It’s one of my all time favorite topics.
Listening! The most powerful step in communication and often the most neglected. I had the delight of speaking with Senior facilitator for the Compassionate Listening Project – Susan Partnow.
She shared wisdom and insights about compassionate listening. It was a conversation full of love and insights and I welcome you to listen in here to the very latest episode of the Blossom Your Awesome Podcast – Episode #9 – Compassionate Listening With Susan Partnow.
Susan Partnow has been supporting individuals, families and organizations to transform their conflicts for over thirty years. She has been certified as a mediator by the Snohomish Dispute Resolution Center since the 1990’s. She has also studied and now teaches Restorative Circle and Peacekeeping Circle practices. She is a Sr. Facilitator for The Compassionate Listening Project and is a co-creator of their core practices and advanced trainings. Susan served as a Sr. Organizational Development Consultant for Swedish/Providence for eight years, providing team building, strategic planning, change initiatives, coaching, mediation and facilitation to leaders across the system. Prior to working with Swedish/Providence, Susan led Partnow Communications for over 25 years as a consultant specializing in team building, mediation, leadership development, and conflict management with public sector, private and non-profit organizations and individuals throughout Puget Sound. Before that Susan was a certified speech pathologist working in hospital, clinic and home health settings.
Susan has an M.A. in Communication Disorders from Northwestern University. She is a member of various professional groups, including the national Organizational Development Network and American Society of Training and Development. She is co-founder of Conversation Cafes, Seattle Restorative Justice and Global Citizen Journey and former Board member of NCDD (National Coalition on Dialogue & Deliberation.) Susan is author of Everyday Speaking for All Occasions (Doubleday books) and co-contributor of The Art of Compassionate Listening.
Susan is especially drawn to bringing challenged individuals and groups together to release the energy locked in conflict to foster its transformation into creative new beginnings and deepened relations.
For more on Susan Partnow check out her site.
Hello and welcome to the blossom, your awesome podcast episode number nine Today we have got Susan part now senior facilitator with the compassionate listening project. Susan part now has been supporting individuals and families organizations to transform their conflicts for more than 30 years she is certified as a mediator and she has also studied and now teaches restorative circle and peacekeeping circle practices. She is a senior facilitator for the compassionate listening project and she has led this work around the world including in India Kashmir, several african countries, the Middle East in Guatemala, just to name a few. I am so honored and touched to have her hair and let me tell you she is going to have some powerful wisdom and insights for us. So Susan, thank you for being here Welcome to the show.
I’m delighted I love any opportunity to talk about compassionate listening and meet new people and I am huge on listening, I have written about it extensively but this what you do here with the compassionate listening project um if you could kind of just share a little bit about your background and how you got started with this and then we’ll kind of dive into the compassionate listening itself. Sure that sounds great, well I have been a facilitator and mediator and group leader for many, many years and through that work came to see how important of course listening was. I also loved to travel and I was also a peacemaker and so when I came across something back in the early days that was called the Middle East citizen diplomacy project part of the earth stewards network, I was really drawn to it dane and Perry was sort of the father of it all.
And he was an important mentor for me with his work of warriors of the heart of really learning to connect heart and spirit to our action in the world. So I went on one of the very early delegations of the Middle East Citizen diplomacy project to Israel Palestine where we thought we could listen and help heal things there and we soon came to realize that we had no clue how to do that kind of listening. And that was the time when the project went on a long learning curve and ended up developing the practices of compassionate listening. So I was really connected to the project from the very beginning and loved seeing its development and it helped me personally in my own life, I’ve developed as well as developing the practice and the project, wow okay, now if you could tell us for those of us or you know those who are not familiar with the practice, if you could kind of just what is compassionate, listening.
Yes, so we say it’s a practice and that means we have to practice. So even right now I’ll remind myself that I want to be present to myself, but also to you and listening. So it’s a practice and there’s a set of skills based on our five core practices that I’ll talk about in a moment. We also believe it’s a healing gift which is the origin of it when we were doing that work in Israel Palestine which we continue to do although not this year during the pandemic to offer listening as a healing gift and a way to build trust and help move the peace process forward. And it’s also a set of tools and practices and techniques to bring groups together. So there’s many uses of compassionate listening. Most important for most of us in our own personal life, in our relationship to ourself as well as our personal relationships both at home and at work in the workplace and in the public square as well.
So I would say that it all arises from a deep philosophical or even spiritual basis that we are all connected tick not han talks about our being inter beings. So I am part of you are part of me. And when we really come to understand that and we connect with our hearts then compassionate listening can easily arise because I am hearing you as part of me. Mm hmm That is so beautiful. Now, can you just speak to that a little uh more Yes. So we believe that inside of each of us is this beautiful whole and complete being and that’s truly are our legacy. Our our right our way of who we are. We often say think of a little child like a darling little four year old child full of energy.
Their heart is wide open. They feel whole and complete. They are in the world full of wonder and awe. Easy access to their feelings, even sorrow or grief or rage from one moment to the next of awe and wonder and curiosity and they feel capable and and like little genius is able to do anything and curious and we feel that’s who we truly are. But in life things happen to us. We wounded some of us more than others. Of course. Uh some of us are born into a family that has suffers with poverty or discrimination or injustice. Uh perhaps there’s violence in the family. But even in a child lucky enough to have a happy supportive home judgments come and we get hurt and wounded. So our hearts contract and we try to protect ourselves from those wounds with defenses and we lose touch with that beautiful open heartedness inside of us.
And so a lot of our practices are how to dissolve those protective defenses so we can once again access that heart. Which of course means we are willing to feel our pain as well as our joy and be vulnerable. And that is scary for for many of us. So this is why we call it healing our world from the inside out. The work begins with ourselves and our own connection to our own heart. Mm That is so beautiful. Now I know we’re going to kind of dive deeper into this But question for you about something you just said now you know as adults were wounded and all of that and carry all this baggage from trauma and how as is there an easy kind of tip something you can offer for an adult to awaken that childlike wonder again. How do we reinvigorate that? Well, I think cultivating curiosity and gratitude and awe.
Those are wonderful things. So really our corporate this can bring us right into our core practices that lead us through that pathway to healing and developing the skills. The first practice is called cultivating compassion and it’s not just compassion for others in the world but for ourselves. So the word compassion really means to feel with, to suffer with. There’s a reciprocal term in buddhism called moody to which is also to have joy and the joy of others. So it’s really open heartedness to feel that connection and flow with another human being. And the beautiful thing about compassion is it can be cultivated like a renewable resource. There’s no limit to it. And the most beautiful thing is that awe and gratitude are the ways to cultivate compassion.
So just taking a moment right now we happen to be recording this on an spectacular day of spring. At least here in Seattle the birds are tripping. The flowers are just bursting with so much energy and joy to be in the world. There’s so much it’s so easy to look out the window and feel auto and gratitude for the miracle of life And if you just take a moment to imagine that you can feel your heart soften and open a bit and the life force within you stir just like it does in those plants. And that’s really an experience of gratitude and awe and that softens and opens our heart. Makes it resilient and that gives us greater capacity for compassion and the ability to reconnect to that wholeness inside ourselves. Mm wow! I love that. Um that is amazing. So yeah. Please continue.
Yeah. So a lot of us, especially in this Western world the idea of self care, self compassion. We can feel it’s too indulgent. We’re supposed to be hard on ourselves and push ourselves. But really being tender with ourselves tenderizes us so we can be tender for others. And I think of it as re sourcing, how can I resource myself so I can be a source of care and support for one another. Again remembering I am you you are me. Uh It said Ubuntu in in the african tradition. So all that I do for me spills over to you. Ah So let’s let’s in fact take a moment to give ourselves a little self care. I can talk us through a lovely visualization. I would just warn anybody driving. You may listen but come back to this later. I don’t want you to close your eyes or get too relaxed. But for those of us who can take a moment to just realize, ah for this moment, maybe you’re doing the dishes and you could turn the water off for a moment and just take a moment for yourself.
Whether you’re standing or sitting slow and deepen your breath, let the next breath extend on the exhalation that quiets our nervous system and notice the wonder of that breath that’s been there for you since the first moment of your birth. That first breath, it’s like a friend along with you and all of the parts of your body. What a miracle it is! The feet that have carried you so many miles so many kilometers where you want to go and your hands, wow! How miraculous they are. They allow you to cook to create, to write to caress amazing hands. Give thanks your hands and bring those hands to your heart for a moment and feel it beating that heartbeat that’s been there for you from the days in the womb before you were born, wow!
Talk about miracles! Bring your attention to your heart and give thanks and begin to picture yourself as that sweet little four year old, so precious and adorable. And imagine holding yourself tenderly sweet one dear one and give yourself a sense of care you who try so hard and and means so well, and take a moment to call to yourself a name of the beloved for me. It’s Susanna or Susie Anita, dear one sister call to yourself a name beloved. I can feel the care flood through your body and really bathe and those feelings let them flood through your system and savor them the sense of tender care and wonder and awe.
Mhm. Maybe end by just giving yourself a little hug. Some of us don’t get to hug too much in these days of the pandemic. But you can hold yourself some call this self happening. Give yourself loving care and keeping this tender feeling if your eyes have been closed when you’re ready, gently open them. How was that for you? Sue? Ah that was beautiful. That was so um just warm and welcoming and embracing thank you. Yeah, it’s really nourishing and we can do that for ourselves. So sometimes we need to we call it slow down to the speed of wisdom, so stop pushing and take a moment to resource and nourish ourselves. So that’s the practice of cultivating compassion. And once we’ve done that our hearts ready to take the next step and then we say we develop the fair witness and in many ways this is mindfulness.
So I have a little more courage now, you know, courage comes from the french word garage. So it’s strong hearted. So I’m becoming more strong hearted and full hearted and open hearted and clear hearted and now I can kind of climb up I think of it as climbing up to the balcony, William ury taught me that. And from there I get off of the stage of the drama of my life and I can say, oh my goodness! There I am again. Maybe I just had a little tense conversation with my sister sisters are always good for triggering us and I can notice. So there we are at it again. And that little bit of distance gives me a space for choice and for being responsive instead of reactive. So we have to notice and manage what we call our triggers are activation points, the things that really put us out of our equilibrium and we need to become experts on our triggers.
We spend a lot of work with this in our compassionate listening practice. In fact we recommend. It’s a great thing to do every night, reflect through the day and notice. Where were those moments when I felt that tightening in my body. And what was the earliest warning sign physically? What was triggering me? Because we know when we get triggered we want to point our finger at someone but really it’s three fingers back at us. What is it inside of me? What deep concern or value of mine was not being met. We really can unpack these triggers for many, many layers. Did. It sent me into some kind of old pattern of defensiveness. What age was I when I first started that pattern? What was I trying to protect. So then I can bring the resources of myself as an adult to begin to dissolve those triggers and notice them sooner and recover sooner.
And as I do that, I’m ready for our third practice, which is to respect self and others. So I, um, but maybe before I get on to that I should check in, do you have a question about developing the fair witness? How are we doing? Um, you know, I just, if you are able to elaborate on that a little because I, I feel people are just so guarded and struggle with a lot of that kind of open heartedness or you know, allowing themselves to be vulnerable or show up in these other ways, right? And that’s natural and of course we have to protect ourselves because sometimes it’s not safe. So we always whatever trigger, we don’t judge it, but we moved towards it tenderly with that compassion with curiosity. What is it that was really going on?
So with my sister, maybe she triggers me. She’ll often say, oh because she’s 10 years older than me, oh, you’ll see someday, you know, you’re, you’re just too young. Well I am now 74 years old and she’s been telling me that my whole life and it really triggers me and I’m, I’m starting to get to see the humor in it and to just laugh to myself and say, oh she’s just being judy, you know? And then I realized, well why did that used to trigger me? And it was because I felt unveil you’d unseen unworthy. And it it was scary as a, as a child, you know, that I wouldn’t get the attention and care that I needed. And now I realized, well I know that’s not so and I know what I know and she’s just being judy. So, but it’s been years of that kind of trigger re emerging and mind being able to notice it. So now when she does that, I can just smile to myself and let it go.
Whereas I used to get reactive. Um so I don’t feel vulnerable. In fact, as I’ve done this work. So paradoxically as if we’re willing to be courageous to dive in to these triggers and notice them on our own on our own time. As I say at night, it’s a great time to journal and reflect on the day with kindness with kindness towards ourselves. And then by the way, I, the second part of my nightly journaling and sometimes I’m just doing it mentally might not be writing it. Then I go through the data. Notice every moment of joy and gratitude to nourish and feed my heart every moment during the day when I felt some beautiful connection with with another person. And the more we notice those moments we sort of become magnets magnets to bring more towards us. Is that helpful. That is helpful. I think um that’s actually so profound just being in practice of those little appreciating those little things, you know that we just overlook.
We do, we do or we think oh isn’t that cool? And we’re onto the next thing, but and then there’s a neurophysiology to all of this which in our classes we spend time on, if we spend time with it and savor it for like 30 seconds, then it releases hormones and really affects our physiology, neurophysiology. And as I say, the more we, we notice these things, we begin to attract more and we really can shift our whole nervous system to a higher level of functioning and a deeper level of being of equal equanimity and equilibrium. I really noticed this because I’ve had the joy of teaching this for gosh over 20 years now and it has changed me just little things like I spill something and you know now it’s just like oh nuts, Whereas 10, 15 years ago I could have gotten really frustrated like, oh God, you know, and that doesn’t feel good and it’s not good for your physical being ah so it’s but it’s a practice and you can really start to make big changes in your life and then as I say in the in this third practice of respecting self and others if we can start to have it come out into the world in our relations, so respecting self and others, some talk about boundaries and we do need boundaries.
but I like to think of it as a membrane. It’s a little more organic and permeable, allows everything in that’s healthy and good, but knows what to not let out. So like the healthy membrane of a cell. This also means that I don’t need to fix anybody because I respect you. I know you are the you are the expert on yourself and you can figure it out. So I don’t need to get pulled into that drama triangle as a rescuer. I don’t need to see you or me as a victim. We spend a lot of time talking about that and it’s a challenge because in our world today we look at any of the media, they are living in the drama triangle. There’s always a them and they are so awful and poor me. And it’s not fair or I need to fix you. And that triangle as a vicious cycle. So we have to really be wear and not get pulled in and see each other as whole and complete instead of as needing to be fixed or being imperfect.
So that’s part of our work of respect, self and other. And then finally we get to the practice of yes, now we’re going to listen from the heart and we say that because we want to walk down from the head to the heart, compassionate, listening is so much an energetic connection and a feeling into the energy. It’s not all mental. So we come down into the heart. It’s very embodied and we trust the heart. There’s such a wisdom of the heart. In fact, we see the research from heart Math talks about how the heart is more of a neuro network than a muscle pump its heart mind truly, there are more pathways from the heart to the brain than the other way around. So we want to be guided by our hearts wisdom, which can hold polarity and complexity in ways that are more linear thinking.
Brain is not able to, not that we abandon our mind, but we have it served our heart wisdom. So we listen from the heart with our whole body and then we are also listening to ourselves and that enables us to speak from the heart, our deepest truth checking whether it’s helpful and wise and what our true intention is in our speech so that in a very brief manner is our our our five core practices and they’re simple to name but a lifetime to deepen and practice. And now if somebody wants to get just you know started with this, where is a good place for them to start. Um just yeah, well, one of the gifts of the pandemic is we’ve brought a lot of our training online so we have zoom classes and people could check out the website, the compassionate listening project dot org.
We have a number of classes. I know in fact I’m going to give it just a little taste and I think it’s set for May 10th. Uh, so that’s just a 11 session, 2.5 hour where what I just gave you, I would go into a little more depth and we’d have a little bit of practice so people would actually get to listen to one another and be heard. Ah and then we have our our basic intro classes which tend to be about five sessions and once you’ve had that you can take one of our advanced classes. And we also have some specialized classes like I’m starting one May 17th uncompassionate listing and polarized times. How do we manage to listen across our divides? And one of my colleagues is offering one on white ally ship how to be a compassionate listener around our internalized racism. Uh, so go to the website and then we also have a book that is actually our basic curriculum in written form.
So a person could kind of go through it like a workbook on their own and that’s also available on the website. So those are my two best suggestions. And then I would say just for your own personal give it a try. We all have a timer in our phone. So just invite someone that is close to you, maybe your partner or even a child and say let’s try an experiment and I’m going to set the timer for three minutes, five minutes, 10 minutes, whatever you think works best. And we’ll each have a turn and when it’s my turn, you I will listen to you to you and you will just speak without any interruption for that whole five minutes and I’ll be listening deeply with my heart open and really feeling so privileged to get to listen to you, but I will say nothing, I’ll just listen. And then when the timer goes off we’ll pause for a moment and then we’ll switch and you’ll listen to me.
And that is an amazing experience, especially when you remind yourself to anchor in your heart and to listen there without any judgment and just feeling the honor of being with this beloved person. Okay. Um and then, you know, I have a couple of a couple of questions for you here just um inviting you to go deeper with the power of compassionate listening. I know you guys, the compassionate listening project on the site, there are kind of talks about you know, it’s a healing gift to listen. So if you could kind of talk a little about that. Yes, I think that when we when we we as social beings social animals, that we are there certain we get stuck in certain ways and we really need to be witnessed to move through. So when we’re when we feel seen and heard and loved or just I mean attention is loved.
So when we really feel the full presence of another, something in us can melt and open up. So it’s such a gift to offer this kind of listening to another because it will totally crack their heart open. It’s such a gift and um and it’s a gift to be able to give that and we’ve heard over and over from people how it transforms their relationships. It builds self esteem to feel seen and heard this way. So when we listen to our Children and we stop trying to fix them which is so hard to resist but we trust that they will find their way and we are there to see them as whole and complete. It’s very healing. Um so does that does that help? There’s certainly Yeah and there’s amazing stories from like our trips to the Middle East where I can remember the story of a person who he worked for the army and a very cruel kind of role and was used to people feeling totally alienated from him but the but the group was willing to listen open heartedly which of course sometimes it doesn’t mean we like or agree with what you’re doing but it means we see you as a human being, we see that that deep core of yourself and we want to hear.
And so this person who actually in his work had to kill the enemy felt so hurt by the end he said he was like I got curious about them about the enemy and he said well what are you hearing from them? So that was such a powerful example and moment of how we can go from seeing it as us and them as monsters as as evil beings, as just human beings, doing what they can. Uh So it the gift of listening is transformative. It’s not an easy one, but it’s so rewarding. Yes. And now um this has all been just so insightful and beautiful the way you’ve put it. Um I will just ask if there’s some kind of wisdom that you can just leave us with in closing oh my I would say to just always take a moment, connect with your heart, ask your heart its deepest yearning for the values.
We we spent a lot of time looking for our values. What are you yearning for? Is it wholeness? Is it being seen? Is it justice? Is it honor? Is it loyalty? And when you know what your heart’s desire is, you can then better look for it or ask for it or forgive yourself and understand yourself for the fierceness that understandably arises for that deep value in your name. So listen to yourself and learn to listen at that deep level to each other. So you can honor yourself and honor each other and be patient. That was so beautiful. I thank you so much for your time and your love and wisdom and um yeah, that was amazing. Well thanks so it’s been a delight to have this short time with you. I hope we meet again. Thank you so much.