Powering Your

Civil Dialogue

The Great Listening is committed to cultivating civil dialogue around the world.

Part of this endeavor incorporates a collaborative effort to provide tools for civil dialogue, articles on the subject from innovators and experts, and reasons for working across opposing viewpoints.



And Then I started listening

I am not a good listener by nature. I suppose it’s because empathy is necessary to be a great listener. And empathy is not my baseline. My natural state is aggression. In the DISC, I’m a high D. In the Enneagram I’m an 8w7. So for me, empathy and listening are learned behaviors. Something those close to me quickly discover if I’m fatigued or hungry! 

In this very first post on The Great Listening, I wanted to share with you what I’ve learned about listening. Not just the process but the fruit of it. How listening has been essential part of my awakening and transformation. 

The first thing I learned is that listening heals (or at least bridges) the divide between two sides. For me, this divide was especially wide internally. I was split between a constructed self, born of survival and acceptance and my true Self. So, it could be said that the first time I truly listened was to the voice of my own soul. This was a foreign and even heretical concept. Immersed for years in a fundamentalist Christian group, we were taught the only the voice that we should listen to was the voice of God or the ministers of the church. It wasn’t until I read Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist” in early 2014 that I began to examine the difference between the voice in my head and the voice of my soul. As I listened, I learned they were starkly different. The voice in the head was loud, accusatory, arrogant, shaming, consumptive. The voice in my soul was quiet, steady, insistent. It used simple words like love, truth, faith.  When I began to listen to the voice of my soul, my entire world and existence shifted in beautiful and terrifying ways. 


The second thing I learned about listening came from nature - from listening to the sensory input from creation. The chirping of birds, the stirring of leaves, the babble of a stream, the buzz of a bee. I had done this as a child but lost it in my adult years. As I truly listened, even the hum of humans sounded differently- street sounds, coffee shop clatter and chatter, laughter. This too came initially from a book - “Awareness” by Anthony De Mello. When I began to mindfully listen, I soon grew a strong distaste for unnecessary noise. From the emptiness of small talk, to the tinny pollution of someone’s phone on speaker mode in nature. I didn’t want background noise. I wanted to listen. 

The third area of listening that I continue to learn is listening to others. Again, this is not a natural state for me. I have tended to listen to work an angle, drop into a defensive posture, find offense or some sort of other aggressive or manipulative response. Again, the message to listen more fully to others came from a book - Parker Palmer’s “A Hidden Wholeness”.  As I grew as a coach, I realized that my old way of listening was going to cloud my judgment and influence my counsel. I applied Parker’s teachings about being non-prescriptive, not fixing, not projecting. I did the same in my closest relationships. A few magical things began to emerge …

  • I stopped trying to win. Most of listening is not a debate, let alone an argument. But I had treated most conversations with others as a battle of wits.

  • When I stopped trying to win, I also began to learn from whomever I was listening to. Sometimes it has been direct learning - new information or insights or points of view. But often I learned from my biases and responses as I listened to them.

  • I began to connect with many more people. I used to connect with others out of: a) insecurity and a need to be validated or b) because I was trying to sell them something. When I began to listen, more and more awake, interesting, original people began to show up. Each of them containing stories, wisdom, experiences that magically seemed to be what I needed in the moment. 

I am certain I will remain a student of listening for the remainder of my days. I feel far from being a master of listening. Yet I also see the growth and the results. And it all makes me want to listen even more. 

Bio: Justin Foster believes when you connect to your heart, it changes how you see the world. He shares and teaches this message as co-founder of the intrinsic brand practice Root + River, as well as being a personal coach, speaker, poet, mentor and author. After 43 years in the pacific northwest, Justin now lives in Austin, TX - where he soaks up the creative energy, outdoors, live music, BBQ and tacos!


Creativity, Innovation, & entrepreneurship Outside your comfort zone


Research by MIT Sloan assistant professor of work and organization studies Jackson Lu and his colleagues, entitled “‘Going Out’ of the Box: Close Intercultural Friendships and Romantic Relationships Spark Creativity, Workplace Innovation, and Entrepreneurship,” found that people who experience those types of relationships tend to exhibit higher creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

Read more about the study and its findings here.


cognitive Tools to Navigating differences

OpenMind will guide you through 5 Steps to equip you with the cognitive tools to engage more constructively across differences.

These tools are based on the latest psychological breakthroughs as well as time-tested wisdom. They have been shown to improve success at work and in relationships. They may make you happier, too.

After creating your username and password here, you will be prompted to enter an access code. Enter: TheGreatListening2019 (case sensitive).

Note: OpenMind is divided into 5 interactive steps, each of which takes 15-20 minutes to do. After each step, you'll be required to wait 12 hours before you can begin the next one. The researchers at OpenMind found this wait time makes the program more enjoyable and helps you get the most out of it!

tips to improve your listening skills


In today's high-tech world we spend less and less time listening to one another.

Listening is a valuable skill that we sometimes need to refine and refresh in order to truly understand and connect with others.



Transformative contrasting - a helpful technique

The MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative Director and co-author of the new book “Breaking Through Gridlock: The Power of Conversation in a Polarized World” highlights transformative contrasting as a path to generating new ideas when faced with differing end goals.

Learn more about the technique and how it can help you navigate difficult situations here.


Would you or your organization like to be featured in TGL TOOLS?

This is a collaborative effort!

We are also looking for innovative sponsors for the Tools page.