Listening During Liminality and Times of Transition

The Covid-19 pandemic brought a lengthy period of change and uncertainty – a seemingly endless time of forced flexibility. It brought the idea of liminality to our culture more so than at any other point in decades, as we all waited for a time when we would be able to see friends, or travel, get a vaccine, or even be able to buy toilet paper… But liminal spaces are common for us all, regardless of the pandemic. We may be waiting for a client to confirm business, or in the process of launching a new project, or determining our company’s goals for five years down the line, and the strategic plan to get there. Liminal spaces, after all, are not inherently passive places; the actions you take in the liminal space may help you to benefit from being there, while also propelling you forward to cross the threshold into something new.

During the wait for official results from the 2020 Presidential election in the US, we wrote about how such liminal spaces can help your team flourish. Paying attention to the physical and emotional responses that you and those around you have to liminality is a key to reducing stress, being present, and thinking clearly. Being in a liminal space – and taking time to be aware and thoughtful of how you are feeling in that space – can spark new levels of creativity. But how do you use that time wisely? What can help you tap into the presence, the emotions, and the ideas that stem from such spaces?

One framework that many teams and organizations have found helpful is the combination of: 1) A selection of curated open-ended questions; and 2) Time and space for active listening. Curating a set of 4-5 questions can help you to learn a lot about what you and others are doing, thinking, feeling, and finding during a liminal space. But without active listening, you may miss out on some of the common themes and/or the unique gems and ideas that people have to contribute. Facilitated small group listening sessions are a great way to put this framework into practice; having an outside facilitator hold the space can help participants to speak freely and authentically, without internal group dynamics impacting their contributions. (Building Bridges Leadership is available to facilitate your listening sessions; contact us if you would like to discuss.)

How might you bring this idea of listening during liminality to your team this week?

This Week’s Tip:

Take time to notice – and write down – all the different liminal spaces you are inhabiting right now, in your work world and in other parts of your life, and the liminal spaces your team members are inhabiting.

  1. For you: Reflect on these spaces, notice their impact on you, and what’s coming up for you in each one. What are you 1) Doing, 2) Thinking, 3) Feeling, 4) Finding in each liminal space? What open-ended questions might help you to get the most out of this space? If you’re not sure, ask someone you trust to suggest some open-ended questions for you to reflect on.
  2. For your team: As a group, take stock of all the liminal spaces you are occupying as a team. You may not be ready to go through a series of open-ended questions as a listening session yet; this can take time to prepare for, and work best in a facilitated environment. Acknowledging the liminal spaces, and the impact they are having on the group, is a helpful first step. You may also want to give some space for people to share some thoughts or reflections, without comments or editorializing from others. Respond only with a “thank you for sharing.” Consider planning a series of small group listening sessions over the coming months (Building Bridges Leadership would be happy to help).

Try these out this week and let us know how it goes in our Facebook group – we’d love to hear what you learn about yourself and others as you do.

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Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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