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Deep Listening

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Contributed by Verena Roberts

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“True listening requires a setting aside of oneself. Setting aside an opinion.”  – Celeste Headlee Ted Talk


This workshop helps participants explore their  listening talents and tendencies, to emerge with a new sense of what it means to bring others in, by truly hearing them.   And it’s not easy!   There are so many distractions, and often listening to someone can remind you of stories and insights you want to share… but listening well requires thoughtful practice.   This workshop will take you through a series of activities that will help you practice deep listening.

Learning Objectives

  • Recognize talents and tendencies in the way you listen to others.
  • Name 10 methods of ‘Good Listening’, with goals for improving personally in one or more areas.
  • Have actively practiced one or more of the these ten methods with a partner.

Activity – Talents & Tendencies   (10 minutes)


Get people thinking about what good listening is, what our tendencies are to the opposite.

  • Ask your group to describe good listening.  Invite them to list as many examples as they can on sticky-notes of paper – and direct them to add those notes to a wall or poster-board.
  • Ask your group to describe tendencies of  poor listening – ways we unintentionally ignore,  limit and outright misinterpret information being shared by others. And these to another part of your wall or poster-board

The facilitator should then lead the group in verbally highlighting similarities and differences –  asking for clarification, and pulling out interesting comments.

Ask people to turn to a person next to them, and share which of the poor listening tendencies they recognize in themselves, and share ways they can think of to overcome those in future. (each person shares 3 minutes)

Activity – Telephone Game   (10 minutes)


Challenge your group to use their talents, and avoid their tendencies to form a human-telephone to get across an important message!  This activity requires 8 or more participants, if you have fewer then please skip to the next activity.

  • Ask your group to form a wide circle in the room.
  • As the first person to think of a sentence  that contains three things  –  a fictional person, a real place, and an interesting fact about themselves . Example ” Irene Ollie from Kingston, once played snare drum in a bag pipe band”.
  • Ask the first person to lean over, and whisper to the person next to them – their sentence, and for that to continue around the circle, with each person sharing ‘what they heard’ with the next person.
  • The ‘last person’ will share the secret out-loud.

Activity  – 10 Tools for Good Listening (15 Minutes)

Watch this Ted Talk:  10 Ways to have a better conversation.

On a posterboard, screen-share, or sticky note – display each of the 10 methods in a way that everyone can see.

  • Split into groups of 2 or more participants.
  • Assign one 1 of the 10 methods  to each of your groups.
  • Ask each pair to conduct an interview of other on the given topic.  During this interview, encourage people to embrace the best practices they heard in the Ted Talk.
  • In a group circle each pair takes turns sharing with the group, what they learned from the other in 3 or fewer sentences.  And then, how that experience of truly listening felt. Did they notice anything about how they were listening and made corrections?
  • After each person shares, ask their partner who well the report-back represented what they actually said.  Was the interviewer a good listener?


Wrap up for this workshop should be reflective.  Ask people to take a minute, away  from the noise of conversation to contemplate what they learned today.  What was the ‘aha’ moment they had that they really want to work into their daily listening habits?  Give people another minute to write that goal on a post-it note, and to leave in a central location as they leave the workshop.

Self Assessment & Additional Discussion Questions

  1.  Did you recognize tendencies and talents in your listening habits?  What are they?
  2. Can you name the 10 methods for ‘Good Listening’ ?
  3. Which ones resonated with you most, as a listener?
  4. Which resonated most as someone who has experienced excellent, or poor listening from others?
  5. What goals have you set for yourself to become a better, and deeper listener?


Featured photo ‘Listen’ by Ky CC BY 2.0 Ky