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Facilitated Group Listening: Introduction

Facilitated Group Listening (FGL) is a powerful, heart-centered process that enables people with differing or opposing beliefs to engage in safe, respectful and creative dialogue. It has been used successfully, both nationally and internationally.

FGL enables a group or gathering of people to truly listen to one another in a manner that increases understanding and empathy. This results in the emergence of new and creative ideas and possibilities that can empower individuals and groups to take positive action on important or difficult issues.

How It Works

A small or large group can be brought together for a FGL session that has been organized to address particular issues or problems that are important to the participants. The session begins with the introduction of the organization sponsoring the event. A large-group facilitator clarifies the purpose of the dialogue as well as the dialogue structure and rules. The structure and rules include a mutual contract between participants that enables listening to occur in a manner that facilitates safe, heart-centered, effective communication. Where there is high potential for conflict, participants should receive some active listening training.

Participants are then divided into small groups, with each group also having an experienced facilitator and sometimes a note-taker. Group size is usually 4-5. This number can vary, depending on the amount of time allotted for the dialogue and the number of FGL sessions planned. Each group facilitator helps participants honor the dialogue rules. Those who cannot do so are engaged otherwise, or may be invited to be observers.

Normally the facilitator does not participate in the dialogue, though s/he may do so in some cases - especially when the potential for conflict is not substantial.

Each FGL group responds to 4-6 questions carefully developed by the project organizers. Questions are open-ended, usually beginning with safe and affirming questions and continuing into questions that bring deeper levels of consideration and inner reflection. In each group, one person at a time answers each question and each person has equal time. In some cases there is also time for listeners to ask clarifying questions or for open dialogue.

When small group dialogue is completed the following occur:

  1. Dialogue groups report back to the larger group.
  2. Participants take time to reflect on the reports.
  3. Participants consider "Next Steps," which may include
    1. Planning for continued dialogue
    2. Developing individual or group ideas or plans for action that address the issues
  4. Each participant is given the opportunity to communicate their "Next Steps."
  5. A meeting to plan/conduct follow-up organizing may be scheduled.

FGL is a dynamic process that brings out deep levels of reflection and sharing of thoughts and feelings. This occurs because the dialogue structure enables participants to feel safe from being judged or criticized. In this way diverse ideas and beliefs can be heard, and creative solutions can emerge. In some cases participants are deeply moved by the heartfelt sharing of others in the group. This, too, facilitates the emergence of new views, possibilities and broader perspectives.

Testimonials

From a participant in a Facilitated Group Listening between Catholic Croatians and Serb Orthodox who had just been enemies in the ethnic cleansing wars in the Balkans:

"I used to have nothing but fear and hostility toward Serbs. My heart is still heavy with the pain, killings and suffering caused by "Serbo," the mock name I have used for all Serbs. But today I can say that I have met Serbo and I have seen him as a human being. We have listened to each other and I can even say I like him. Now I can return home with a new understanding and a new desire to work for reconciliation, something that before I could not imagine feeling."

From a participant in a Facilitated Group Listening on city planning:

"I don't really agree with everything I heard during this dialogue but it sure helps me see the complexity of it all and the need to keep building on some of the common ground we discovered here."

From a participant in a church Facilitated Group Listening on internal conflict:

"We came into this dialogue almost at the brink of splitting apart as a church, yet somehow this dialogue has enabled us to actually hear each other and come to a place of accepting some of our differences."

Comparing FGL and the Listening Project

Both the Listening Project and FGL have their strengths and weaknesses. FGL allows listening to occur in small groups; thus, you are able to reach a larger number of people in a shorter period of time. However, you get only people willing to come to an organized event, and the quality of communication is different in some ways because of group dynamics.

A Listening Project is able to reach people who might never come to an organized event (such as a group dialogue). Thus, it enables you to reach people often left out or discounted. Another strength of a Listening Project is that it approaches people one at a time, increasing the ability of those interviewed to reflect at a deeper level and to more readily reveal their true feelings. A primary limitation of the Listening Project is that it takes a substantial commitment of time and resources. And the length of interviews limits the number of people you can reach.

Facilitated Group Listening and the Listening Project work well together. You can begin with a Listening Project and then invite LP interviewees and others into group dialogue. If you must choose between the two - a Listening Project or FGL -- it is important to take time, with the help of a trainer, to determine which is most appropriate and supportive in helping you meet your goals. For more information, see our Training Manuals.


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