The power of speaking is seriously undermined if no one is listening. Speakers need listeners in order for their perspectives to contribute to collective intelligence, and truly deep listening is sadly rare. So promote active listening to open up hearts and minds and to evoke the wisdom of all. And listen into silence, your center, nature, group energy, and other sources of valuable insight.
Some related patterns: 6 Capacitance 27 Enough Time 33 Feeling Heard 64 Powerful Questions 76 Safety First, Then Challenge 80 Story
95 Working the Field
Going Deeper …
This is an edited version of the video on this page.
“Why be free to speak if no one is listening?” This first sentence is adopted from a visit I made to Czechoslovakia in 1991 shortly after their revolution. The people and friends I had there were talking about how great it was having democracy at last. They said, “Everybody’s free to speak but nobody’s listening!” That was a really powerful statement for me.
The role of listening at that point became very real to me as a major function in co-intelligence, collective intelligence and wise democracy. So having freedom of speech is absolutely essential but the other half – having people who listen – is at least as important. In a group, listening is very powerful. And at the whole-society level, having leaders who clearly listen to their followers is very powerful.
From a collective intelligence perspective and from a wise democracy perspective, you are interested in accessing whatever the people want and think. To the extent it is a democracy, it is centered on “we the people” – a government of, by, and for the people. In other words, people are the source of the basic decision-making and wisdom that you’re trying to operate on together. So having people who are listening will allow other people to speak whatever they have to contribute to the larger whole. This includes information and perspectives, different ways of looking at things.
In a small group setting it is helpful to have active listeners. When you speak they are listening so well that it’s drawing you out. There is another pattern in this deck – “Feeling Heard” – that addresses this. So having people be able to feel totally open, to flow out whatever they have to offer, to relax into the conversation so that ideas can flow through them rather being stuck, blocked or pushed. This flow phenomenon happens internally as well as in the larger group. That flow can generate and call forth the wisdom of everybody in the group, and it is more like wisdom than a personal perspective that’s being pushed. So listening is a powerful catalyst.
Also there is a phenomenon I learned in doing sacred listening circles. People talk about “talking circles” and “talking sticks” adapted from the indigenous tradition of “passing the talking stick”. But at one point when I was part of a group doing this, we decided that the listening was more important than the talking, and that what is happening when somebody is talking is that they are listening into the middle of the group, into the middle of the group’s life, and channeling what comes from there. Circle process originally came from indigenous people sitting around a fire, and the fire kind of embodies the center of the group’s experience and the group’s spirit. And we began listening into that all the time, listening into that even when we were speaking, listening into that even when nobody was speaking, listening into our center which is an extension of the group’s center… We can listen into the group center by listening into our own center. It is a spiritual practice of moving beyond your ego into the group space, into the group spirit, and into the larger spirit that permeates and holds it.
So having times of silence when people just listen is a very important dimension of generating real group wisdom and collective wisdom that is useful for a wise democracy.
When I contemplate the power of listening in a group in silence or the voice within, I think of Quaker silent worship and of some meditative practices. And I wonder: What would it be like for a whole society or a whole community to do that? I don’t know how that would manifest, but imagine: Everyone would just stop and listen for the larger guidance that is available inside…
There are many different ways to do powerful listening. With this pattern I wanted to highlight how powerful this dynamic can be for creating the flows of information and perspective that generate wisdom.