by Tenneson Woolf (Excerpted from a full article here)
In my experience, Circle helps four levels of listening to occur: to self, to each other, to the group, to the subtle. Circle, among all other things, is most centrally that for me — a way to listen well in a world that has so frequently replaced listening with noise. Circle is not a whiz-bang, flash-in-the-pan, new-fangled methodology. And no, I don’t believe Circle is a fix all for all situations. But good connecting and good listening will always help.
1. Listening To Self
Back in the 90s, one of my favorite grad school professors was a man that said, “sometimes I need to say it out loud to know what I think.” I relate to that. Circle, with it’s deliberateness of a center to catch individual expressions, mix them with what others say (note that this is not a time for providing answers), and slow cook them like a good stew is bound to stir up a few surprises and clarities about ourselves. “I didn’t know that I really thought that.” Or “I didn’t know that I thought that so strongly.” Circle helps with a self clarity that isn’t possible in isolation.
2. Listening To Each Other
When I have hosted Circles for groups that have been together for a long time — colleagues in particular — it has caught my attention that people learn a few things about each other that they didn’t know before. I’ve heard expressions, “I’ve known you for 20 years and I’ve never known that about you.”
Contemporary work culture has advocated a fierce distinction between professional and personal life. There are times when that distinction is very helpful — some things are private. However, rejecting the personal actually diminishes the quality of the professional capability in many settings. To interrupt the pattern of mere transactional exchange often common in work settings, is to create room for a different and needed kind of knowing of each other.
3. Listening To The Group
Ann Linnea is another primary teacher for me of Circle over the last fifteen years. One of the premises I’ve heard her claim often is that there is always more wisdom in the collective of the group than there is in any one individual. It stands to reason doesn’t it. In today’s context of increasingly complex and intractable challenges, we need to hear from multiple perspectives. To become aware of blind spots. To see more.
I want to offer one additional layer and nuance here, a peek under the hood that is Circle. Not only are we listening to ourselves and to each other, which I suppose you can compile into the group as a sum, we are hearing more than the sum. A friend calls this “activating the composite being.” It’s the “all of us.” There isn’t parts (which is still conceptually challenging to hold, right). There is only the group. The words that are being spoken are coming from that group being. Not from individuals. If you can get that, it’s a moment of listening to write home about.
4. Listening To the Subtle
Though I accept that there are as many versions of subtle as their are drops of water in a lake, I will assert that however any of us name that subtle, listening to the unseen is an important category and that Circle helps with that. Spirit? Sure. Ancestors? Sure. Nature itself? Sure. The deeper story in us as individuals? Yes. The deeper purpose of what a team is all about? Absolutely.
I will continue to assert that there is always more unseen than is seen. There is more unheard than is heard. In offices. In organizations. In communities. In families. It’s not a criticism of those forms. It just a reality that sets the imperative for us to be perpetually curious. You never get the whole movie or it’s subjective meaning. You never get every note played at the concert. There is just more than is possible for any individual processing to get it all. With so many of the people I work with, they are hungry for this level of listening, even unfamiliar as it can be.
I’m fortunate to be picking up some more significant teaching of Circle in this 2016 calendar year. Along with a friend and colleague, Amanda Fenton, and with some other global colleagues, we are helping to carry the tradition that is Circle and the 20+ years of legacy from Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea to a next generation of scale and scope.
If you want to develop the best foundation for today’s context of applied participative leadership, I suggest learning more of Circle. It’s really the place to start and return too. Learn more of that here and at www.thecircleway.net.