Skip to main content Skip to search
Week 1 - Deep Listening Guidelines


  • Timing of Exercise: 30 minutes
  • Description of the process: 10 minutes
  • Partner interviews: 5 minutes each
  • Plenary debrief:  10 minutes.

INTRODUCTION: We are now going to learn a skill that will help you listen more deeply and support another in describing their personal experience with great detail.  We will call this “deep listening.”  The particular technique has a technical name, which is “micro-phenomenological interviewing.” Phenomenology just means the art and science of inquiring into your own experience, with micro indicating an interest in doing so in a very granular, very finely grained way into the micro-details of your experience.

It is usually hard for people to speak to the detail of their personal experience objectively without the infusion of judgment, assessments or commentary. Therefore, the first important task of an interviewer is to help stabilize their attention with their presence and then facilitation throughout the interview process.  Here are six steps we will use in speaking with each other about the various experiences and exercises we will do together throughout the class.

Step 1: STATE PURPOSE. We begin by expressing the purpose of the exercise to help focus our intentions. The listener should begin the exchange by saying this to the speaker. For example, “We are here for you to convey a time in your life that you feel you intensely experienced flourishing, and explore those memories and experiences in detail. We then want to zoom forward to the end of your life, and imagine you are at the last day of your life and you are reflecting back on all the days of your life.  Ask yourself - what made it good”?

Step 2: SET ASIDE DISTRACTION. We invite the speaker to set aside any distraction. Just as we often start our class by becoming more present with a few breaths, you can guide the other or together invite a moment of silence. Focus on your breath and invite any nagging and distracting thoughts, worries, plans, ideas or memories that may have come into the session with you to soften and drift away.  You might even imagine those thoughts floating away like a cloud in the sky or like a leaf floats down a stream, as you bring your attention back to your breath. We are not trying to get rid of them forever, but we are just asking them to be set aside for the duration of the exercise.

Step 3: REPEAT TO KEEP FOCUSED. The interviewer will repeat what the speaker says, focusing on the smallest of details of the experience that is being relayed as a way to keep the attention of the speaker focused on the description of the experience if ever they digress: “I am going to repeat what you say to me every so often to make sure I am getting what you are saying and to keep us focused on these details.  Don’t hesitate to interrupt me to continue….So, you were explaining that on your walk to class today, you remember the feeling of the sun warming your shoulders in between the shadows of the trees you passed beneath. Do I have that right?”

Step 4: ASK QUESTIONS TO RETURN TO EXPERIENCE. If the speaker digresses or gets lost in commentary, ask a question that brings them back to the descriptive details: “So, let me just go back a second. I hear that you felt frustrated to be late, but can you tell me more about what you remember about the feeling of walking quickly?”

Step 5: RELIVE OR INHABIT EXPERIENCE IN MICRO-DETAIL. The interviewer uses questions to help the speaker describe the many details about their experience from the where / what / when / with whom as well as what they saw, touched, smelled, heard, tasted and how they moved during the experience, until they feel like they are able to relive that experience in its fullest and are more in contact with their experience than the interview. “So, I want to ask you to relive this experience as if you are there right now. So, when you cracked the eggs in the frying pan, what did you hear?  What do you remember about the smell of them cooking? What time of the morning was it?  What was the light like in the kitchen at that time? Can you recall what you were wearing and how it felt on your skin?”  You may notice that the speaker looks away and shifts to the present tense “I am in my kitchen and the fan is running over the stove...”, which is a clue that they are fully immersed in their experience and inner space. Please note if you are having a conversation that is future oriented, in which someone is being asked to reenvision a future, you can still use this technique by helping the person fully envision the future in an experiential way.

Step 6: EXPLORE THE “HOW” OF THE PROCESS OF NOTICING. As they reenact their experience in detail, the interviewer then begins to help the speaker shift from describing just the “what” about their experiences to the “how” or processes used to remember or notice. So, for example, if they were talking about the fact that they remembered passing by several people sitting on park benches on the way to class, the interviewer would use the word “how” in asking: “how did you notice and then remember the people sitting on the benches?”  The speaker might explain that they noticed the color of their clothing and began contemplating how colorfully people dress on warm days versus cold days, which helped him take note of the people sitting on the bench in ways he does not normally notice.  This helps the speaker focus on the process they used to become aware. The interviewer might ask questions such as: “Was there anything you were saying to yourself at this moment? Did you experience any feelings about it?”  It is important to avoid the question “why?”, which can propel them into their own assessment or theory of the process. We want them to stay focused on their lived experience and the details of that experience.

The interviewer’s responsibility is keeping the speaker focused on re-enacting and describing their lived experience, or fully imagining some future situation, and this may require interrupting the speaker if they are getting lost in judgment, commentary, theories, philosophies or generalities. You want to be helping them focus on exactly what happened and how the noticed it, or the process they undertook to notice it. This helps them double check their experience and add additional detail. Your firmness in maintaining the boundaries of the experience are helping the speaker develop their consciousness, especially their ability to relate to their own inner processes. Sometimes when the speaker can only describe something as “that”, the interviewer should encourage them to come up with their own words to describe it in more detail.

STEP 7. ESTABLISHING TRUST. In order for the interview to be successful, there has to be trust as well as the firmness and respect of the interviewer, so that the speaker can abandon his own beliefs about himself and articulate whatever is arising from what may feel like a place of vulnerability. The interviewer must be completely present and open-minded so that the speaker can feel comfortable to allow themselves to become immersed in their experience again.

The founder of this method, Claire Petitmengin, expresses the overarching goals of the listener thus in a 2006 statement:

  • to stabilise their attention on the experience described,
  • to convert their attention from the ‘what’ that usually absorbs their interest to the ‘how’,
  • to move from representations and general beliefs about the experience in question to the description of a singular experience,
  • to direct their attention towards the different dimensions of their experience,
  • to be more precise in their description.



Week 1 - Deep Listening Guidelines
Collection The Art and Science of Human Flourishing - Fall 2017
Visibility Public - accessible to all site users (default)