The Change Course: Privileged Listening and Self-Monitored Sharing Agreements


As Sharers and Listeners: Different people have different ways of entering conversations. Some people prefer a to share a story to illustrate an idea, or give an example from their personal experience, while others prefer a more intellectual, abstract approach. We want a norm that says each is acceptable. Neither is preferable. Can we be respectful of both? If we don’t take a moment to consider this, one ‘side’ usually wins, and those who prefer the other choose between silence and inauthenticity. If we don’t make these different approaches explicit, we can often have unfavorable reactions—‘how did this turn into therapy?’—‘why is this person intellectualizing?’ Each thinks the other is ‘avoiding’ the real work. Pay attention to your own reactions. Let’s try to make a space where the full spectrum of ‘ways of entering the discussion’ is allowed.

As Listeners: Since some will choose to share more personally, we request that learners in the program follow a norm of confidentiality. Preserving the privacy of conversations means that you can discuss the program with people outside of the program, but you should not identify who said what (by their name, their username, their job title, their organization, or any other identifiable detail). In the online environment, confidentiality also means never copying another person’s text and posting it anywhere outside of the online classroom without their express permission—this includes email, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, news media, etc. Similarly, if someone sends you an email message or shares their Change Diary with you, get his/her permission before sharing it with another person or posting excerpts to a discussion forum. Your communications with each other are ‘privileged’ in two senses of the word—it is a privilege to hear from each other; and you should regard what you hear as private.

As Sharers: If there are agreements that have proved helpful with respect to listening, we have also found it is helpful to have an agreement about what learners choose to share. Since some will choose to express things that are more personal, we need to be clear about the distinction between a program designed to support personal learning for individual and collective improvement (which this is) and a therapy group (which this is not). You should feel free to share things that may feel quite personal (and many will experience it as a gift if you do), but if what you are thinking to share feels too raw, if it leaves you feeling too vulnerable and needing responses from others that will take care of you, or help you solve something that feels urgent to you to solve, then you are crossing the line and should reconsider that post. You need to make good choices about what to share, taking good care of yourself, and recognizing that those involved with the program—faculty and participants– cannot provide psychological counseling or treatment or substitute for professional help you may need.

As Responsible Internet Citizens: In an online program like this, there is no way to technically enforce privacy or confidentiality. It is possible–though highly unlikely, we hope–that someone will disregard the second agreement and copy-paste or take a screenshot of what you have written and post it elsewhere. It’s important that you treat whatever you have written as hypothetically readable by the entire world. Only post what you feel comfortable sharing. Feel free to use pseudonyms and change any identifying information.