On Radical Listening


These words reflect Civil’s core values, which form a framework for almost all parts of the business.

In the few short weeks since our launch, we began to ask ourselves questions.

  • How do we apply these values practically?
  • How do we practice them as a team, and with potential users and partners?
  • What do our values really mean in the context of day-to-day work?

As these questions gained momentum, our answers began to reflect a common thread: we have to listen.

More specifically, we have to use listening as an active tool to create room for trust, both as it relates to our interactions and to our product. This sort of listening is active and purposeful. It allows for expansive, productive and truly transformative communication.

This is radical listening, and it will allow Civil to make great strides in its culture and development. We hope sharing our thoughts will encourage others to incorporate radical listening in their own toolbox.

adjective: (especially of change or action) relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough.

Change for change sake is an easy rabbit hole for any startup to fall down, especially one that touts its commitment to implementing transformative change to business models and corporate culture. But the reality is that change can and should be meted out once feedback loops prove that change is necessary. So how do we get there? What role does radical listening play?

How does radical listening work?

When executed consistently and with intent, radical listening should facilitate the following:

  • Consistent, proactive communication becomes a tool for ideas as well as higher-quality execution with empathy.
  • Deeper personal ties between the listener and their colleagues or community.
  • Emergent problem-solving through new networks of information, not simply top-down decision-making.

But from a practical perspective, how does this work?

Guided by principles of openness, trust and transformation, radical listening takes on an incredibly active quality while also providing a wealth of information that will facilitate not only better responses in the future but also actionable insights and ideas.

In our own short-term experience, the implementation of the below has led to some of our most exciting interactions to date, and we hope to continue to iterate on these tactics.

Currently, we’re exploring how to implement radical listening into our community moderation and engagement. When we began engaging the community, our instinct was to simply push information and utility. We assumed we would provide the context, the follow up, the FAQs, etc. to our community members. Not only was that approach unsustainable, it was hubristic. It assumed we had all the answers and knew all of our community’s motivations for engaging with us. It made little room for meeting people where they were and letting them instruct us on their information and outreach needs.

Realizing that, we continue to work towards pulling from the community and letting them guide us. We’re able to do that with radical listening.

Radical listening helps us suss out member motivations so we can better serve them and learn from them. Over time, radical listening will provide useful insights around the expertise and the conversations we need as a community to create real value.

Radical listening is a success if we find members actively participating in our bouts of intellectual, strategic and tactical wrestling.

In short, the ultimate outcome is trusting other people’s participation. This is not to say every idea or concept is valid, but it is more likely than not that every question or idea has the potential to enhance a listener’s overall frame of reference, increase trust in the community and develop deeper interlinking networks within a community framework.

Lillian Ruiz leads marketing and partnerships at Civil. She studied history at Wesleyan University before beginning her career in the digital marketing space, where she has served startup media companies and non-profits alike. Lillian comes to Civil energized by its paradigm shifting vision of a fully autonomous media landscape, and is eager to share its story with new audiences.

→ Contact: lillian@joincivil.com

Stephanie Soussloff leads research and development at Civil. After studying geography, economics and social entrepreneurship at Middlebury College, she dove headfirst into the New York startup scene as a customer-centric analyst. She is excited about Civil’s potential to strengthen and empower communities globally.

→ Contact: stephanie@joincivil.com

Matthew Iles is CEO of Civil, leading strategy, product and team-building. He studied journalism at Duke University before an 8-year career in digital marketing and startup entrepreneurship. He believes journalism is core to a healthy society, but that legacy business models are holding it back. He started Civil to energize journalism for the 21st century by rewiring how it works using emerging social technologies. For more, read “What if the news were run by the people?” and “Why Civil?

→ Contact: matthew@joincivil.com

Civil: Self-Sustaining Journalism

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A decentralized newsmaking platform using blockchain technology, open governance and cryptoeconomics.

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