Focus on listening to have a more meaningful conversation—one group discusses the problem, while the other group listens and observes.
👥 8 – 30 person | ⏰ between 40 and 45 minutes
At meetings, there are often stakeholders who aren’t familiar with others’ perspectives or aren’t accustomed to listening to each other without offering an immediate response. In these scenarios, it can be difficult for people to engage in a rich and meaningful conversation.
This exercise helps activate attention and engage skills that have become rusty for many: listening, observing, and being accountable for our observations. It primes your listening and observing skills so a more substantive conversation can take place. It may look like the action is happening with the speaking participants, but it is actually happening with the observers.
- Before the meeting, think of a topic that could be served by a group discussion and write down questions associated with it. Create a handout for the observers to record the major points they hear from the speaking players and any evidence they hear that supports each point.
- Find a room with a good amount of open space and clear out anything other than chairs. Arrange the chairs in two concentric circles—the inner circle seats the players engaged in conversation; the outer circle seats the players acting as observers.
- Introduce the game to the group and make it clear that this is a listening and observing exercise. Assign “observer” or “player” status to each person. Give everyone a pen and handout, which will only be used in the observer role. Ask the participants to sit in the circle for their assigned role.
- Announce the topic and have the speaking players discuss it for 15 minutes. Use the questions you generated before the meeting to guide the conversation. Make sure the speakers know that their responsibility is simply to converse. Make sure the observers know that their role is to pay attention and write down all discussion points and evidence that come out of the conversation.
- When 15 minutes are up, ask the group to switch seats and switch roles. Then start another 15-minute discussion on the same topic or a different one.
- After both conversations have completed, ask for volunteers to share the information they gathered and to describe their experiences on the inner versus outer circle.
- Optional: Have the group talk about their experience of being silent and paying attention. What was difficult about it? What was easy? How did it affect their perception of the topic and the other players? Use the Fishbowl exercise as a segue to a heightened give-and-take between stakeholders.