LISTENING PROJECT - Experimental Space for Co-operative Listening

'You always speak badly to someone who isn't listening' observed P J Kavanagh. Dr Karl Augustus Menninger put it the other way round: 'When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.' Ernest Hemingway looked at it from the perspective of the listener 'I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.' 'Listen to me' is a common request in everyday language, explicitly asked for or silently thought. The participatory project, LISTENING PROJECT, creates opportunity for experiment. Two audience participants are enabled, through brief instructions followed by a longer period of practice, to see what kind of a difference a formally structured space and a cooperative focus on listening might make to a shared dialogue.

The set for the LISTENING PROJECT is a converted caravan, opened-up on one side, empty except for two chairs. The dialogue lasts 15 minutes with the possibility of an extension for one further 15 minutes. After some instructions, the two participants try out the LISTENING PROJECT together. A wider audience, out of earshot, may watch what is happening from a distance.

The LISTENING PROJECT has been developed and is performed by Rudolf Giesselmann [Hamburg] in cooperation with Susan Tilley [London].



What happens when in a dialogue listening plays a major role? Some experiment results:


  • I think that the breaks in the dialogue made it slower in the beginning, but towards the end, they definitely accelerated everything.
  • When it comes to listening and not just speaking, you don't have to be so perfect and still get very far.
  • There is a special quality to it: No eating, no drinking, no one disturbs you, you are not interrupted, No eating, no drinking, no disturbing, you are not interrupted, you can always decide when you want to change the roles.
  • Not answering immediatelyrequires practice.
  • We have meandered and have come a long way with our topic.
  • I have a tendency to engage in monologues, most likely to prevent the others from interrupting me. In this conversation, I could forget about that and quite quickly make my point. At least it was that way. I knew somehow that no one is going to interrupt me as long as the clock has not been turned over.
  • The best thing is not being interrupted.
  • Obviously I could not put everything into words, because afterwards, during the silence, a lot came up which might have been lost otherwise.
  • Installing myself in a conversation always requires a great deal of strength and is usually associated with the experience of being able to express something only incompletely. Here it was very easy after a certain point.
  • I didn't like the breaks. If you listen into the silence, myriad ideas can come up. I'm not really sure I want to know them all.
  • The best are the 30 seconds of silence, when nobody says anything. Without the silence, it continues exactly where one was at. That’s what usually happens. During the silence the subject somehow enlarges.
  • That I could truly say something really woke me up.
  • Somehow such a dialogue connects. Before we didn’t know each other and now he is helping me search and holding my handbag.
  • And in between I was even a bit frightened. You never know what thoughts are going to crop up when there are these pauses. However it worked and I must admit that my own thoughts were the most interesting for me.
  • At first, I thought I wouldn't have anything to say on the topic that was interesting, but then I was surprised what I could say. He simply kept listening to me.
  • The silence in the switch between listening and talking was sometimes very loud, though there was actually nothing to hear, except one's own breath. Somehow everything was there. "And about which of these do I want to talk?" I have wondered sometimes.
  • When you are listened to, you become generous in a conversation. At least that was so with me.
  • We are class teachers and work together as a team in one class. We had planned to sit down one afternoon next week and make the plans for the next school year. Now we have done it here in half an hour. You have convinced us, we mean, we have been convinced by this way of listening.
  • We broke up three years ago in a big fight, haven't had any contact since then and here we have just bumped into each other again. I think our friendship is back after sitting here on the chairs talking about us together. And we had pauses. The pauses were important, without them it probably wouldn't have worked. So thanks to the pauses.



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