The Art of Hosting

Stephen started of an interesting conversation, with a challenging question - April 24, 2012

Hi All,

The recent conversation string about Proaction cafe has inspired me to write about a topic that has been on my mind recently. In my view conversations that matter are critical to social change, and individual growth and change, which is one of the reasons AoH is so important to me. AoH is wonderful in creating collective intelligence / wisdom and the methodologies are great for working with groups to do just that.

So in response to the question "What is missing?" in AoH I wonder about methodologies for one-to-one conversations? I regard these potentially as conversations that matter a very great deal, possibly especially at the individual growth and change level.

It seems to me that many of the principles of group conversations apply in just the same way: Presence, consciousness, centredness, compassion, powerful questions and the magnificent light of shadow all exist.

We have been doing a lot of work on mentoring over the past few years, and now we've developed a model of hosting powerful conversations within that sort of relationship. The work is basically a synthesis of some ideas we've learned from others and some of our own ideas. It is early days and it is not a beautifully refined methodology at this stage.

With the exception of Circle, which I see as more of a pattern, or archetype, than a methodology, there seems to be little attention to one-on-one conversations in AoH. I am in awe of the power of Circle in these conversations and have been having some lovely conversations with Ann and Christina about it. They have shared some powerful stories about their recent work with in Sydney.

If there is interest I'd be happy to share our thinking, but I didn't want to presume about some ruminations that might be merely of interest to a few of us living far away "down under".

Kind regards



Immediately some comments, questions followed:

I can only speak for myself, but I would definitely be interested in hearing your thoughts about one-to-one conversations.  That's where the magic happens with personal and professional relationships and people just struggle with it.  I find myself coaching about relationship issues all the time.
Inviting you to share... Please!
Thank you,
Dear Stephen and all
Thank you for your question and exploration.
I think when it comes to the principles or pattern language of powerful personal conversations Brené Brown has some wonderful advice for us to consider in our designing.
Brené Brown knows that vulnerability is the core of shame, fear and struggle for worthiness and it appears that it is also the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging and love.

Brené lost the fight with vulnerability with her academic measuring stick but won her life back.

Our job is to say to our children (and our colleagues) you are imperfect and you are wired for struggle but you are worthy of love and belonging. Show me a generation of kids raised like that and we'll eliminate the problems we have today.

The moral of her research story:
Let ourselves be seen
Love with our whole hearts
Practice gratitude and joy
Believe I am enough
Vulnerability is not weakness.

Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.

Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change. To create is to make something that has never existed before.

We have to talk about shame. You've got to dance with the one who brung ya. Brené Brown started her research on vulnerability with studying shame. You cannot talk about race without talking about privilege. When people talk about privilege they get paralysed by shame.

Shame is "I am bad". Guilt is "I did something bad".

For women shame is "do it all perfectly and never let them see you sweat".
For men shame is "do not be perceived as weak".

Shame is an epidemic in our culture. To find our way back to each other we have to understand how it affects us.

Shame grows with secrecy, silence and judgement.

Empathy is the antidote to shame.

We want to be with you to dare greatly
What would be the design principles for hosting simple, deeply meaningful and transformational personal conversations?
There are lovely and important nuances here Stephen.
One you speak of is near to the center of my own gift and work.  Sometimes I think the most important thing I do is to listen people into their greatness.
Seems like there is a landscape here, as I sense my way into it.  It moves from what might be called generative inquiry where two people are in deep dialog to uncover unseen possibilities to what might be called revealing inquiry intended primarily to help another surface what s/he knows already but which lies hidden at a tacit level.  What are the range of ways in which we can be with each other?  
I've just been reading Goldman's work on social intelligence for a class I'm teaching and I am awed at how much we actually know about nonverbal communication, about the communication carried on what he refers to as the "low road", the subconscious, the foundation.  I'm curious about how the intimacy of two reveals more of that nonverbal knowing.
I'm teaching a class to MA students this weekend on "Leadership in Action" and just this morning, when I was having some bodywork done, I realized I wanted to shift what I planned.  Interestingly, what I decided to bring in are two exercises I often use.  One is where people pair up for 20 minutes.  Both keep their mouths shut for the whole time.  For half the time one has open eyes and leads the other in nature and then they switch.  It always creates a quiet and attuned field.  I then ask those same pairs to spend some time with play doh modeling clay.  They split the time and each build a model of the system in which they are providing leadership, including their role, and then meditate on it a bit. Often the one modeling speaks to the other, sometimes the witnessing is silent.
Anyway, two other ways of one-on-one.
As I was starting to write this e-mail I was also thinking about a form a colleague and I started to describe a while ago which seems to me to be archetypal.  We talked about the "sacred outsider" who arrives with witnessing, presence, and questions and who also shares his or her knowing, but in a way that aligns with rather than powers over.  We contrasted this with the posture of the "expert outsider" which is the more normal way we show up (especially when we're trying to charge big bucks for our important answers).  There's something in the sacred outsider archetype which somehow seems resonant with one-to-one work, although that is not its only form.
Nice wonderings……
I teach the fourfold practice as a spiral, first emerging within oneself, then extended to one other, and then out from there. So the generative pattern of Art of Hosting is an invitation to practice on all these levels. 
One-on-one practices I have done include appreciative interviews, deep dive interviews, compassionate listening (Jerry Nagel is great at this) and one on one Byron Katie facilitation (which Caitlin Frost can tell you more about). 
Also of course, warrior of the heart. 
I'd love to hear more from you Stephen...
I'm also happy to see this conversation here.  I have seen the power of one-on-one conversations often in the work we do whether at an AoH training or in the consulting work. The power of it comes from a number of things.  One is the questions used for the exploration – tuned in to the nature of the work or the change underway, focused on the individual's experience and intended to generate personal reflection which might lead to shift.  Another is the quality of the listening space – that the listener holds the space for the reflector to be in their own learning, awareness and observations.  Another is each individual's readiness to see or be aware of their own experience and desire to learn from that.  
One of the most profound experiences I've had has been in using deep sensing interviews borrowed from Theory U and modified to the intent and purpose of the work at hand.  We've used them in the Collaborative Care project (health care in NS) to understand the system and the role of collaborative or interdisciplinary practice and to help the people interviewed shift from a purely cognitive conversation to one that they embody and then begin to see possibilities and alternatives not seen before.  I have also used these kinds of interviews with teams that have had significant issues to help them find connection, surface the collective patterns and find the way through to new ways of being in relationship with each other that foster trust and greater effectiveness. 
In Art of Hosting trainings, we have at times used the power of some good reflective questions and/or learning partners to invite that level of learning.  
Thank you for starting this particular thread Stephen, it has helped me to crystalize some thinking I've been having recently around the ways of "being" in our consulting work. I especially like the concept Bob talked about re: sacred outsiders vs expert outsiders, it really resonated for me!

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And some days later there was more shared, asked, wondered...

Dear Stephen, 
I also do beleive there is value in offering one to one conversations in the flow of AoH, we have also included quite a bit both for setting the tone for deep listening and also for deeper personal inquiry in the holding and embracing attention, awareness of the other.
The Circle as a core principle and its wholeness for the whole of the group is extremely important to be able to generate the strong and inspiring "cauldron" we tend to create.  In our last AoH-Training we also included along this line Bohm's Dialogue, which I am in favour of, and also a 2-hour practice of the The Way of the Council and both seem to have a strong response.  I wonder why?  And my feeling is that for some people in the space and intensity of the table conversations (World Café - ProActionCafé) it is less obvious to notice the energy field and personal awareness??...



Dear all, dear Stephen,

do you know these two approaches?

Imago is effective as a way to create stronger relationships, because it helps us become more aware of the way that we are all deeply interconnected. It offers insights into the unconscious agenda we bring to our relationships. With this information, we can begin to co-operate with this hidden agenda. As a result, we can choose to grow together in a creative, non-controlling, and healing way that creates understanding and connection.
The imago-work has a lot to do with creating a healing circle, and may contribute to add to the understanding of the collective work in aoh as well.
Take good care!
This is an interesting question. I appreciate what people have added and offered.
For me, one-to-one conversations have always been a part of the AoH's. There have been many times with design teams that we've stated deliberateness of moving from large group forms to small group forms to individual forms. Appreciative interviews is one in particular for bringing in some of that kind of interaction. Yes, a key question. Yes, some witnessing with the other person. Naming the "witnessing" helps to create a category of purpose for this kind of interaction. 
It is interesting to explore further ways to create one-on-ones. That's true for me with any level of interaction, individual to whole group. Some of this is time that people have with themselves (journaling, meditating, drumming, etc). Or the one-to-one conversations that are with nature (inviting people outside for significant chunks of times to listen to what nature has to say about a particular question). Or partner work in some of the Byron Katie work that Caitlin Frost and others offer.
So, for me, one-to-one invites methodologies and questions. Yes. And it is also an intention and disposition. I find by naming some of that possibility in the framing of the events, drawing people's attention to welcome that format of learning, it welcomes people into there individual journey and the spontaneity of one-on-ones also. Brings that part of it alive.
Thanks for the stirrings today. Greetings from Utah.

and still some more!
Hi Steve and Mates world wide, from a longstanding lurker in Adelaide, Australia.
Here is an idea to consider about a methodology for ‘one-to-one conversation’ for which you and others have expressed yearning. It is just getting under way and is still deliberately under the radar, with no social media connections as yet.
Could this complement other practices of AoH to do with group processes for large scale social change and with face-to-face encounters? I would welcome your comments and speculations.‘You arrive, are welcomed by the host and others, mix informally and order your food. When this is ready to be served you find someone you don’t know and have your meal together. How does this sound to you as a way to have an interesting and fun time?'
I refer to a new way of socialising in which the precepts of AoH are to the fore in practice and in principle. This, through a format which I call
Conversare is hosted social gatherings in public places such as cafes, restaurants, pubs, community centres. The purpose is purely to enjoy lively and enriching conversation. There is nothing to ‘do’, no problems to resolve, no focus on results, no strategy to consider.
The core activity is having a meal, in pairs, with a stranger (with opportunity to mix informally before and after with others also). All that is asked of participants is that they give of themselves in a spirit of curiosity and interest in 'the other.’ Knowing that by doing this, as is everyone else, they are contributing to the ‘emergings’ – remarkable and often unexpected they may be - of each one-off event. See

Underpinning this enterprise is that:. we, the human species, are 'in this together.' At
events people from any 'tribe' or allegiance interact respectfully with others. With the starting point of ‘whenever we treat each other well good things happen.’ I sense there is not widespread appreciation - at least not consciously expressed - of this ‘other side’ the Golden Rule. Have you ever come across anybody who denied the validity of this notion?
. here is a way in which people can and do talk to each other face-to-face. For as you are no doubtless aware, there are many reasons for why this does not happen. Sherry Turkle’s careful observations and analysis reported in her essay
The Flight From Conversation gives an insight into a technological dimension of this. Among others are demographics (the ‘greying’ of the population, the rapid rise of single person dwellings), social isolation and associated loneliness arising from the design of cities, the market-driven nature of society …The 'trial testing' was done in Hong Kong. The second such event in Australia is scheduled for Monday in a pub near where I live, in the south west corner of the city of Adelaide. The publican and many of the local residents are community minded people. See
Forthcoming EventsA poke around the blog may give you a sense of the background and developments to date.
I wonder if you see potential applications of the idea wherever you live on this little planet, 3rd from the sun? Can you imagine the kinds of people who would welcome access to such a resource in their local neighbourhoods? Perhaps starting with those who are disenchanted with ‘insubstantial facebook connectivity.’ <grin>
Go wellTake risksAlan----------------Hello everyone!

I’ve been watching this thread and felt a response rise in me:
“There is nothing missing from Art of Hosting!”

If Art of Hosting is a
practice, and not a set of tools, then it is up to each of us to bring what we need to the practice.  What do
I need to do to be able to host myself well?  How can
I be a great participant and support others to be as well?  What do
I need to strengthen and presence for myself to be able to host conversations with others?  What do
need to strengthen and presence together?  What is it that supports communities of practice and learning to flourish?  Where can
I/we be a solid support to that and a passionate co-learner in the field?

In fact,
what does it take to co-create and enliven the fields of practice, thought and action that will create the positive shifts humanity is capable of now as well as those needed on the planet?

The field itself is wide open to what each of us bring, and indeed, we wouldn’t be a learning community or be committed to stewarding if we didn’t value what each of us is stewarding on behalf of the whole.  That’s why there are so many flavours of inquiry and practice out there in our wider community.  I know it has been joyful for me to see how my love and practice of story has meshed into Art of Hosting work, and how much the community helps me to form my work and my commitment going forward.

Now if we are focusing on Art of Hosting as a 3 day training, there
isn’t room to bring everything.  There needs to be some common foundation for us all to begin with.  Already we’re trying to pack in a lot! And it depends who is on the hosting team as to what else gets focused on.  I was strongly reminded of how important the foundations are as 3 of us — who had never worked in this constellation before, some of us who had never worked together before — had a recent engagement with a new and challenging client with a very bureaucratic structure.  The group marvelled at how seamlessly we seemed to be in the work together.
knew it was because we had enough common practice to step in well together, even though the ground kept shifting.

I think the next level of Art of Hosting will be found where the edge of our practice meets the needs the world throws at us.  It will be at the intersection of who we are and what we practice and the ground we can hold for others, as well as in the application of what we know.  Where’s that edge?  Well, that’s something I want to talk about in Slovenia.
Who’s joining me?

Mary Alice


Mary Alice,  
Your response strongly resonates with my sense of co-creating, collaborating and co-sensing among those who gather.
Hierarchy and dependency can emerge when the practice and methodologies are exchanged for a program or a set of tools.
As I am on the way to the #balle2012, Business Alliance for Local Living Economies Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I am focused upon practices that lead to shared values, collaborative resourcing and sustainable communities.

Shalom, peace, Salaam to all,
Dave Cooper

and more was shared...

Well said, Mary-Alice.

"It is a practice."
I think as Jerry Nagel is suggesting with his research about the underlying worldview, there is obviously something beyond the practice as well which many of us articulate in many ways.
One of the things I notice in my work with AoH -- which is mostly in Japan -- is that beyond the practice and what people learn as practitioners, there is a growing interest in understanding more -- the conceptual framework, the embedded theories of change, the worldviews, the view of "hosting yourself" as seen through the lens of different research and practice, etc.
It would be lovely if some of these questions were explored in Slovenia, a land that I love and miss. Unfortunately, Susan and I will be unable to join you in Slovenia.  First it was because of ridiculous ticket prices and now because I'll be hosting a learning journey in the disaster area in Japan and then probably presenting on, well, AoH and related stuff at a conference for facilitators in Asia being held at the end of August in China.
Cheers all,
Dear Mary-Alice,
Thanks for your initiative in creating  the gathering and conversation in Slovenia.
There is nothing missing from the Art of Hosting 
And ..
There is something missing from the Art of Hosting 
From the perspective of "Being" there is nothing missing because it is an art, it is a process, it is presencing what is, it is a practice.
From the perspective of "Becoming" there is of course something missing. The future element, the sensing of what wants to emerge. This brings our attention to that which is not there yet, which  creates our longing or desire to create it . Without the feeling that there's something missing, we wouldn't be motivated to (ful)fill this missing element. This is where we need our courage most, when we need to trust that the desire for what's missing bears in itself the fulfillment. 
In the moment of creation the dance of perfection and imperfection will  always be at play. Let's embrace the perfection of AoH on the one hand and the "missing elements" on the other and bring our attention to the body they are both attached to. 
Because we're often lonely in our "invisible" work,  I invite you to savour the melody of these beautiful words from Alison Luterman:
Excerpt from  “Invisible Work,” by Alison Luterman
… And I, who am used to feeling sorry for myself
because I am lonely,
when all the while
as the Chippewa poem says, I am being carried
by great winds across the sky,
thought of the invisible work
that stitches up the world day and night,
the slow, unglamorous work of healing,
the way worms in the garden
tunnel ceaselessly so the earth can breathe
and bees ransack this world into being,
while owls and poets stalk shadows,
our loneliest labors under the moon.
There are mothers
for everything, and the sea
is a mother too,
whispering and whispering to us
long after we have stopped listening.
I stopped and let myself lean
a moment, against the blue
shoulder of the air. The work
of my heart
is the work of the world's heart.
There is no other art.
I so much wish I could come to Slovenia and be in the presence of you all in August. I'm working on it, but I'm not sure if I can organise it. 
A gathering like that, is certainly a missing element in my life and well, maybe the desire to be there creates a miracle to make it possible. 
"The work of my heart is the work of the world's heart. There is no other art."
Best wishes


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