An equality of listening

An equality of listening

“I think we are still coming to terms with this new way of communicating online…”

So says Helen Blunden in her lovely blog, written as a follow up to a Spaces for Listening session I recently facilitated.

Spaces for Listening is a model developed by Brigid Russell and Charlie Jones that allows participants to

“have an equal opportunity to share our thoughts and feelings, and to experience an equality of listening…”

They note that:

“There seems to be a yearning for space, a chance to be heard. Many of us are seeking to understand more about what’s going on, and where we might go next. If we are going to find the most sustainable and humane ways to move forward from the current Covid-19 crisis, then don’t we need a better quality of conversations? Getting on with creating these spaces, keeping it simple yet meaningful, seems like a bold idea.”

In her blog about the session, Helen seems to have intuitively picked up on this idea of an “equality of listening” and shares her observations on the power of the mute button. You can read her blog here.

Another participant fed back that Spaces for Listening could be seen to be an exercise in deep listening, affording participants the experience of “listening to understand” rather than “listening to respond”. 

It’s mad, isn’t it, that we have arrived at a place where a simple, natural, fundamental act like listening is now being rediscovered and reappraised as a radical act of communication and empathy. But, as simple an act as listening is, it is of profound importance. The Zoom experience is here to stay, I think, and its sudden overtake of our working lives last year felt discombobulating for many. But perhaps a gift of that experience is that it is making many of us consciously think about the art of communicating: of what it is to talk, to be heard, to listen, to understand.

To connect.

Communicating the idea of intimate conversation
‘Bistro’ by Edward Hopper

If you are on Twitter, check out #SpacesForListening. You can also find out about it here.

If you are up for a creative and reflexive conversation to help you get a handle on 2020, perhaps you would be interested in my upcoming Word Rescue sessions? More information here.

To seem the stranger lies my lot – Part 2

To seem the stranger lies my lot – Part 2

This is the second part of my blog ‘To seem a stranger lies my lot’. You can find the first half of the blog here. There are quotes from one of Gerard Manly Hopkins’ sonnets in this blog, the whole text of which can be found below.

Not being heard, finding one’s self on the outer of a dialogue or group, can lead to feelings of isolation or abandonment. Sometimes we make a deliberate choice to be a quiet or less-verbally active participant of a discussion. But when someone has some ideas or observations to share, and they are denied the chance to share them or these things are ignored or derided when they do, then that can make that someone feel estranged and cast off. Doing this often in a relationship can be toxic, both for the relationship itself and for the confidence of the person being blocked.


And this can be the case in any kind of relationship – between lovers, family members, friends, or at work. It can happen, too, between institutions and constituents or between businesses and their customers. When people feel they have a stake in what’s going on in some arena of their lives, and when they then invest the time and energy and goodwill to speak up, they can be enraged or disheartened if they are ignored. If these feelings become further compounded, people are inspired towards acts that speak of bitterness, diminishing loyalty, or even subversiveness.


source: Wikipedia commons
source: Wikipedia commons

“… dark heaven’s baffling ban…”*

To quote Gerard Manly Hopkins “Only what word / Wisest my heart breeds dark heaven’s baffling ban / Bars or hell’s spell thwarts.” To feel that the words that express our experiences or potential are banned, barred or thwarted is incredibly disempowering. The victim of bullying in the workplace who feels that they have no one to support or even believe them, Muslims who see themselves described as terrorists by bigots, minorities who struggle to get job interviews, women who hit the glass ceiling despite the excellence of their work, anyone who feels that no matter what they do or what they say they will not be noticed or will be wilfully misunderstood – all these people will feel that estrangement.


“Only what word Wisest my heart breeds”.

By not being good listeners, either as individuals or as institutions, we also deny ourselves the opportunity of connecting with someone else’s thoughts. We deny ourselves the chance to hear and be moved by insights, perhaps even words of wisdom that have been bred in the heart of someone else’s imagination, intellect, emotions or spirit.


It behoves us as individuals to learn to be good listeners, to understand that this is not the same as just not making noise while someone else is speaking. We need to develop the concentration to tune into others’ words, to read body language and all the other ‘tells’ that provide context or nuance to words that are being spoken, and also to actively listen and respond in such a way that the speaker knows they have been heard. This is as important for friendships as it is for Manager–Employee or Business-Customer relationships.


So too do organisations and governments need to learn to be good listeners. ‘Community’ ‘consultation’ should not just be a pair of weasel words; the establishment needs to be prepared to be surprised and challenged by what they hear, and not just to fashion consultation processes that will elicit the responses they want to hear.


On both a micro and macro level it is only by undertaking to really listen that we can build trust and enjoy a true exchange of ideas and communion of will and values.


*The sonnets that Hopkins wrote that are designated by scholars as his ‘Terrible Sonnets’ are not called this because the writing is bad. The writing is devastatingly great. Rather, the sonnets describe a dark night of the soul and are heartbreaking to read.

Sonnet No. 44 by Gerard Manly Hopkins

TO seem the stranger lies my lot, my life
Among strangers. Father and mother dear,
Brothers and sisters are in Christ not near
And he my peace my parting, sword and strife.
  England, whose honour O all my heart woos, wife         5
To my creating thought, would neither hear
Me, were I pleading, plead nor do I: I wear-
y of idle a being but by where wars are rife.
  I am in Ireland now; now I am at a thírd
Remove. Not but in all removes I can         10
Kind love both give and get. Only what word
Wisest my heart breeds dark heaven’s baffling ban
Bars or hell’s spell thwarts. This to hoard unheard,
Heard unheeded, leaves me a lonely began.