Sunday, January 09, 2005

The Talking Stick. At the seminar Carol and I attended Friday, Steve Covey described the "Talking Stick". He had a replica of one to show us. He said that at councils of the Federation of Iroquois Tribes, and other councils of North American Indians, the speaker holds a Talking Stick and may hold it until he finishes speaking. When someone holds the Talking Stick, no one else is to speak. When the Talking Stick is passed to someone else, it becomes that other person's opportunity to speak and to speak with others listening and not interrupting. One of Covey's themes at the talk was dispute resolution, and the Talking Stick principle is an important part of his approach to resolving disputes.

Yesterday, Carol and I had a discussion about a matter in which it appeared that there were some important areas of disagreement. (Yes, this happens, even after 34 years of marriage.) We think we know each other well enough that sometimes when we speak to each other we will interrupt the other and try to complete the other's sentences (often with a thorough lack of success), much to annoyance of the other party and sometimes doing complete death to the conversation. Sometimes our discussions will be laced with phrases like "You know what I mean?" as if we are not sure that the other is completely listening. Which could be true. The discussion we commenced was beginning not to go well, when we remembered about the Talking Stick.

So we picked up a table knife and used it as a Talking Stick. A knife of any sort is probably not a good proxy for a Talking Stick. But it worked for us and it worked well. When Carol had the stick, it made me aware that it was time for me to listen and, since I would not be able to interrupt, I had to listen carefully to be sure that I remembered what she said, so that when it was my turn I would be prepared to give a reasonable response. I think she felt protected by the stick: she could comfortably express herself at her own pace. She could pause as she collected her thoughts; she didn't have to close up any silent spots for fear I would break-in. I heard not a single, "You know what I mean?" I was listening. She had the stick.

We had a good discussion, and I think that the Talking Stick structure helped us significantly in our efforts to communicate with each other.

I found this link to an essay on the Talking Stick.

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