2019-04-16 Petaluma Cafe

Report from Petaluma Conversations

(In person Empathy Cafe in Petaluma CA.)

Hosted by Lou Zweier

You're invited to an evening of conversation! Lou Zweier and John Crowley are hosting a series of conversations for the people of Petaluma to talk about what is important to them. It will be an evening of intentional listening in small circles that are structured and facilitated, so each person is heard to their satisfaction.

Notes about Petaluma Conversations

  • Around 25 attendees

  • started at 6:45 pm in an actual cafe.

Ideas - Feedback from Cafe

  • Time: Try sand timer

  • Time: The audio chimes on the cell phone is helpful to indicate when the time is up.

  • Katy says -

    • wanted to hear from and connect with more people. Perhaps hear more from them.

    • (if there was more time, people could change tables)

    • wanted to talk about what was alive for her.

  • Group just started talking at the end. Talked about how the empathic listening created the conditions for good communications without reflection at the end.

  • Participant Prep Training: Need a good intro video that explains the process. the blocks to listening, etc. etc.

  • Survey Form: Perhaps have a one page Survey Form to fill out at the end. Take 5 min to fill out and share in group, then with larger group.

    • how was experience? 1 to 10

    • Would you take part again? yes - no

      • why or why not?

    • Would you like to be a facilitator?

    • Would you like to host your own Empathy Cafe in your community?

    • I like...

    • I wish...

    • What if...

  • I think people want the in person experience, instead of being on the computer all the time.

Petaluma Conversations - Facilitator Guide


by Lou Zweier <lou.zweier@gmail.com>

Keeping time - If you don’t have a smartphone or something else to keep time with, ask someone in the circle if they do. We typically do 3 min turns. In groups of 4-5 this allows for 3-4 turns in an hour. If you have a smaller group or if participants seem to need more time, you can increase to 4 or 5 min.

Paper & Pens - Make sure you have paper and pens in the center of the circle for people who want to jot down notes to themselves - not for Reflecting, but for things they might want to talk about when they are Speaker.

Participant Intros - Have people say their names and one or two other things about themselves to connect before beginning the structured listening process (see sample questions below). You go first to demonstrate openness and keeping it brief.

Sample Intro questions: (try to avoid questions that emphasize social status)

  • One thing you love

  • Something about you that might surprise people

  • Something you are proud of

  • One thing that you struggle with

  • One talent that you have

  • What’s your favorite: movie, book, activity

  • A person you admire

Review the Process - Remind them briefly of the process being used and ask if anyone has any questions before we start. Acknowledge that this is different than just “normal conversation” and that the purpose is to give everyone a chance to be heard equally and to their satisfaction. This isn’t what happens in most “normal conversation”. Remind people that they don’t have to stay on “the topic”, and encourage them to talk about whatever is most important to them in the moment.

Begin the Process - Be the 1st Reflector and ask for a volunteer to be the first Speaker. This helps model the kind of listening/reflection we want people to do.

Since you are the 1st Reflector, you will be the second Speaker and this gives you the opportunity to model speaking in a heartfelt way. The circle will have much more meaning for everyone if they talk about things that are important to them; that they feel strongly about. You can set the tone for this by doing it yourself.

Remember again that a rule of the circle is that the Speaker doesn’t have to stick to the topic. They can talk about whatever is important to them in that moment. And as facilitator it’s good to encourage people to do this to keep the circle relevant and alive.

If Participants Object to the Process - Listen and reflect their concerns and encourage them to stick with the process and see it’s benefits.

As a plan B, you can eliminate reflection from some or the rest of the rounds. If you do this, make sure that mutuality is maintained by everyone getting a chance to speak once before anyone speaks a second time, and that everyone has had a 2nd chance before anyone has a third, etc. This supports mutuality and richness of perspectives in the conversation.

Ending the Process - When the allotted time is up, bring the structured listening process to a close and thank people for participating.

  • Give each person a chance to say how it was for them;

  • What they liked, what they would do different next time.

  • You take a turn doing this too.

  • Ask them for topics they would like to discuss in the future.