This is one of series of blogs that are a retrospective reflection on Integral City Community of Practice’s experience in taking the In This Together (ITT) course on basic facilitation skills taught by Diane Musho Hamilton and Ten Directions.

Our second instruction of this course focused on listening intently and actively. We were surprised that this basic skill was actually a stretch – using un-used muscles of our attention capacity (from week 1).

Listening Intently & Actively

Listening Intently & Actively

We noticed that in listening to another person we became aware that we would be called on to give something back. This happens when we affirm that we have heard the other person by re-stating in our own words what we heard the other person say. One of our group noticed that she felt very much more heard when the listener did not simply “parrot” back her own words but used synonyms that conveyed the meaning she had made of the communication.

We were a little surprised that listening actively impacted our ability to respond (What were we going to say next????) – but at the same time widened our experience of self to expand and include the other person. (Our first clue that listening is intimately connected to our practice of the Master Code.)

What was the ITT homework?

Our homework seemed deceptively simple in 3 steps.

  1. Ask someone to listen to you for 3-5 minutes.
  2. Offer to listen to the other person for 3-5 minutes.
  3. Notice what you notice.

1. What did we experience in accomplishing the homework on listening?

Each of the “homeworkers” from the Integral City Community of Practice had a different experience in practising listening – both in choosing their listening partner and the context of the situation in which they listened.

Some of us chose life partners to listen to/with. In many ways, this presented challenges, because listening/speaking as information exchange is such a regular occurrence. We noticed that the active listening with intent slowed the pace of the communication down. In some ways, it expanded our sense of space and slowed down our sense of time.

With others, choosing to practise active listening when walking outdoors amplified this expansion of space and time even further. One person commented that the influence of the rhythm of trees, nature, soil expanded her way of holding the conversation in a more spacious manner.

A contrast to the exchange of information in the homework conversation arose from some people noticing the role that silence can play. Some silences were short and marked simply by noticing how breathing can both modify what they heard or said and how they heard or said it. A heightened awareness arises because of the pace of the conversation marked by breaths.

Several others commented on the experience of listening while walking as compared to sitting indoors. Even the relationship of walking alongside while listening/talking brought a wider sense of inclusiveness than sitting opposite one another (the pattern often preferred by women) or beside one another (the pattern often preferred by men). Also driving in the car while practising listening can impact the quality of the container for activity and intention.

2. So What does the topic/homework on listening have to do with Integral City practice or training?

It was easy to see how active listening with intent connected to Integral City practice. Listening is core to the Inquiry Intelligence. This homework practice helped us to realize that posing a good question must always be followed by a listening intention – whether that is to notice what other people say or to the sometimes “deafening” or intentional silence that can follow.

Several practitioners noticed that listening can be calibrated to the levels of complexity (as expressed by Spiral Dynamics integral or Integral). At each level, what you value will provide filters to how you listen and what you say. Moreover, at each level of complexity Who says What as a spokesperson can give weight to how we listen.

We mentioned very public examples of this, that surfaced during the Brexit vote in the UK and the results of the 2016 Trump election. In both cases, large groups of people expressed anger, disappointment and felt misunderstood. These were voices in the city that related to citizens who did not feel heard and were blocked out by many “official listeners” such as electoral candidates, the media and other so-called special interest groups (sometimes called “elites”).

Being able to listen intently at the levels of complexity that want to be expressed but may be ignored can make the difference in engaging the 4 Voices of the city. If we marginalize voices, in our modern city they have many ways to make themselves heard. It is vital in our Integral City listening practice that we notice Who are the Voicers, What is being Voiced and Where are the Listeners (who care).

Ironically, we noticed that this demands active listeners to broaden out their capacities as both Listeners and Speakers. We must be aware of the states of change in the Integral City. Because listening to the city can tell us who and where city voices are listening to the winds of change that affect them. Each person and each group has a way of sensing – the fair winds and fair words of relative contentment that sound like a happy hum; the storms that mark unwelcome change that sound like a grumble warning; the tornados that signal screams and growls of blocked anger and fear; the sunny ways that follow extreme bad weather as people laugh with relief and new hope; and the hum of new-found contentment when people speak to, listen happily and repeat new solutions to life’s challenges.


3. Now What will we do as a result, of our listening homework experience and sharing?

Because of our exploration of listening actively with intent we took away core learnings and more questions.

  • We realized that listening is critical to the Human Hive Mind – it is akin to gathering the pollen that we can then feed each other. As listeners and speakers in Integral City we are the Human Hive Mind practising, expressing and communicating as the field itself.
  • Listening is also critical to the practise of prototyping. Through listening we can learn where the energy is in the human system and what wants to happen next.
  • We noticed that we will listen to open us up to the soundscape of the Integral City, the habitat as the Human Hive. We can hear if we listen intently, the sounds that resonate to the voices of self, others, place and planet (the sounds of the Master Code itself). We can also consider how listening is the sounds of the city as a living system (like the bee hive), metabolizing energy, matter and information.
  • We will seek and support the contribution of green plants in the city to promote calmer states of mind and listening.
  • We understand that the Inquiry Intelligence may surface negativity. But we wondered how long we can allow negativity to influence the container for listening and positive outcomes?
  • One answer we will listen for more intently is how multiple levels and lenses can support and amplify our antennae for listening to different voices. We will notice how this can take us beyond ego/self to listen with the ears of the Other.
  • Finally, in the built city, this way of listening can influence and attract different architectural designs for spaces of all kinds – we will notice the impact of the cathedral to both raise voices (of gratitude) and hush silence (of deep respect).