I recently attended a meeting of business change agents in London, who are exploring setting up a collective, to deliver new forms of transformational change to big business clients. There were great quality explorations and discussions, generated with a twist!
Sugar bowl or talking stick?
The exercise we all explored together was simple and ancient.
A cleverly worded question for discussion was up on the screen “what risks are we taking to create safety?”. An interesting question considering that the UK Brexit outcome happened only a few days earlier.
Whoever held the sugar bowl could speak. Everyone else could only listen. No-one gets interrupted.
It took me back to native american indian ‘talking stick’ models and I was amazed, as were the others attending, at how powerful the process was.
Pretend (surface) listening
We so often forget what real listening is like.
We are too often consumed with: –
- making our next point taking turns to speak – me next!
- thinking about other things whilst someone else is talking
- seeking to influence or manipulate each others position
- believing that silence is a waste of precious time
- dealing with surface stuff and never going deep
- time priority over quality
Deep listening in slow motion
It was so refreshing to relinquish all that ‘necessity to be heard and understood’ and to simply allow full attention to rest on whoever was talking, the points they were making and the feelings and reactions that came up.
Everything seemed to slow down almost immediately and a deeper sense of self emerged as the mind calmed down.
Release of neediness, stress, pressure to perform. Let go the push and pull. Simply allow.
Being silent and saying nothing
There was also the opportunity to take the sugar bowl and say nothing, with was a rather novel and somewhat bizarre notion at first.
Whilst no one actually did it on this occasion, having that option available seemed to legitimise the slowing down of surface processing and facilitate a deeper dive into the conscious space being created together.
It helped people realised the importance of silence in discussions. A somewhat strange concept.
Time standing still – unhurried conversations
There was a timeless quality that entered the meeting and its interactions. Something quite profound was going on. Everyone felt it.
Maybe it was the sudden release of ‘pressure to perform’.
Maybe when we truly listen to others, then other parts of our intelligence open up.
Maybe slowing down allows us to go deeper within and appreciate more abut what is being said, moment to moment.
Simple and profound benefits.
Deep space exploration (within)
Even in this 90 minute group experience, it was clear that slowing the discussion process down and listening properly, opened everyone up to deeper levels of mutual understanding and recognition.
It felt more natural and meaningful to share thoughts and ideas in this way.
‘Talking stick’ learnings
So the future opportunities I took from the experience are as follows…
- A lot is happening in any silence in meetings – some people fear silence – extroverts don’t like silence much, however silence provides time to process the information
- New discernment between quality and quantity in conversations, being vs. doing
- Taking time to stop, listen to all of yourself (head, heart and gut) and be fully present
- Set some new ground rules and try it out periodically with project teams or working groups
- Work on listening at deeper levels by slowing down interactions on occasions
- Use this process to build deeper, more authentic relationships and mutual trust between group members
- Allow honest emotional expression, without judgement or criticism
- Allow space for the heart to speak, rather than ego
- Be aware of the appropriateness and situational relevance of this approach – as one person summarised, ‘genius or waste of time’
And finally… creating a 3rd space
Whilst this may not be an everyday exercise with your ‘fast moving project team’, using the talking stick or sugar bowl technique does bring a more conscious awareness into play.
It reinforces the need for conversation discipline, when listening and expressing your ideas in both group and 1:1 settings.
This is a great way of opening up creative interactions and enabling deeper appreciation of important subjects and outlooks within the team or group.
Thanks to Simon Kenwright and Nikki Hinksman of Agents of Change (www.aoc.agency) for facilitating the development of a ‘collective’ of business change consultants and coaches, who share a passion for making a difference, on some higher levels of conscious creation.
Nick Le Clere is a strategic change consultant and facilitator, executive leadership coach, trainer, innovator and speaker, running online webinars and learning events for conscious business leaders of the future.
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