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intimate, unassuming, confidential

Co-listening is a Skyros tradition that involves meeting a partner once a day for a period agreed upon between the two partners, in which each is given an equal amount of time to talk while the other listens, and to listen whiIe the other talks. The basic format is that one talks and the other listens, then they switch roles, and give each other feedback. This is a completely safe and powerful way of working together, as long as the basic rules are followed. Co-listening shouId be clearly distinguished from co-counselling which has a similar pattern of switching roles, but does have a different format and involves different kinds of interventions.

The Purposes of Co-listening

The purpose of co-listening is to enable the individual to have time with one other person so that he or she can go deeply into themselves and talk ‘real talk’ without observing social forms, and without being intruded upon by advice, interpretations or even approval or disapproval. The fact is that most conversations are totally uncreative while making sure social relationships are safe. But by opening up to real talk, and real listening, we are opening up to our creative ability to work through our situation and come to our own positive way through.

Why not approval? Approval, although it seems benign, actually has a powerful effect on determining what the other says – thus behaviourists have found that even if you said ‘mmm’ each time the person uses a verb, the speaker will unconsciously use verbs more often. This is probably why most therapists only hear the bad news and problems from their clients – this is what they reinforce.  So in co-listening the message is: You don’t have to interest me or please me – I am here for you unconditionally.

The effect of co-listening is also to spread the possibility of ‘real talk’ in the community generally. Once people start talking to each other in a deep way, this tends to become more common generally.
For some people co-listening has proved so usefuI that they have carried it on for years in their home town, sometimes with their original partners and sometimes with others. In one or two cases we know it has transformed a marriage in which partners had stopped talking to each other on a deep level.
The process has the advantage of being perfectly safe as it can be carried out by people with no counselling experience and perhaps even a minimum of sensitivity to others. It also often enables people to go quite deep.

Sometimes individuals prefer a more active conversation type experience, but we usually advise people to try this method for the first few days, and then to shift to any other format by mutual agreement.

The Principles of Co-listening

Each must have equal time, not to be varied because someone feels that the needs of one are greater than those of the other. About 10 minutes per person and 4 minutes feedback each seems about average. But if short of time, even three minutes each can be great. Better to do it briefly than to skip it.

When talking, you open a space, breathe and simply wait to see what happens. It is like thinking aloud. When listening, you open a space, breathe, and just listen. You are not Doing anything.  You are just being totally present.

During the talking and listening it is advisable for the listener to keep approval statements or sounds to a minimum, and to simply be aware of giving the other full attention.

Whatever is said is completely confidential.

Feedback Rules

Clarifying and reflecting back what the other said (‘What I heard you saying between the lines, or in your tone of voice or non-verbal messages was…’).

Or saying how you felt about it (‘I felt annoyed, sympathetic, loving, etc’. but not ‘I felt that…’ and giving a thought).

You do not have to repeat back what the person has said, but simply to reflect back in a way that makes the person feel heard and understood.

Please do not:

Make interpretations (eg, ‘I think this is because of how your mother treated you).

Give advice (eg, ‘Why don’t you…?’).

Approve/rescue (‘You’re not ugly.  You have a lovely smile’).

Disapprove/criticise (‘You’re not doing as well as you think’).

Choosing a Partner:

Your Atsitsa co-listening partner should be someone you feel comfortable with. If you use it as an opportunity to get close to someone you hope to have an intimate relationship the chances are that it won’t work as a co-listening experience.

The Exercises

Stand up  and find someone you don’t know very well, and sit down with them.

Spend a moment silently tuning into yourself, then tuning into each other, then tuning into yourself again. Now person A talks for three minutes saying whatever comes to heart and mind while the other listens. The listener is fully present and listens unconditionally. If intervention seems necessary, a statement like ‘‘Tell me more about X’, ‘X’ being a word that the person has used, or what is the feeling behind X?’ should come in a relatively non-intrusive fashion. At the end of the three minutes person B gives his/her feedback. Then person B’s turn comes and A gives his or her own feedback.

Just remember in your feedback you say what you heard or what you understood the other  person was saying, not only literally, but also between the lines or by their non-verbal communication. You can also express what you felt, but do not offer advice, do not interpret, do not express approval or disapproval and do not attempt rescuing or criticism. At the end say goodbye to your partner non-verbally.

The next exercise is the same but with eyes closed. This won’t suit everyone, but some will love it and some will hate it. For some people closed eyes deepens the experience dramatically and cuts out any interference while for others it is uncomfortable and unproductive. Just try it out both talking and listening to find out how it is for you and later you can do what you like.

Confidentiality is a condition whch must be observed about everything that occurs in these sessions. So is the principle of equal time. If after a few of days of trying this simple method of talking and listening you find that you strongly prefer more active interaction, then change it by agreement. But continue to observe the principles of equal time and confidentiality and refrain from giving advice, making interpretations, attempting rescuing or reesorting to criticism.

If it just becomes a discussion or chat session  go back to the strict rules.

Good luck!



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