rules.

  11. Amen brother!!!

    ...ooops ;-)

    Good post - sometimes taking control of a meeting to deal with improper or impolite sharing is the job of the chair in my home group. We have some who are better at chairing than others imltho. Very seldom to I "step in" or deal directly with a "problem" but I have and will (as a group member - not as someone with authority). I hate doing it, but I will.

    I've also left meetings/groups where their format was not appropriate.

    Blessings and thanx...

  12. to me crosstalking should be done before and after the meeting,while the meeting is going on the person talking is the one's who message should be heard.Just saying.

  13. Wow thanks for prep before I go and check out being a double winner. The cross talk is discouraged in my home group too but it rears its head from time to time. I've been guilty of it and have had it done to me. Sometimes I wish there was more cross talk because when somebody has a powerful vent or dump its like chumming the waters. As soon as the prayer ends that person (me) gets attacked from all sides with "good advice." It might be kinda nice to get smaller doses. If I have learned anything in AA it's that I need to stay away from anything that comes in excess. That includes advice.
    Thanks for the invite to your fellowship.

  14. What they all said. My peeve is when Newcomers start giving adivice they got from REHAB. Poor things they are so busy showing how much they know, they don't learn and soon disappear. I just hate that. Thanks Syd.

  15. We have no crosstalk at our meetings.
    When the group was first set up it was maybe to rigid.
    One year on at then end of the shares you can now "add" to a share and comment as a help to that person with the knowledge you have to benefit them (whilst speaking out not only to that person but including the group.

  16. Syd, you write your blogs in such a fashion, that I can never get a good "cross-talk" argument going with you--even if it were to be in my own head!

  17. My AA home group has a no cross talk policy but it rears its head from time to time. I'm guilty of it and am often the recevier of it. I sometimes wish there was more cross talk. Whenever somebody (me) has a tough share it is like chumming the water. As soon as the meeting is over the Big Book sharks smell blood and swarm a person with "good advice". It might be nicer to get it in smaller doses. If I have learned anything in AA it's that anything in excess is bad for me. Even "good advice" and "best intensions".

  18. Uh oh - - - sounds to me like a group conscience is in order here. Surely, this group made up a set of 'group traditions;' if not, I think, as a regular (home) member, you have the right to ask that such guidelines be outlined, then listed. Oh yea, rules can be broken; they are just good guidelines!

    I learned many years ago in Al-Anon that I could make notes to speak of when my turn to share came. It really was a relief (after some embarrassment in being reminded of the 'guidelines') to assume the discipline of each person having an equal turn without judgment or criticism. I had come from a family of 7 - the eldest child (me) - and each of us would speak loudly and out of turn just because we were afraid we'd forget the important news we needed to share. I experienced similar problems with my own family of 5 children with a husband - - - everyone talking over each other, without any consideration for simply waiting till the turn came up. Very frustrating indeed. I learned in Al-Anon the importance of live and let live - or listen and wait my turn! All of a sudden, I was really 'hearing' things and not needing to be HEARD all the time!

    Good luck, Syd - - - I hope this problem will get straightened out; I personally empathize with you, as I do not appreciate the discussion of religion, or interruptions, or receiving advice from someone suffering as badly as I.

    Another thought - - - you may consider doing a program on the 'Three Obstacles' found in the back of a pamphlet 'The Twelve Steps and Traditions.'

    Love ya,
    Anonymous #1

  19. You are much more diplomatic than I.

    I hate cross talk. Period.

  20. 'We have but one ultimate authority, a loving God as he may express Himself in our group conscience".

    Meetings were the only place my mind could be quiet in early sobriety. Newcomers don't always know what a gift this is yet. They will learn, by the gentle example of the rest of the group. If it persists, it may be time for a group conscience to decide how best to handle it.

  21. there were a few women at my old homegroup who would absolutely shut down any cross-talk. when i first went to that meeting, i thought they were a little harsh and didn't see the big deal. after a few months of being a part of the group, i was grateful they cared enough about the meeting to speak up.

  22. Sometimes, when the person that speaks just before me has such a heartwrenching share, I WANT to say something directly to them. At that moment. But, I don't. I will look at them though, and pause, maybe touch them. And then I will start my share. Which is about me. In my home group if crosstalk starts, the chair will gently explain what it is and that it is not allowed.

  23. Hi Syd,

    What a great post! Thanks so much! I really admire the recovery, ownership, and open-mindedness inherent in it. Even though you don't like the cross-talk, you're open to the possibility that "your" way isn't "the" way.

    That said, I totally agree with you. I think one of the things that makes a meeting a meeting IS the ability to talk uninterrupted and without being advised. It leaves each person the respect and dignity to work out his/her own problems.

    It reminded me a little of two health-of-the-group readings in One Day at a Time that always help me:
    * March 17 (page 77)
    * March 28 (page 88)

    Thanks again!


  24. No. Crosstalk. Ever.

    Thank you.

  25. Yes I agree Syd, we dont get much in our group but when it does occur it feels really out of place and everyone will turn and look at the person doing the cross talk.
    Thats why then we only talk about our own experience strength & hope.
    Good post

  26. Oh and thanks for this post I really needed to affirm that fact that cross talking doesn't allow us to have a safe place to share.

  27. I am having a hard time in the new area we moved. It seems like every meeting I go to in this new area there is a TON of cross talking. Not only that but I went to a meeting last night and everyone was cross talking and cross sharing. They were straigtening everyone else out. It was HORRIBLE. So much so I'm looking at starting a new meeting with a different format.
    I used to go to a meeting that had a reading about cross talking, does anyone know where I can find that?

  28. It is very unfortunate when newcomers run meetings (yes, it happens!) and don't really understand what the meaning or the purpose of avoiding crosstalk really is. At this meeting I just went to they read this weird definition of crosstalk somewhat made up to include "we don't use 'we' statements" (I hope you see the irony in that alone). So i find myself saying "sometimes we think [...]" and the secretary INTERRUPTS MY SHARE to say "excuse me, we don't say 'we' at this meeting - it's to keep our meeting safe".
    WTF!!!!!!!!!! She effectively succeeded in making the meeting feel totally unsafe to me to the point I don't want to go back.
    I told her that is not the Alanon crosstalk definition and the response I got was "each meeting is autonomous". Which is true. And which leaves me with the feeling that wow, some meetings are complete fucking insanity!!!
    It really is too bad and it's also not fair.
    How do you help restore some sanity into a situation like that? How does one say "hey, this is not a fucking free-for-all here, where someone comes up with some definition that works for them and it becomes the rule!".
    Any suggestions??

  29. My problem is a bit different. An old timer at our meeting insists on asking newcomers to 'Tell us a little bit about yourself or why you are here'...I cringe every time I hear this, as I remember my first meeting, 24 years ago, and would have felt compelled to talk, even if I didnt want to. I feel that asking a 'newcomer' any questions directly during a meeting is a form of crosstalk? Am I wrong??


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