Yesterday I attended Spaces for Listening which was an hour-long facilitated session with Meredith Lewis (@DangerousMere) on Zoom. If you don’t follow Meredith on Twitter, then you should do yourself a favour and do so because she is not only creative and clever but she has a calmness about her that always gets you opening up. Now for a facilitator, that’s an excellent skill.
Meredith’s facilitation workshops are not your typical events. They blend in different activities from other fields and areas of interest. As such, they stand out from the other typical activities you’d get usually at say, business events because they tie in creativity, freedom of expression and thoughts and people attending her workshops come from a variety of backgrounds which makes it even more interesting.
Add to that, there’s always an element of surprise or mystique about her sessions through the language she uses to promote them and the imagery. For example her Conversations series (Conversations of Intrigue as one of them), blends workshop participants discussing sections in classic books and linking them to themes in our workplace. Alternatively, another workshop I attended some time ago was based on exploring the origin and history of words and linking them to today’s meaning and why they may cause friction, conflict and miscommunication.
(You can read about my experience of her Conversation of Intrigue series).
All her workshops are fascinating and if you want to know more, I’d recommend you check out her blog Artful Provocations. Seriously, her writing is brilliant; her workshops exactly that….artful provocations and who doesn’t need this in our world today?
Yesterday I attended one of her new series called Spaces for Listening. In that she provides an hour on Zoom where people go through three rounds of 2 minutes where they talk about ‘How You are Feeling” and with each round, you delve in deeper.
Initially, I thought that I wouldn’t be able to speak for 2 minutes but of course, I can speak under water especially I have the microphone.
And microphone I did.
One of the ‘constraints’ I found fascinating and how she handled it was the expressed use of the Mute button. Meredith made it clear that we were not to record the session; nor take notes; nor use the chat box – that our attention and focus to listen to the other person. We had to have the Mute buttons on and not interrupt the other person while they were talking.
This was interesting for me and during the debrief I commented on this because I reflected on my natural behaviour of expressing agreement or concern such as ‘a ha!’ ‘yes!’ ‘ok’ ‘I agree!” that is, little expressions when we talk with people face to face. Having the camera on and the microphone muted meant that the person speaking wasn’t getting feedback or confirmation from people but it was also doing something else.
In online meeting software, if you make a sound, your face is automatically projected on the big screen so the software switches and shows the people who make a comment or indeed any noise! This can be disconcerting because we then see only those who are commenting. Those who mute their microphone (or even turn off their camera) may as well be ‘ghosts’ to us because we’re not getting any confirmation or feedback.
The use of the Mute in this Spaces for Listening was interesting for me because as someone who says little phrases, nods, expresses a-has, I realised that my behaviour was making the system divert attention AWAY from the actual speaker. Having the mute button on meant that ONLY the speaker had the FULL attention and their image on our screen. It also meant that I had to modify my behaviour to make it less auditory – and more visual – for example, bigger smiles, nodding my head more often and in larger movements or putting up my hand to express agreement.
Silent but expressive gestures to provide confirmation and agreement with the speaker.
I think we are still coming to terms with this new way of communicating online so yesterday’s session brought home for me the importance of the Mute button – and to call it out so people use it when they’re not actively got the floor. Also how online communication is changing the way we perceive ourselves and change our behaviours based on what we are seeing ourselves doing on the screen. (Here’s an interesting article about the Zoom Gaze which talks about this very thing).
Initially, I thought that Spaces for Listening would mean that I would blurt out something inappropriate or that I would show my vulnerability (or stupidity) to strangers.
I had thoughts like, “oh, will I accidentally tell them that I checked my horoscope for Aries for February on YouTube this morning and would they think me an utter idiot for doing this?!” (Okay, so now you know what I did on YouTube yesterday morning – that, and look up how to wear wide leg pants with what shoes) but can you see what I’m saying here?
There’s something about being given the floor to speak for two minutes and not be interrupted because in your mind, you fear of being vulnerable and expressing too much. However the fact that it’s not recorded and you’re in a safe space allows for people to open up a bit more and in so doing, there’s a deeper connection or for us yesterday, a realisation that indeed we were all going through a similar transitional journey in our own ways.
I highly recommend the Spaces for Listening series with Meredith Lewis. Why not put your teams through this too. Get in contact with her for more information. #SpacesForListening