The Listening Space is a structured process in which one person helps another to explore an issue that is on their mind. This could be anything from a problem they would like to gain clarity on to a creative idea they want to develop.
The Listening Space can be created with friends, relatives, colleagues or clients. It works on the assumption that people make useful choices when they are encouraged to gain awareness of themselves and do their own thinking. This is not a space for asking clever questions or rushing in to make things better, which makes Clean questions the perfect tool for the job. Using this simple set of open questions along with the other person’s words helps to ensure that the person asking the questions keeps their assumptions and suggestions to one side. Clean questions can also be used to help shine a light on the metaphors that people naturally use to describe their experience.
The Listening Space can be used for joint exploration, facilitating two people together to explore an issue that is important to them. Whether this is in the context of a business or a personal relationship, this process can create a highly constructive way of exploring what is important for the two individuals concerned. Metaphors emerge that provide a common language for communication from which greater understanding and collaboration can grow.
Jack and Sara, for example, were facilitated to explore how they go forward in their lives together in preparation for getting married later in the year. This is what they said about the experience:
Sara The Listening Space enabled me to sit back and listen more – both to my own thoughts and to what Jack had to say.
Usually, when we have discussions one of us trying to make a point. I’d usually be more concerned with what I needed to say. But in the Listening Space we were able to talk about our relationship in a mutual way, without a prior agenda to push. The focus was on exploration rather than having a pressure to resolve things.
Jack There was an extra layer of listening that I wouldn’t normally do when it is just the two of us talking. We were given the opportunity to explore without the extra tension having to meet each other’s needs.
Sara It was like nothing I’ve ever done before, particularly when the metaphors emerged.
A metaphor of a being like a spinning sphere arose for me. Then a metaphor of a supporting hand appeared for Jack – a hand that could reach out to support me. It was like there were two metaphors that got generated together, in relation to each other: a landscape co-created.
From then on we were able to work out how the two metaphors could interact with one another.
For example, when I’m spinning too fast and Jack is gripping on too tight it feels jarring. Now I can think, ‘Ok. Hang on. I need to get still again, or ‘Jack needs to let his hand open a little.’
I have more awareness of the patterns that happen for us, and I can go, ‘Ah, I recognise that.’ We can then talk about what needs to happen next.
Since the session we’ve referred back to the metaphors a lot when we’ve been talking about stuff in our relationship. When we’re getting into ‘crunchy areas’ the metaphors have created another layer of understanding and acceptance because we’re not talking about the actual thing. It’s like having a buffer layer of compassion.
Jack Yes, there’s a lot of negotiation that goes on during and after a Listening Space. We each had our own metaphor, but exploring them together meant we negotiated the metaphors together. They weren’t separate.
Even though we’re probably thinking of very different physical manifestations in our head, I can’t think of my metaphor now without thinking of Sara’s perspective on it.
Sara I think that creating has been an important aspect of the process. We weren’t doing the Listening Space in crisis, so it felt like a really healthy thing. It could become good practice for a relationship to do this sort of thing on a regular basis. Making a space together in which you can really listen to yourself and the other person – with your heart.
I can also see how helpful it would also be if we were in difficulty and wanted to resolve something.
Jack Your role as facilitator was vitally important because you kept bringing us back to the focus of what we wanted to explore - how we want to go forwards together. We were able to explore in lots of different areas, but everything was related to that focus.
It kept the exploration very fresh and relevant.
And it was so useful to hear our words repeated back to us. Oddly enough, as you fed our words back to us it became hard to figure out who had said what because the experience felt so shared.
Sara There was a kind of rhythm to being facilitated that I loved. When I stopped talking I knew I was going to hear what Jack thinks about what I’d just said.
It was like making a plait. What had just been said was gathered, and then another bit was gathered from what the other person said. One fold, then the next fold, then the next fold. Almost like a weaving a jointly woven fabric.
Jack It really did feel like co-creating. Now we both know what the other might think or want or need, or what might be in the way.
Sara Yes, the whole experience felt very nurturing.