Shaping a Listening Culture

May 24, 2023 | 0 comments

-by Peggy Hahn (She/Her), Executive Director of LEAD

(excerpt from the May issue of Visionaries, LEAD’s quarterly digital magazine. Click to subscribe.)

There’s no “crosstalk” in AA or Al-Anon.

At first I thought that meant no talking about Jesus. It turns out that my “churchy” listening was messing up my ability to understand that this had nothing to do with my higher power. Crosstalk is what we do in conversations all the time. It stops us from actually listening to each other. In the recovery world, crosstalk literally means just listen.

No one should even interject a comment during someone else’s share. “No crosstalk” also means not criticizing what another person said, not telling someone what to do about their problems, and not analyzing anyone else’s psyche or situation.

At first this feels awkward. Where is the conversation? The wisdom? The help we all need? It turns out the space created by this simple form of listening etiquette transforms strangers into a community like none other. It is a culture.

There is nothing intuitive about this. We are wired to talk—to resonate with the feelings, experiences, and advice of others, or to contradict, improve upon, or negate their words. Once we stop doing what we always do, we can open ourselves up to listen deeply.

Jesus was remarkable at this. He heard the pain and isolation of the sick he healed without the need to offer a lengthy lesson. When you get right down to it, he actually led with questions and stories.

The commitment to shape a listening culture is a leadership move. It starts at the top of the leadership of an organization, congregation, or family.

Listening has to be taught and practiced again and again. It is not hard to see how this is counter to our current us-and-them culture in this country. The polarization we hear leaders lament over is evidence of a lack of listening without crosstalk.

When we are truly listening, we hear the others out of our respect for them as God’s people. This is not listening to be convinced or to argue a point. We must (a word I seldom use) suspend judgment to listen to another person. The work is on the part of the listener to create trusted space for sharing.

Visioning grows out of listening.

Visioning grows out of prayerful listening to God, to each other, to people we don’t know, and to our own hearts. When we wonder what the Holy Spirit is doing in this changing world, we are opening ourselves up to listening. Without deep listening, we are always pushing our own agenda, meeting our own needs, and caring for ourselves.

Visioning is not in opposition to self-care. Visioning starts with listening beyond ourselves as a reality check on our own perspective. The echo chamber is real.


Practicing listening includes how we are in everyday conversations with the people we work with, our families or whoever we live with, and our ancestors who have shaped our listening lenses.

New behaviors take practice.

LEAD always starts a new project, time with a new client, and every meeting with a pause. A time of listening to God in scripture and prayer.

Often people feel like we are wasting their time. This kind of pause is not part of their practice. Yet six months into any new work, the people are leading this themselves.

Listening to God is contagious.

Listening to God, each other, and our neighbors is uncomfortable. This is the point. We cannot stay in our own comfort zone and think we can discern a new vision. We cannot expect to answer God’s call if we haven’t heard it.

Practice the pause. Wake up in the morning and breathe in and out giving thanks for a new day. Look for moments in your day to give thanks to God, to listen to new perspectives, and to open yourself up to how the Holy Spirit is working.


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