A question came to me recently from a student in the Integral Facilitator® program who is facilitating a conversation among members of a classical music orchestra who are looking for ways to evolve their work together. He says that as a facilitator, he wants to create an open space for all perspectives to be presenced in an atmosphere of genuine inquiry.
But often, he says, people are not as elegant in their conversations as they are when playing music together. He says that they express themselves emotionally and dogmatically, pounding out their opinions in one repetitive note: the “I am right” tone. In their assertiveness, they turn a deaf ear to the silence, to the space, to the new, unknown possibilities that come from a depth of listening.
It is ironic because musicians are probably some of the best trained listeners in the world. And yet, this quality of conversation is often common among all kinds of people, regardless of their ability to hear, when change is afoot, when values are being discussed, when conflict arises, or when new risks must be taken together. In fact, paradoxically, any time anxiety levels rise in a conversation, so do the black and white tone of certainty and unpleasant sensations of dogma.
So this a very real question. How do we keep a space open when participants are anxious and therefore, righteous with one another? As the facilitator, your job is to support the validity and meaningfulness of the expressions, while bringing the receptive principle, the open space and listening, into the group’s awareness to create more depth and elegance in the conversation, like in a beautiful piece of music.
Here are a few suggestions:
1) Pick up and model listening. Listen intently to the opinions, empathizing and naming the emotional texture to them. Emotions usually indicate a high level of investment or care, which is easy to support.
2) Ask the group to take time to listen to each opinion deeply and reflect what they are hearing. In other words, create an interval between each speaker in which the receptive principle is heightened and supported. You can encourage the group by stating how important it is to give space to strongly held beliefs and opinions. In other words, the stronger the feeling, the more space it needs to be heard and felt. Encourage participants to ask questions of each other.
3) Notice moments when the space opens up spontaneously, and highlight it for others to see and feel. They will be relieved.
4) After a vigorous discussion, impose moments of solitary thinking, reflection, writing, or quiet. Especially in a group of musicians, use their understanding of the relationship of sound to silence to underscore the importance of experiencing the space in their conversations.
5) Cultivate your own capacity for stillness, receptivity, and openness.
Co-Founder and Lead Teacher, Integral Facilitator®