Alexis Monville (en)

Listening exercises

I used, once again, listening exercises during the Devops Masterclass that I delivered with one of my colleagues in Ho-Chi-Minh-City for the APAC Red Hat Tech Exchange. I committed this time to publish a short description of those exercises.

I set the stage for the exercises with a short warm-up exercise 1-2-3-Go ! That helps to understand we are not probably using only our ears in the listening process 🙂

Then, I asked the group to form pairs.

First Rule

I explained to them that we will start with one listener and one talker and that we will have the opportunity to switch role later.
The talkers will have to speak for 60 seconds and deliver a story on any subject that is really important to them.
The listener will have to respect a first rule : Don’t talk.

I then facilitate a debriefing session, asking the listeners how they found the exercise, and then how the talkers felt about the listening of their counterpart. I insist on how they felt 60 seconds was, long or short ? I insist also that asking question may derail the talkers from their path, and that it may lead them on something that is important to you, but not them.

Second Rule

When the group is ready. I propose that we switch the role of listeners and talkers and that we introduce a second rule : Don’t even think about talking.
And we start again for 60 seconds on a story that really matters.

The second debriefing session is even more interesting about how difficult it is to not let the mind wander on something else. There’s obviously questions on the importance of questions that are here to clarify what the talkers are saying, or that demonstrate the interest of the listeners.Usually, I don’t need to answer those ones, a part of the audience gets it very fast and is able to answer that. What is the goal of your question if we are not listening to the answer but are working on preparing questions ? Our questions will probably be answered if we let the person continue their speech, or this question may have a small interest at the end.


There’s a lot of variants possible for this simple exercise:

  • you can propose to the person to prepare their speech fixing the topic on introducing themselves. You will need to add more time for this (probably go for 90 to 120 seconds…)
  • you can propose the persons to add a small bar on a paper each time they have a question during the first phase, and to tick this bar when the question is answered. And ask them to consider the bars that are still there at the end and to measure the importance of those questions.
  • you can propose to the group to work in group of 3 people, with one observer each time

I first heard of this exercise from Paul Klipp in ALE2014. Another time, I attended a session with Olaf Lewitz and Michael Sahota during the Scrum Day in Paris in 2015. And one more time with a session delivered by Oana Juncu during Agile France 2015. Each time, there was variants, and each time it was really powerful. I had the opportunity to test it on different occasion, and it is a good eye opener to ease the following conversations.

When will you try it ?

Header photo Listen to ME! by Jonathan Powell under Creative Commons