eXtreme Listening

Posted by on Mar 7, 2016 in Coaching, Conference | No Comments

Last December at XPDays Benelux, Ole Jepsen and I hosted a session on eXtreme Listening. This is what happened.

Extreme Listening

We started with some good old rock’n’roll. I don’t remember what we played, yet I tend to err on the heavy side. It was loud, as the point was that people become aware that they are listening … And that the session was going to be extreme, stretching them out of their comfort zone.

Room setup

People sat in groups of four, pairs facing each other and two pairs sitting side by side. You can see that below in the videos.

The double pairs of chairs were quite evenly spread throughout the room, so that we could have fit about 50 people into the room. We had over 40 people in the room.

eXtreme Listening Plan

eXtreme Listening Plan

We are not important

We briefly introduced each other, emphasising that this session was about them and their experience, not about us.

Connect – thankfulness and welcome!

We exploited the fact that our session was near the end of the conference, so people had accumulated lots of great experiences already. We asked them to think of all the good things they were grateful for, and deliver all of that gratefulness with a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to their partner. The partner was to answer ‘welcome’, then she would deliver her ‘thank you’ back.

The intent of this was to get a quick and intense connection in the pairs.

Listen to Silence

Next, we had people listen to silence for a minute. We instructed them to focus their attention on all their other sensations and listen to what they told them about their partner.

We gave them two minutes to share with each other what they learned.

What is Listening Anyway?

Don't Talk - Don't Think

Don’t Talk – Don’t Think

Before we allowed the pairs to actually listen to each other’s stories, we gave them some instructions based on Paul Klipp’s listening advice:

  • Don’t talk.
  • Don’t think about talking.

Then they got three minutes each to share a story of significance.

Harvesting the experience of that from the group, we shared how we can understand what’s going on in our mind when we’re listening: it’s like two parallel threads, one of which is present with the other person and follows their story, the other is our own thought – which might get triggered by what. They say, or by something else. Mindfulness gives us the ability to notice that and gently bring our attention back to where we want it to be. Listening in this way is a great way to train your mindfulness.

Sense-making questions

At multiple times during the session we used these sense-making questions:

  • What was similar?
  • What was different?
  • What was surprising?

In this case, how was the listening with the “don’t talk, don’t think” instructions similar/different/surprising compared to how they’re used to listen?

Option to Switch

At this point of the session, we allowed partners to switch pairs.

Clean Language

We gave them a brief intro into clean language and the two lazy Jedi questions

  • What kind of X is that X?
  • Is there anything else about X?

And demonstrated their use with the metaphor trigger question, “when you’re learning at your best, you’re like what?”

They practiced this kind of intense attention for 5 min with beach other.

Getting Weird

We handed out earbuds and had them listen to each other for a minute each with their ears closed. That was interesting and surprising! People lowered their voices and whispered! Some moved their heads close together while covering their ears with their hands (and having earbuds in their ears).

Then they shared what they had understood when they could not hear each other.




We did use the Weird-O-Meter (photo above), the Sense-O-Meter and the Deep-O-Meter to indicate during the session (with arrows) where we wanted to go in terms of

  • using multiple senses,
  • going deep in a specific sense, and
  • being plain weird.

At the end, we used these to gather feedback. The session was supposed to be extreme (it had been selected with this criterion) so we wanted to explicitly deliver on that.

What did You Learn While You were Not Listening to Me?

Finally, we had one person of each pair switch with the person next to them, so that everyone in the room was now facing someone whom they had seen from the corner of their eyes for an hour, while focussing their attention on somebody else… Each person had two minutes to share what they had noticed and learned about the other. Results were extreme diverse: some people where confused, as they had been very focused and actually not seen the other person at all, and some had actually very astonishing insights. Human perception is wonderful 🙂


At the end we asked for experiences, insights and surprises. Some people wanted to “apply this to somebody very soon”, which was great feedback.





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