Sensing – the next stage of the process – is about creating the connection with the topic, the concern, on the intentional and emotional level.

On the level of intention, the following questions arise:

  • What does the issue, the topic really mean to us?
    • What is driving us?
    • What is our true motive?
    • What question are we really looking for an answer to?

At the level of emotion, there are questions like:

  • What is the unifying element and what is the dividing element as we dive deeper?
  • What feelings and needs emerge?

In our experience, this phase is unusual for many participants in change processes, in the design of projects and initiatives.

Most organisations strive for objectivity.

But: emotions lead to surprising reactions and are often considered unprofessional. Here we encounter the dogma of “Homo oeconomicus”, which is increasingly being questioned by various researches from the fields of behavioural economics (as a field of economic science) and in its place our irrationality is brought to the foreground.

Emotions are important because this is where passion for the project, commitment or rejection arise. In other words, they are the real driving force. And an indicator of whether and to what extent a topic makes sense for us personally, for the team and for the organisation. This clarifies the question of whether everyone involved has the enthusiasm and energy to shape a project through its ups and downs.

Scharmer calls the level of sensing the “open heart”. This is where the personal challenges, concerns and hopes show up.

This can become “hot”, because here we come up against our inner limit with the future realities, the fear of emotional injury becomes palpable. In many cases, these are perceived mountains that are difficult to overcome. Familiar things are questioned, new things are not really there yet. A kind of limbo between old and new begins, which can be quite stressful depending on the topic.

This means that conflicts are to be expected when we as facilitators accompany a group through this phase. For success, it is important to give space to the divisive views and feelings and also to the deeper concerns. They need to be heard and integrated. This can be time-consuming.

But only then can the joint energy be refocused on shaping the project. That is why it is important for facilitators to complement the path through the U at this point with conflict management and to slow down the process here.

In facilitating, the attitude, role and tasks of the facilitator are important.

The goal in Sensing is to dive deeper into a topic in order to experience it emotionally as well. What can this look like in concrete terms?

Here is an example:

Experiencing the reality of life

An organisation wants to raise awareness in its administrative and support teams about the complexity of working in communities. To do this, they will spend a day, or a week, accompanying project team members in their work (e.g. visiting farmers on their plots, organising and conducting workshops, etc.).

Afterwards, the experiences, wishes, hopes and concerns of the participants are collected in a dialogue discussion so that, on the one hand, the connecting aspects and thoughts of the topic crystallise out and, on the other hand, the separating aspects are considered, which can be better addressed through this experience and sensing.

In this way, sensing in our perception pursues the goal of opening people on the emotional level and thus making them capable of working, but at the same time connecting them on the level of intention. In this way, the core concern becomes clear to all involved and the energy of the team can be focused on the common search for answers.

During the sensing phase exercises like Sensing Journeys, Shadowing, Empathy Walks or Dialogues are recommended.

As facilitator it is also important to equip your tool box with conflict resolution methods.


Beutelschmidt, Karin; Franke, Renate; Püttmann, Markus; Zuber, Barbara. 2013. Faciliting Change. Beltz Verlag. S. 40-42