Teambuilding in the ‘lurve’ bath

GROUP affirmation, I imagine, is something like I imagine group sex to be, I imagine: some get more out of it than others, I imagine – not that I think about it often, really.

This occurred to me as I lay flat on my back on the floor, as rigid as a cellphone mast on a windless Karoo day, at a recent corporate teambuilding workshop. Swathed in a blanket – face included – and surrounded by 14 fellow participants, it was my turn to experience the “lurve bath”, which was part of an exercise (of North American extraction) in group affirmation.

Dangerously too much like a group hug for my comfort, the “lurve” part of it required those who encircled me to, one by one, reach out and touch my arm or shoulder, simultaneously expressing some generous words of positive affirmation regarding what they had observed about my character and/or any contributions I may have made to the day’s events thus far.

As terrified and vulnerable as the proverbial sacrificial lamb, I waited for the first tender touch and compliment. It took, it seemed, forever to materialise and I wondered if I might experience my first panic attack right there and then. And the aim of the exercise was to make me feel good about myself?

The theory behind the lurve or affirmation bath is that no matter how hard your subconscious tries, it will not succeed in blocking out a barrage of multi-directional voices that articulate wonderfully flattering things about you. These positive messages – accentuated by the corresponding physical touch – then slide into your sub-conscious, where they are absorbed and stored to swell your sense of worth and confidence.

Experts on the subject of affirmation say that developing a positive mindset is a powerful way of achieving personal and professional success. Where mastered, positive affirmation techniques, they claim, can be used to develop tremendous personal power and business prowess.

In most cases, positive affirmation exercises involve the process of self-appraisal and the development of encouraging personal mantras, which are then repeated to you, by you. Based on the premise that when you want to make changes in your life, the words and thoughts you say to yourself are crucial, successful positive affirmation enables you to re-programme your thought patterns to alter the way you think and feel about things for the better.

Group affirmation takes it one step further. In this case, others come up with the positive messages about you. This means the affirmations may surprise you. For example, where prior to the workshop I believed myself to be blunt and brash, another member of the group praised me for being candid and assured. And whereas another participant saw himself as ditheringly indecisive, he was thoroughly commended, during his lurve bath, for his “cautious and measured approach”. The self-confessed “drama queen” amongst us was applauded for her “spirited contributions”.

After we had each wallowed (or squirmed) in the lurve bath, the facilitator led a general discussion on the impact of the activity on each of us. While it emerged that I was not alone in feeling ill at ease – particularly during the blanketed stage – the majority of the group claimed to have taken great pleasure in the exercise and to have benefited from it.

Most believed that, coming from others (as opposed to being self-generated), positive affirmations are more plausible and easier to accept as the truth. Clichés like “we are so hard ourselves” and “we do not always recognise our own strengths” were regularly aired.

The group concurred that the most meaningful and credible affirmations were those that were supported by explanations.For example, Mr Ditheringly Indecisive was congratulated on “your unfaltering honesty, which was repeatedly demonstrated by your “I don’t know” contributions to the day’s proceedings”.

Positive affirmation? I was not convinced. Even so, I am hanging on to “candid and assured” – but am unlikely to put so much as a toe into another lurve bath.

(Originally published in my If The Hat Fits column in the Real Business supplement in Business Day in 2007.)

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Freelance writer based in Hout Bay near Cape Town in South Africa.
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