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3-way listening

  • Use to foster generous listening and sharing within a group setting.

  • This is a facilitation technique.

  • Can be used as a stand alone tool.

What and Why?

Three-way listening is a technique that promotes generous listening and sharing in a group setting. It involves dividing participants into groups of three and assigning them specific roles. The speaker is given a prompt and shares their thoughts, while the generous listener attentively listens without interruption, judgment, or the need to formulate a response. Their sole focus is to be fully present for the speaker. The scribe takes notes, capturing the essential points and highlights shared by the speaker. Each round consists of the three participants rotating roles, ensuring everyone gets a chance to be a speaker, a listener, and a scribe. After completing the three rounds, the group members come together to share the insights and outputs generated during each round. This exercise encourages active listening, authentic presence, and meaningful exchange of ideas within the group.

Use this tool if you want to:

  • Foster generous listening and sharing within a group setting.

  • Enhance active listening skills and create a safe space for expression.

  • Encourage empathy, understanding, and open communication.

  • Promote collaboration, teamwork, and the appreciation of diverse perspectives.

  • Facilitate the generation of insights and collective learning.

Facilitation Elements

A. Sequence of Steps and Time Allocation (~45 minutes)

10 mins

  1. Introduce the prompt that you wish the participants to respond to (See tip about prompts).

  2. Explain that you will be using 3-way listening to explore the prompt.

  3. Ask the participants to form groups of 3.

  4. Describe the 3-way listening activity:

    1. Introduce each of the roles and describe in detail what is expected from each:

      1. The Speaker responds to the prompt. They use all of the time allotted in the round to share their thoughts. They can go into as much detail as they are comfortable sharing. If they run out of things to share - it is okay to be silent.

      2. The Listener listens generously. They lean in and hold a space for the speaker. They do not respond to what they are hearing. They do not interrupt with questions or thoughts of their own. Their job is to simply be 100% present for the speaker. (Acknowledge that this can feel uncomfortable and challenging). When the speaker has finished - the listener responds with “Thank you for sharing.”

      3. The Scribe takes notes. The scribe listens for the details and the insights and captures them on post-it notes - with one insight per post-it. The scribe does not add their own interpretation to the insights and details - they try to capture the key points as accurately as possible.

  5. Tell the participants that each group member will switch roles in each round so that at the end of three rounds everyone will have had a turn as a speaker, a scribe and a listener.

  6. Share the prompt again and tell the group that you will keep track of the timing for each round and will instruct them when it is time to change roles.

  7. Allow for 5 minutes for each round.

  8. Hang a poster (flipchart sheet) with the descriptions of the three roles somewhere that is visible to all participants so that they can reference it.

  9. Also make the prompt visible for the group to reference.

17 mins

  1. Check with the group that they have agreed upon who plays which role in the first round.

  2. Invite the group to start the first round. Speaker starts speaking, the listener starts listening and the scribe starts taking notes.

  3. Allow 6 minutes for the first round as it usually takes a little time for the group to get settled into the activity.

  4. After round 1 is complete, invite the group members to switch roles. Remind them of the job of each role. And start round 2 of sharing. Allow 5 minutes for round 2.

  5. After round 2 is complete, invite the group members to switch roles for the last time and start the final round of sharing. Allow 5 minutes for round 3.

10 mins

  1. After all three rounds are completed, ask the groups to share back with each other the insights that were captured by the scribes.

  2. Invite them to discuss in their small group:

  3. What was the same?

  4. What was different?

  • Are there any emerging patterns or themes?

  • What key learnings or insights can they now extract from reflecting on their three different perspectives or approaches?

  1. Invite the groups to generate post-its in response to the following prompts:

  • What do they now know that they didn’t know before?

  • What do they now wonder and would like to explore further?

  1. Collect the post-its generated by the two prompts above on separate flip charts at the front of the room. Label flip charts:

    1. What we know

    2. What we wonder

4 mins

Debrief the activity:

Invite the group to share what they experienced as a result of using this technique

  • What did you observe or experience as a result of using this technique?

  • Which role was the most challenging?

  • What insights did you have?

  • Can you see yourself using this technique? How?

B. How Groups Are Configured

  • This activity can be done with a group of any size.

  • Divide the large group into smaller groups of 3.

C. How Space Is Arranged and Materials Needed

  • Unlimited number of groups

  • Seating for small groups of 3

  • Post-its

  • Sharpie markers

  • Flip chart paper for capturing “What we know” and “What we wonder”

  • Poster/ Flipchart sheet describing the three roles in this activity.

Tips and Watchouts

When selecting prompts for a 3-way listening activity, it's important to choose prompts that encourage meaningful and personal responses. Here are some types of prompts that work well for this activity:

  • Reflective Prompts: Ask participants to share their thoughts, experiences, or emotions related to a specific topic. For example: "Describe a time when you overcame a significant challenge and what you learned from it."

  • Future-oriented Prompts: Encourage participants to envision possibilities and share their aspirations or goals. For example: "Imagine your ideal career five years from now. What does it look like, and how would it make you feel?"

  • Values-based Prompts: Explore participants' values and how they manifest in their lives. For example: "Discuss a value that is important to you and how it influences your decision-making process."

  • Problem-solving Prompts: Present a hypothetical problem or scenario and ask participants to share their ideas for solving it. For example: "If you had unlimited resources, how would you address a pressing social issue in your community?"

  • Personal Growth Prompts: Encourage participants to reflect on their personal growth or learning experiences. For example: "Share a moment when you stepped outside your comfort zone and how it contributed to your personal development."

  • Open-ended Prompts: Provide a broad question or statement that allows participants to explore various aspects of their thoughts or experiences. For example: "What does success mean to you, and how has your definition evolved over time?"

The key is to choose prompts that resonate with the participants and prompt them to share authentically. The prompts should encourage self-reflection, personal insights, and meaningful dialogue among the participants.

Riffs and Variations

  • Modify the activity for pairs instead of groups of three. Each pair takes turns in the speaker, listener, and scribe roles. This variation allows for more focused and intimate sharing, fostering deeper connection and understanding between two individuals.


The 3-way listening activity is based on the fundamental principles of active listening, empathy, and creating a safe space for open sharing. While the specific originator may be difficult to trace, the technique itself has been influenced by practices such as reflective listening, dialogue circles, and other group communication methodologies.


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