Active Listening – the One-to-ones practice
One-to-ones are meetings without an agenda, but with a definite purpose: to find out what makes people tick, what they care about, where they get their passion.
(Austen Ivereigh , Faithful Citizens)
Taiwanese have the reputation of being very hospitable and warm; we often spend a lot of time chatting with our friends and neighbors. Talking about Politics, education, the community, and of course the future. Therefore we have so many famous tea and snacks were produced because the need of chat . In the modern society, more and more people believe that the gossip is just a waste of time, sometimes we would say “like the elderly chatting under the tree” as a metaphor means useless talking, without real progress or achievement. However, in community organising, the chat between ordinary people could be the most powerful weapon to change the world.
It would be easier to understand if we use another term “effective communication” instead of chat. In community organizing, the organizer would use the communication and empathy to change our daily experience into the resources of social movement, when the stories from our family and friends accumulated, the issues emerged.
The way to find the stories and leaders, we called it “one to one” conversation, when we have plan to start hundreds or thousands one to one conversations in a specific area or community, you may say it’s a “listening campaign ” or “listening exercise.” And the most important element in this kind of conversation is “listening”, active listening, to understand peoples’ worries and their hope of life, how their value and faith affect their decision, when is the moment that they are proud of their community, and how they envisage their life in the coming ten or twenty years. To understand people and their life, then you would find the core concern in this community, and if you could bring them hope, let them know in this issue, where is the light , then either young or old, they could all fight like a real warrior.
After hundreds or thousands listening campaign in different area or community, you would find that the issues which emerged in different stories are so similar, whether you are Christian or Buddhist, you would find its so difficult to find the affordable housing; either Bangladesh or Chinese, there’s no decent jobs for their young people. The same issue emerge from diverse community, and this is the key to organize people work together.
In 2000, the leaders of TELCO(The East London Communities Organisation) start the discussions around the concerns of poverty and low paid, from the listening campaign lead by community leaders and organisers, they found massive stories that people have to do two or three jobs to sustain their family, the parents have no time for their children, and this lead to the problem of education. In 2001, the campaign called “Living Wage” started, considering the high expense in London, the member of London citizens ask the employee should pay their workers more than the minimum wage, to sustain their family with the essentials of life. After ten years, the campaign has won over £70 million of Living Wages, lifting over 10,000 families out of working poverty. And this all came from the very simple conversation “how is your life?”
In community organising, the 121 is the development of relationships, the organizers can not only identify the issue though the conversation but also understand the most important value and stories in our life. When we could connect people relationally, every steps we march are no longer just the progress of business, but the connection between the neighborhood.
Since the 121 conversation is the base for all the work, as a community organizer, the first training is “listening”. The organizer have to realize that how the relationships and power consist the society and politics, though the listening, we would build another relational power to make a difference.
A good 121 consist of the following elements
Why we need 121s?
l To find the talented people: leaders
l To build relationships
What should we listen/ask in a 121s?
l The stories
l the passion, value, and what motivate this person
How to conduct a 121s ?
l Frame this meeting (briefly, why you are here)
l Political introduction (introduce yourself in 2-3 mins, use brief story highlight who you are)
l Active listening
After a 121s?
l Write the notes (stick person)
l Think about next step with this person
l Go to ask another 121s from his/ her recommendation .