Listening in Meetings

I’ve been attending Quaker Meetings this year at University Friends Meeting (UFM). You can learn a little bit of back story about Quakers on my earlier blog post. There are three types of activities that I’ve participated in:

  1. Meeting for Worship – The (mostly) silent hour long meeting in which people speak when compelled to
  2. Adult Education – An hour long discussion group covering a wide range of topics (peace activism, brain science, role of religion in quakerism are all topics that have been touched)
  3. Meeting for Business – Once a month UFM limits their meeting for worship to about 30 minutes, the clerk then has a reading, and an agenda-led meeting about the corporate life of the community ensues

My first meeting was actually a Meeting for Business. It blew my mind. The main topic for discussion was highly controversial and sensitive but the general civility and listening of all the community members still astounds me. Nearly every point along the spectrum of opinions was represented, while everyone had a chance to speak, more importantly everyone who spoke was also listened to.

This is pretty amazing. How many times in a work meeting do we say something, but yet no one is listening? How many times is someone talking, and we’re just thinking about something else, either waiting to speak, or waiting for the meeting to be over?

Since attending quaker meetings I’ve started to pay attention to the amount people listen in meetings at PopCap. I’ve started by first paying attention to how much (or little) I’m listening, but also watched others. Additionally, I’ve tried to notice the effects of not listening. I’ve really tried hard not to ascribe judgement to non-listening and have focused solely on awareness.

My summary is this: we don’t listen much, and this causes all sorts of problems.

We waste so much time because we’re not listening. People repeat themselves (which is funny, because it doesn’t seem more people are listening on the second, third, and fourth time around), circular conversations don’t stop, idealogical differences pop up, we question peoples motives instead of looking deeper at what they’re trying to say, others can’t step in and help clarify, frustration rises, people feel unsatisfied, it’s harder to receive or give buy off, we don’t fully understand the problems we’re facing, and more.

Basically we waste our and other people’s time. If we could somehow capture the listening the quakers have instilled in the culture of their spiritual community I’m willing to bet job satisfaction and productivity would increase, we’d make better decisions and ultimately have a way more successful company.





  1. Thank you for your eloquent description of the benefits of listening. I have been teaching listening in a corporate setting since 1996 and it works just as you describe. I studied with Nancy Kline and she has written two books ‘Time to Think’ and ‘More Time to Think’; which are about how to do this. Nancy told me that some of the processes she teaches are aiming to emulate the listening of the Quakers. My blog is mostly about listening and I would really value your comments.

    • Thank you for the comment.

      I’m assuming that your commenting on those books is a recommendation, so I will get the first one post haste!

      Thanks for also letting me know about your blog. I’ll be checking it out now. What’s the link for other readers of my blog who are curious about learning more about listening?

      • There’s the short link, as I said I mostly blog about Leadership and Listening.
        John, yes I do like the first book on Mark’s list. I think most people use it to undertake a leadership challenge that they plan.

  2. I am curious, which specific elements of the discussion in the Meeting for Business most stuck out for you?

    Meeting for Business recently has been talking about some topics that many in the community have been talking about for at least a decade. But I also am very interested in how these matters sound to newcomers.

    • In my first meeting (which was the meeting for business) the discussion topic was about the long standing member participating more easily and often. I’m not sure what the etiquette of publicly talking about the meeting is, but in this instance and I’m using caution to be safe.

      Thanks for commenting on the blog Dorene! Nice to “see” you out of meeting! 🙂

  3. Hi John

    We have the following giant announcement in our bulletin every week available to any newcomer who walks in the door and talk publicly in business meeting from time to time about related topics:

    • Since 2002 our worshipping community has included an individual who is a convicted, non-predatory sex offender. He has graduated from the treatment portion of the alternative sentencing program, continues treatment voluntarily, and remains under supervision by the Department of Corrections. We are a community working to provide a welcoming spiritual home for survivors of abuse as well as this offender. We are a safer place for both children and adults because of the awareness and education that this ministry has produced. He is with a chaperone at all times while on our grounds. He may be worshipping with us at 9:30 on 2nd and 4th Sundays and at 11:00 on 1st and 3rd Sundays and he may attend adult discussion at 9:30 on 1st and 3rd Sundays. If you have questions we encourage you to ask a member of either the Oversight or Worship & Ministry Committee. For more information see yellow informational flyer on information table outside office..

    For me one interesting thing about lots of Quakers is a kind of fierce forthrightness about many difficult topics. This is part of history about Quaker integrity and publishers of Truth. As far as I am concerned, the giant announcement is, among other things, permission to talk or ask questions about it as led although for purposes of this comment I don’t think we need to mention the person’s name.

    The specific decision being discussed, which was aproved at April Business Meeting, basically removes all the time variations in the announcement above so that the person in question can come to anything he wants as long as he has a chaperone, someone willing to submit their name to the Department of Corrections and Oversight committee in advance. The announcement did nto get updated in time for this week’s bulletin but will reflect changes next week.

    There are several threads of the announcement which reflect different difficulties and challenging topics for me and for others. Quakers make decisions by coming to unity or consensus.When things are going well it is amazing; sometimes even small movements can take a long time.

    I expect some of the threads will come back to Business Meeting but hopefully separated from the decision above. Personally sometimes when something is difficult for me, I check to see what about a situation stands out to others. That was the basis for my question. Your post, though, started about listening so you are welcome not to feel obliged to hurry.

    My blog has lots of entries about the ministries in the announcement. The writing is pretty raw and ragged and includes several stories developing over time rather than concise comments.

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