The art of listening: Local chapter of a national listening organization begins in Grass Valley, Nevada City |

The art of listening: Local chapter of a national listening organization begins in Grass Valley, Nevada City


To become a volunteer listener, contact Britta Tigan at 530-559-8397 or Betty Louise at 415-328-1724.

Earlier this year, a woman sat down to talk with a volunteer.

But the woman wasn’t speaking a language the volunteer could understand.

“She talked in Danish,” said Britta Tigan. “She didn’t want to reveal anything in English.”

It took the woman five minutes to warm up to the volunteer — who’s exclusive role was to listen — and feel comfortable enough before sharing details of her life in their mutually recognized language.

The volunteer listener was a part of Britta Tigan and Betty Louise’s new local chapter of Sidewalk Talk, a national organization meant to create stronger communal bonds through open, active listening. The organization, initiated by counselors, now has chapters in 50 cities and 17 countries, said Louise.

Tigan and Louise recently recruited two additional volunteers to help them venture into the county to invite strangers to talk about their lives for 10 minutes, on average. The local chapter has organized an event in Nevada City’s Robinson Plaza whereby 20 people sat with them for two hours, they said. In May, Tigan and Louise sprang another event outside Grocery Outlet.

Tigan and Louise are trying to induce deep, nonjudgemental listening that reduces the self, and maximizes the thoughts and concerns of the speaker.

“When you’re really listening to someone else, you are 100 percent over there with them in their story,” said Louise. The result: the speaker feels cared for and a connection is established.

Tigan agreed.

“You can really listen open-mindedly like that without having to think, ‘what am I going to say next to him? What in my life can I relate to that I can talk about?’” said Tigan. “(The speakers) are fine when they sit down. There’s no fixing. They don’t need fixing.”

But the activity is not a one-way benefit for speakers, said Louise.

“This is a growth experience for the listeners,” she said. “They are hearing all kinds of amazing stories and expanding themselves in that process.”

The leaders enjoy the program partly because it’s not bureaucratic. They said they don’t take directives from the national organization. There are, however, a few instructions from above.

Volunteers must past through training to understand the organization’s prerogatives and to remain safe as a listener. During training, they are taught to end discussions if the situation becomes unsafe, said Louise. But if the listener feels uncomfortable, that can become a positive experience.

“Actually, the training says sit with (discomfort) unless your safety feels threatened because that’s how we expand,” she said.

Tigan and Louise plan to establish a sidewalk event talk outside Grocery Outlet every fourth Friday of the month from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

As for how to initiate conversations with strangers? Louise said if you ask someone a question, they will likely engage.

“Start them somewhere and that’s all it takes to get them on a roll.”

Contact Sam Corey at 530-477-4219 or at

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