Listening Circles

Listening circles are a highly structured dialogue in which people's turns are determined by the passing of an object around the circle. The sequence is totally predictable.

Sometimes a group wants to use an object to guide their discussion but they don't want to go around in a circle. They want more spontaneity. So the object is returned to the centre after each turn and picked up by whoever wishes to speak next. This is sometimes called 'popcorn' because the object pops in and out of the centre. Since it is a bit less structured, it is considered more 'open' than a formal listening circle.

The group can decide that no one speaks two times until everyone has spoken once. This version of popcorn still feels much like a listening circle. However, if the group lets the object pass to anyone, regardless of how often they've spoken, there is a major loss of circle atmosphere. This loose form of popcorn feels like an ordinary conversation, except that people don't interrupt each other, there's time and space between speakers, and it 's clear who has the floor.

In some circles the focus is on individual people. These individuals may be sharing their stories or receiving some kind of help from the whole group. In these circumstances it can be useful to let other people question the speaker for a while after he's finished, before the group's attention moves, with the object, to the next person.

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