Listening games to enable participants to understand the significance of 'listening'.

Listening games (training games) are a variety of group norms that trainers use to :

  • Provide participants the experience of adhering to listening norms.
  • Reflect on the effect of not adhering to the norms.
  • Enable participants to commit to 'listen'

Before we go on to understanding the games that you can play, you might want to visit the Group Norms page.

Let's begin with the first of the Listening games.


Do not provide any explanation on listening before playing the game. The experience of the game should not be influenced by the input. You do not want the effect of the experience to be diluted.

Here's the listening game.

Listening Game: The most influential experience

1. Divide the group of people in two by counting off into twos. The group should have even-numbered people. If the group is odd-numbered, then ask the last person whose number is 'one' to be the observer. Take all the 'ones' outside the room. (This listening game will work well when you have a co-facilitator.)

2. The co-facilitator steps out of the room with the 'ones', while you stay in the room with the 'twos'

3. Instructions to the 'ones': "Take a few moments and reflect on an incident which had a dramatic influence in your life. It should fit into the category of 'life changing'.

"After a while you'll go back to the room. There you'll find your colleagues sitting in different parts of the room with an empty chair in front of them. You can take the empty chair before anybody you choose.

"Once you are seated begin to tell that person the 'one most influential event' in your life. After you have finished, your partner will summarise what you told her."

4. Room arrangement with the 'twos' during this listening game: Get the twos to spread out in the room (not huddle around one area of theroom) and sit on a chair. Other than their own chair they should have an empty chair facing them. Have the 'twos' sit on one of the pair of chairs.

5. Instructions for the 'twos':"After a while the ones will come into the room and each one will occupy one of the empty chairs. So that means each one of you will have one colleague sitting infront of you.

"They will begin to tell you about an experience that they have had in their lives. Your task is to ignore them as unobtrusivley as possible. Your body language will involve sitting back, not meeting their eyes, twiddling with something in your hand like pen or a pencil and possibly doodling.

"You'll continue this 'non-listening' behaviour until the trainer gives you a signal like knocking on the table with a marker. (Set a signal with the 'twos' that is mutually agreeable to you and them. It should be something audible above the din as well as unobtrusive.)

" As soon as you hear the sound transform your body language to one of listening. Lean forward, meet the speaker's eyes, stop twiddling and doodling. Once your partner has finished relating her piece, summarise to her what you heard."

Now play this listening game exactly as per your instructions above. You'll find that when the 'ones' walk in there is a momentary hesitation in choosing a partner. Then they briskly walk up and sit down infront of one person.

Some behaviours that you will notice in this listening game.

Some of them start to speak immediately, inspite of the fact their partners are not listening. Out of these some will stop talking on noticing that they are not being heard, while others will plough on. The ones who stop speaking, you'll notice will either look offended or will try and attract the attention of the listeners.

Some of them will just sit down and wait for the listeners to look up and start listening.

There's also a certain tension you'll sense because of the non-listening behaviour. The listeners you'll find are squirming in their seats because they have to keep themselves from listening to their partners. They can partially hear the speakers relating 'life changing' experiences, their voices heavy with emotion and they are not expected to listen.

As the listening game reaches this point and you give the prearranged signal, there's a marked change in the emotional content of the room. There's interaction, good listening behaviour from the listeners and almost a relieved continuation of the conversation by the speakers.

Some other behaviours you will notice in the room during this listening game: Anger among some of the speakers, so much so that they refuse to speak. Disinterest among the speakers, who are now completing the activity very mechanically. Sometimes there are instances of weeping as the speakers are very hurt by the listeners' behaviour. Consequently the listeners are trying their best to gain control of the situation once again.

Debrief of Listening game:

Before you begin the debrief ask the listeners and speakers to sit in a row facing each other, the listeners in one row and the speakers in the other.

1. First ask the listeners to repond to the following questions:

How do you feel? What are you learning?

2. You'll hear about all the behaviour and feelings that you noticed while the game was in progress.

3. While the speakers want to share too, try and contain them till it's their turn to respond to the debrief questions.

4. Once again you will hear about the observations that you made earlier.

5. You'll also sense amazement and hear sheepish laughter at the discoveries they have made about themselves.

6. They will express learnings like :

  • 'I realise that I have done this with quite a few people and when it happened to me I did not like it at all. I have decided that I will never ignore people again.'
  • 'I felt lousy not being able to listen to my partner especially when she was sharing something so important.'

7. Some of the other learnings that you need to gently bring home to them

  • It is not everytime people have something earthshattering to share. Yet whatever they do want to share is important to them and so worth listening to.
  • It is also insensitive for speakers to go ahead and share whatever they want to even if the listener is not paying attention to them. It would be more fruitful if speakers listen to the body language of the listeners and deal with that first, sensitively of course. They need to take time to find out what's keeping the listener from listening.
  • Not listening (either to the verbal message or the non-verbal message) is the malaise that has affected society. This malaise has resulted in competing relationships rather than in collaborative synergistic relationships.

Above are a few lessons from this training game.

Return to Training Games

For other categories of experiential learning games follow the links Games for kids and Group Norms.

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