Holding Space and Co-Listening

Co-listening: A practice in listening and being heard.

“The greatest gift we can make to others is our true presence.” Thich Nhat Hanh.


“The attitude underneath Real Listening is one of emptying yourself out of any resistance, just for a little while, and turning your ears, eyes, minds and hearts, towards whatever it is you are intending to listen to. … it is about doing so without an agenda, without judgment, and without a need to answer back, argue, or do anything about it. Hence the need to empty yourself out first. … The message is: I am here to listen to you, and during the time I am listening, I’ve got no axe to grind, no opinion to stick to, and no need to be entertained or helped or agreed with. Nor do I intend to think ahead to what may be the consequences to me or to my loved ones, or to decide whether you are right or wrong. For this time alone, I simply want to respect and understand. from www.dinaglouberman.com/approach/co-listening

Some pointers in how to do co-listening:

  1. First, decide who will be the “listener” and who is the “speaker.”

  2. Decide/know how much time to dedicate to the experience. Each must have equal time. This is important to establish the needs of each being equally important. Even if someone says they don’t have anything to say, sitting in silence is ok. Start with 10 minutes for the speaker with about 3 minutes for the listener to summarize (or 15 minutes and 5 minutes). Practicing short periods of time can be good too, even 3-5 minutes.

  3. Sit without facing each other. Side to side, laying down facing up etc. In the same regard, the listener is to refrain from making sounds or gestures in response to what the speaker is saying. The goal is to give completely open space without interruption to the listener.

  4. Set the timer for the allocated time for the speaker.

  5. For the speaker: just breathe and wait to see what comes up. It is like thinking aloud or brainstorming. If there is silence, it is ok. Talk openly and see where it takes you.

  6. For the listener: just breathe and listen. You are not doing anything other than being present to the speaker. The listener is to be mindful to not make approval statements or sounds, the goal is to simply be aware of giving the other full attention. The listener may notice what comes up for them in not making sounds, gestures or expressions — or in response to what is being said, and just come back to the role of listener.

  7. When the timer goes off, pause a moment. Set the timer for the listener to “summarize” what they have just heard, “What I heard you say was…” The listeners summarizing is not to give advice, interpretations, feedback etc. It is simply to summarize exactly what they heard the speaker say.

  8. Take a moment to clear, walk, move etc. then switch roles. One thing to note with switching roles is that the new speaker is not speaking on the topics they just heard but talking about what is relevant to themselves. Repeat.

  9. After, remember whatever is said is completely confidential. If you want to bring information up to the person, first ask permission if they are ok with talking about it. If they do not want to, respect their request til they are ok with talking about it.

Some things for consideration, this is a practice. Its good to start practicing with non-conflict topics. In other words, if you are a couple deciding to do this practice together… Dont immediately dive into heated/triggering topics that you are struggling. Begin to just discover what its like to simply talk and listen about life experiences. You can strengthen and integrate the art of listening into how you communicate, “practice makes practice”


The Guest House.

This being human is a guest house. every morning is a new arrival. A joy. A depression. A meanness. Some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all. Even if they are a crowd of sorrows who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture. Still treat each guest honorably. He may be cleaning you out for some new delight. The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing and invite them in. Be grateful for whoever comes because each has been sent as a guide from beyond. ~Rumi