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  • Writer's pictureTamsin Hartley

A space to be heard



Do you ever find yourself in a conversation with someone and they seem distracted, not really paying attention to what you are saying? Or they end up interrupting you with their opinions and advice? They ‘speak into your life’, telling you what you should be thinking and doing. You end up holding back a little or telling them what you think they want to hear.

 

Perhaps there are times when you find yourself doing the same to others: your mind is elsewhere, you interrupt, you offer your unsolicited advice and you ‘speak into their life’.

 

In my experience, this is the course that many conversations take. But there is another way. It is possible to create a space where people can explore their thinking without fear of being rushed or judged, and without having others step in to ‘fix’ them.

 

A Group Listening Space provides just this kind of space – a space where everyone in a group is encouraged to speak for themselves, without interruption. With one person acting as facilitator and a simple set of guidelines to follow, this easy-to-learn process gives each person the opportunity to speak in turn.

 

This process can be used whether meeting in person or online, so long as there is a specific reason for being together. This could be anything from a cancer support group, to a book club or parent group, to a meeting at work.

 

In this blog, I’ll explain what a Group Listening Space involves, including:


  • the rules that each person in the group must agree to follow

  • the role that the facilitator plays

 

I’ll then share comments from those who have taken part in Group Listening Space sessions, so that you can get a sense of how powerful this simple process can be.

 


GROUP LISTENING SPACE RULES

It is essential that everyone present agrees to the following two rules before joining the session to ensure a sense of safety:


  1. Confidentiality must be respected. What is said in the group stays in the group. This means that anyone joining online needs to be in a private space where others cannot overhear what is being said.

  2. Each person must commit to being present without distractions from phones or other devices.

 


FACILITATOR GUIDELINES

One person acts as facilitator each time the group meets. It can be a different person each time if the group chooses. What follows are a set of guidelines for the facilitator to follow.

 

Introducing the session

Explain the process to anyone who is new to it by saying something like this:

 

I’ll be inviting each of you in turn to share what arises for you, without interruption.

 

When you are speaker, you might want to pause to give yourself time for your thoughts to settle before speaking.


  • Speak only from the self, of your experience. Focus on what resonates with you personally, not on providing answers or solutions for others.

  • When you have finished what you want to say, just say thank you. This will be my cue to invite the next person to speak.

  • There is no need to speak if you would rather not. You can simply pass to the next person.

  • Alternatively, you may choose to sit in silence when it is your turn, and that’s fine. You can let me know when you are ready for the next person to take their turn.

 

I will take my turn at the end of the round.


We will be doing two rounds of the room – more if there is time.

 

Facilitating the rounds

Having explained the process, you will be ready to start your listening rounds. You will be taking two rounds of the room – more if you have time. Keep the same order of speakers each time.

 

  • Invite each speaker in turn to speak by asking them:

Are you ok to go next?


  • Each time the speaker has finished speaking, simply thank them, without commenting on what has been said.


  • If someone starts to offer their opinions or advice to others, gently bring them back to speak only of their experience by saying something like:

I’m going to invite you to bring this back to your experience, to your thoughts and feelings at this moment.


(I have never actually had to do this but would be ready to do so if needed)

 

  • If someone speaks out of turn, thank them, and invite them to bring what they have to say to their turn.

 

  • If someone tries to open out a group discussion – for example, by asking a question of others – you can respond by saying something like:

Thank you for that question.

Perhaps others will respond when it comes to their turn.

 

Ending the session

Invite the group to pause for a minute or so and notice what arises for them in response to the question:

 

What will you take away from our time together?

 

You can facilitate a final brief round by inviting each person to share their reflections in a sentence or two. 

 

With these clear guidelines in mind, you will be ready to hold your Group Listening Space. In my experience, this process works beautifully for up to eight people if you have an hour. It may well work for more people given more time. You can also use this process when there are just two of you wanting to hold space for each other.

 

 

REFLECTIONS ON BEING PART OF A GROUP LISTENING SPACE

The Group Listening Space process can feel unfamiliar at first. However, people usually settle into this way of listening very quickly and describe it as being a very positive experience. Here are some comments from people who have been part of a Group Listening Space.

 

On the process itself

‘It’s reassuring to know that the facilitator will hold the structure. It creates a seamless flow. They show by example that we don’t pass comment on what has been said. That we don’t give our opinions. That we don’t judge or criticise. It creates a sense of safety and makes us all feel equal.’

 

‘Having a remit for getting together creates an overarching connection and focus to what people talk about. For us it was about being a parent and everyone stays mindful of that.’

 

‘It really helps to know there will be a second round, even a third round if there is time. You listen to everyone, you hear yourself, and then the next round comes and takes things deeper and deeper.’

 

‘It feels very equal, like we’re all holding the space for each other and for ourselves. Although each person decides how long they speak for, we all seem to naturally monitor ourselves so that no one person dominates the session.’

This process is a really good way of getting us to listen to ourselves and to each other. The structure doesn’t allow the group dynamics that so often happens where one or two people dominate the discussion. It brings a clean-ness to that whole business of group dynamics.’

 

On being a speaker

‘It feels great to know you’ll be given a chance to speak, and to know that you don’t have to speak if you don’t want to. It’s your space.’

 

‘It creates a safe space for me to be truly reflective. I come to this group I connect with a softer, more intuitive side of myself. I don’t feel I have to live up to what somebody else has said. I can allow things to percolate within myself in response to what has been said. I can ask myself,

 

What actually am I feeling?

What is going on for me?

What is my body saying?’

 

‘Initially, I was apprehensive about choosing to miss my turn on a round. But I soon realised that it didn’t matter. It’s not about being obliged to speak. You can say I’ll pass, which felt great. It allowed me to ease my way into speaking from the self. I’m not used to listening to my body and connecting with my emotions. But this space has helped me to feel comfortable about doing this. It’s had a big impact on the rest of my life too.’

 

On being a listener

‘Not only does it give you space to talk, but it gives you space to listen. People say some amazing things that can really resonate. It’s so different from the usual to-and-fro chit chat that happens in groups, which ends up stopping someone’s flow in what they’re trying to say.’

 

‘It feels easier to get a hold on things that feel poignant or important for me because I’m really listening. If someone says something that resonates for me, it stays with me because there’s no chit chat in-between.’

 


SUMMARY

I hope this blog has given you a clear sense of what a Group Listening Space is and the benefits it can bring. Perhaps you are starting to think about ways in which this process might be relevant for you – either In a group that you are already part of or one that you are hoping to set up. Maybe your professional role involves running groups and you could see this process being incorporated into the work that you do.

 

Why not give it a go? If you any questions about the process you can always contact me. And if you do try it, I’d love to hear how you get on.

 

 

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