By , November 5, 2008 7:31 pm

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This month: From Instant “Ahah!” Mini-Manual, p. 7, #2.Active Listening: Short-Circuiting An Angry Confrontation.

Starting A Simple Listening/Focusing Practice Group

So, we have reframed “anger” as “upsetness” and suggested that an “upset” person will respond to empathic, active listening rather than attack-back.

And, last week, I suggested lots of first steps to practice Active Listening so it will be ready-to-hand when a confrontation arises.

This week, I am going to give another nudge toward starting your own Active Listening, or Focused Listening, practice group.

Reading the Focused Listening description at the link, you will find definition and examples of the Four Basic Types of Response:

Pure Reflection: setting aside judgments and advice and just trying to say back the words of the other, with attention to also reflecting the “feeling tone.” Three times more Pure Reflection than anything else!

Asking For More: if the person stops speaking, you can “ask for more” about words/images that seemed to carry more implicit meaning

Focusing Invitations: once in a while, you can also suggest that the speaker stop talking for a moment, go quietly inside, and “sense into” the “intuitive feel,” the “something more” implicit in their words.

Personal Sharings: once in a while, in longer turns, you can, with the speaker’s permission share an intuition or experience or idea of your own, but always immediately returning to Pure Reflection to let the speaker say how your sharing fit or didn’t fit their experiencing, and letting the Speaker go on with explicating their own experiencing.

Below I am copying pages from the Focusing In Community manual which tell you:
(a) How to find a Partner or a Core Group to start practicing with
(b) How to structure a ten-week Listening/Focusing Practice Group.

These suggestions are just a hint of all the examples, demonstrations, and instructions in the manual and on the CDs and DVDs in Self-Help Package. But I am giving them to show you that it is not difficult to start your own practice group, and that the manual will show you how, step-by-step.

You can also download the entire manual Chapter Three, The Listening/Focusing Exchange, in English or Spanish, from the links at the top of that blog, if you haven’t yet, and read many examples of Listening Responses, and of how Focusing by the speaker while talking enriches problem solving.

Finding a Core Group
(From Focusing In Community manual, Chapter Three)

“If you are not reading the manual as part of a classroom or colleague group, here are some suggestions on how to find an initial person or two with whom to read the book and practice the skills involved:

(a) First, choose the people with whom you feel most able to be yourself, most comfortable, most accepted when you are talking about your feelings. At the beginning, you might want to share the book and practice just with your closest friend; then, after a while, each of you might choose to invite one more person, and so on. Four to six people are an ideal size beginning group.

(b) Some people are best approached by offering them the book to read and telling them what you liked about it, what was important to you. But it’s usually best to avoid too much discussion of theory. It’s too easy to argue down a theory. Usually, instead of a lot of discussion, we like to say to someone, “Come on. Let’s try it for a few minutes. I’ll listen to your (using reflection of feelings) for a while, then you can listen to me.”

(c) There might also arise a time when you realize that you are naturally using reflection of feelings as a friend is sharing feelings with you. It might then be appropriate at the end to say something like, “You know how we are with each other when one of us is hurting, how we just try to listen and not be judgmental. Well, I’m learning a lot about how to do that even more effectively, and I’d like to share it with you.”

(d) Lastly, if there are two of you who have practiced Listening and Focusing together, then you can introduce other people to it by demonstrating with them watching.

Once you have started your small group using Chapter Three, the level of intimacy and mutual concern that arises during Listening/Focusing turns will begin to flow out into other aspects of your lives together. You may find your little core group growing as another couple hears that you can help with interpersonal problems and asks for help. Or you may decide to share the idea with interested persons in your church or synagogue group, in a professional organization, or in any number of ways.”

Instructions for Small Group Practice (The Listening Exchange)
(From Focusing In Community manual, Chapter Three ):

Step 1 :Round-Robin Practice: Start with a small group of people (four to six).

“Listening/Focusing Turns: Go around in a circle, one person focusing in and saying something from what she is feeling (an important issue in her life or just how she is feeling right then about being there, doing this sharing), the person to the right of her saying back what she says, the Focuser checking these words inside and saying what comes next, the Listener reflecting that. Go back and forth in this way about three times. If the Focuser seems to have run out of things to say in less than three steps, the Listener can try asking her to “say more” about some part of it that seemed important.


It’s important not to move on to Focusing Invitations and Personal Sharings until everyone is well-practiced at just hearing what the other is saying and at just holding on to a feeling sense and checking words reflected against it.

Feedback: At the end of the turn (about five minutes), first the Focuser, and then the Listener, say a little about how the experience felt, what felt good, what wasn’t quite right. Other people in the group can comment or give suggestions from the readings, but avoid getting into too much discussion or argument about what happened. The point is to practice, not to get distracted into intellectual conversation (which is all too easy!).

Continue around the circle until everyone has had a turn at both roles. Your group can repeat Step One as often as you like or until you feel ready to move on to Step Two. Step One takes about one-and-one-half hours with four to six people. I would suggest doing it at least three or four times.

Step 2 : Dyads

Pair off in twos and spread out to exchange fifteen minute turns, using just Pure Reflection and Asking For More when the person seems to have run out of things to say. Try out using a Focusing Invitation. Come back together as a group and discuss how it went, where you had trouble, what new things you learned. Consult readings, or memory of things read, for answers to questions. Repeat as often as wanted or needed.

Step 3: Triads

Alternatively, pair off in threes. This is an ideal learning structure, since the third person can act as an observer. Split up the time equally, allowing 10 minute between turns for feedback. Each person takes a turn as Listener, Focuser, and observer. The observer also keeps time, giving a five-minute warning before the end of a turn.

At the end of a turn, each person gives short feedback, First the Focuser says how the turn was for him/her – what was helpful, what could have been different. Then the Listener says how it was to be the Listener – good feelings from following the others journey, anxiety about remembering, etc. Then, the observer gives feedback, using Table 3.4., Feedback Sheet For Listening Turns, as a guide.

Step 4: Focusing Partnerships

When you feel ready or interested, pair off in twos who will get together sometime during the week to exchange one-half hour turns. In these turns, Listeners can try out Focusing Invitations and Personal Sharings as well as Pure Reflection and Asking For More, but always with the emphasis on helping the Focuser to stay with her “intuitive feel,” The Creative Edge, and make words for it. The Focuser needs to be sure to go back to Pure Reflection for several steps after each Personal Sharing or Focusing Invitations. At the end of each Turn, have 5 minutes for feedback, first from the Focuser to the Listener, then from the Listener to the Focuser.

Step 5: Focusing Group Meetings

When you come together to do Listening/Focusing turns in a small group (set aside two hours), split up the time so that each person will have an equal amount for a listening turn, with five to ten minutes additional in between each turn, for feedback and comments from others besides the two. Take turns keeping time, ending people’s turns on schedule, warning them a minute or two before the end, and moving on to the next turn after limited discussion. Chapter 7.2 gives a format for a group meeting.

Don’t get side-tracked into a lot of discussion with no time for doing. Know that a person can stop at the end of her turn, even if she has been working on heavy feelings. During turns, allow no input from others in the group. At the end of each turn, anyone in the group can say what they saw, ask questions, or offer warm support for the work done.

Option: If there are more than four people, or if each person wants a longer turn, you may decide to split into triads and share turns within these, again dividing time equally and making sure that each person who wants to gets a chance both at listening and being listened to. The third person can serve as an observer, giving feedback at the end of the turns. The following page gives a feedback sheet which you can use as a guide when you are observing listening turns (Table 3.4).” 

You really can start your own Listening/Focusing Partnership or Practice Group!

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Dr. Kathy McGuire, Director

Creative Edge Focusing (TM)

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