The Compassionate Listening Method

The following text was taken from a document about the Compassionate Listening Project that was shared with NCDD by Susan Partnow. For more information, go to

What is Compassionate Listening?

Compassionate Listening is a process of "listening our way to wholeness." We believe that peace comes through the hard work of meeting one's enemy - the human being behind the stereotype, and acknowledging one another's suffering. Compassionate Listening as a tool for reconciliation is based on a simple yet profound formula for the resolution of conflict: adversaries giving the gift of listening. To help reconcile conflicting parties, we must have the ability to understand the suffering of both sides.

From left: Compassionate Listening's Lois Greenberg, Leah Green and Susan Partnow.

We learn to listen with our "spiritual ear," to discern and acknowledge the partial truth in everyone - particularly those with whom we disagree. We learn to put aside our own positions while we listen, and to stretch our capacity to be present to another's pain and rehumanize the 'other.' When we listen with a full and open heart, fear and defensiveness melts. Both listener and speaker are able to go beneath their positions and defensiveness to discover the universal needs and feelings beneath the narrative. At this level we are able to build a bridge of heart connection between people in conflict.

Compassionate Listening was developed by Gene Knudsen Hoffman, International Peacemaker and founder of the US/USSR Reconciliation program (Fellowship of Reconciliation). Gene writes, "Some time ago I recognized that terrorists were people who had grievances, who thought their grievances would never be heard, and certainly never addressed. Later I saw that all parties to every conflict were wounded, and at the heart of every act of violence is an unhealed wound." In her role as a counselor, Gene recognized that non-judgmental listening was a great healing process in itself.

Leah Green leads a Compassionate Listening training.

Compassionate Listening requires questions which are non-adversarial and listening which is non-judgmental. Listeners seek the truth of the person questioned, seeing through "masks of hostility and fear to the sacredness of the individual." Listeners seek to humanize the "enemy." They do not defend themselves, but accept whatever others say as their perceptions, and validate the right to their own perceptions.

Compassionate Listening can cut through barriers of defense and mistrust, enabling both those listened to and those listening to hear what they think, to change their opinions, and to make more informed decisions. Through this process, fear can be reduced, and participants will be better equipped to discern how to proceed with effective action.

The Compassionate Listening Project

The Compassionate Listening Project was founded in 1996 under the auspices of Mid East Citizen Diplomacy, which began in 1991. MECD has led 18 citizen delegations, ushering over 350 Jewish American leaders and American citizens very deeply into both societies to listen to the suffering and grievances of people on all sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 2003, the project expanded to include Syria and Lebanon.

A documentary film about our work in Israel and Palestine, Children of Abraham, screens widely throughout North America. We recently published Listening With the Heart, a Guidebook for Compassionate Listening and a new video, Crossing the Lines, which includes interviews with Israelis and Palestinians during filmed Compassionate Listening delegations in 2001 and 2002.

We now offer Compassionate Listening training to audiences world-wide and advanced certification training as well. Compassionate Listening Projects have developed in North America, for example in Alaska and Washington with Native Peoples around issues of whaling, logging and fishing.


In the process of Compassionate Listening, listeners use inquiry in a healing way with the intent and purpose of helping the speaker go deeper in their own understanding and awareness. The questions are framed to help move people out of a stuck place by offering a broader perspective, giving a sense of hope and purpose, and calling upon the best in people. They can imply the possibility for positive outcomes by guiding people to recall past success, explore possibility, strengthen motivation, and clear distorted perceptions.

Be aware of the impact certain kinds of questions will have on the speaker because questions can be a way of interrupting the flow. When you do ask a question, be clear on the intention of the question before asking it.

Open Inquiry Examples:
Ask questions that:
Questions are not for:

Resources on Compassionate Listening

The Compassionate Listening Project website

Gene Knudsen Hoffman's essays on Compassionate Listening

Compassionate Listening: An Exploratory Sourcebook About Conflict Transformation

Knudsen Hoffman, Gene. Read or download at

Training in Facilitating Compassionate Listening

To arrange a training for your group, contact Susan Partnow, , 206-789-8697.


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