Taking circle conversations into public spaces

Inspired by Sofia Bustamante’s story on convening her Listening Cafés in the UK, below are insights and considerations for taking circle conversations into public spaces:

1.     At First, Go Slow

Worthwhile efforts take time...to sense into the need out there, to sense into one’s motivation and capacity to respond. While the need was apparent, based on experience and practice, Sofia’s approach has been to go slow and steady rather than racing to quick upscaling.

2.      “The quality of the intervention depends on the internal state of the intervenor.”

You might recall this now famous quote from Bill O’Brien as it catalyzed Otto Scharmer’s conceptualization of Theory U. Sofia referenced it as her guiding inspiration as she moved from sensing need, to emerging idea, to rallying her commitment and resources to bold and wise action.

3.     Quality is sacrosanct when it comes to listening.

With this value up front and centre, each step of the way, Sofia designed, iterated, and invited others into the process. From her thoughtfully designed “take away” tool (table coaster with listening guidelines), to free online resources, and peer support skype calls for new hosts, the Listening Movement is grounded in the commitment to creating a simple, replicable, quality experience in good listening together.

4.     Face to Face

Intent to create the conditions for safe, respectful, quality listening and story sharing, Sofia knew her circles needed to be in person, face to face, and in small groups of four or fewer people. Intimate and relaxed in a local café, over coffee and tea, the alienating and polarizing effects of social media were mitigated as people practiced being heard and listening to each other. This “felt” reciprocity bridged divides by increasing a sense of trust in the Other, without needing to agree with or change the views.

5.     The Power of Pausing

A later iteration to the initial cafés, punctuating each round of conversation with a few moments of silence helped maintain a relaxed and open experience. It gave a respectful “space” for each story and conversation to be heard and “to land”, before moving onto the next one. Like the coffee or tea cup that needs to be emptied before re-filling, pausing with silence gave each person a moment to empty, refresh and ready for the next story, the next conversation, to practice being and bringing their best listening.