More ears

Next time I help a group work together, I’m going to try an experiment.

I’m thinking of asking people to count to three after someone speaks before the next person has a go.

Not the whole conversation - just for one or two activities. I think it might help shift the patterns we have of ‘listening to speak’ to paraphrase Brandon Klein.

A group I worked with recently had an inspiring conversation about what it feels like to be ‘consulted’ or ‘engaged’ by government. What started as a quick, context-setting activity became a fascinating conversation about relevance, timing, trust, respect, capability to participate and whose voice is often missing.

People were energised, excited and wanted to contribute. Some more than others, as is often the case.

I guided the conversation as lightly as possible, mostly using my eyes to invite contributions from quieter people. It felt a little like the ‘cabeceo’ in tango. That’s when a leader uses their eyes to invite a follower to dance. Subtle and respectful.

Tango offers a few other tactics to help extend pauses in groups. At the end of a dance, the couple stays in their embrace for a few seconds or so after the song has finished. The effect is to sustain the connection that was hopefully created in the dance. Just hold onto the magic a little longer.

I reckon it would be good to hold the silence after someone speaks in the same way. Who knows what magic might emerge?

Pausing for three seconds, and the silence that results could help to find the common ground that so many groups I work with are looking for. And once that’s found,

“…it is far easier to discuss differences, points of disagreement or conflict, in a mature and respectful way.”

A good friend of mine is witty, urbane and a great raconteur. He’s also courteous and waits for others to finish what they’re saying. Sometime he tells me that he feels like he misses the boat. The conversation has moved on before he’s had a chance to contribute.

He’s told me it feels like he’s swum out to a rock, only to pull himself up on it to find that everyone has move on. It’s tiring. It can feel lonely. And the group misses out on his gems. How might his thoughts have changed the direction of the conversation? Sometimes we’ll never know.

I’ve only recently discovered Oscar Trimboli’s ‘Deep Listening’ podcast and book. I was astonished to learn that only 2% of people are taught how to listen. No wonder we struggle.

I’m not going to wait for the International Day of Listening on 19 September to try my experiment. The theme this year is ‘Be Bold! Listen for ‘common’ ground.’ The groups I work with can’t wait that long.

I think three seconds might help to shift a few patterns. It will definitely make me a better facilitator.

What do you think?