Talking Circles

A talking circle is a traditional instrument for dealing with the things that interfere with the normal everyday concerns of a person or their community whether the concern is trivial or serious in nature. The talking circle has many applications including, resolving conflicts, misconceptions, disagreements or deeper problems.

A talking circle works in this way that everyone sits in a circle, and the talking stick, talking rock, or other token such as a feather is passed clockwise around the circle. As each person receives the talking stick or the token, they may speak for as long as they wish (being mindful of the groups other participants). When they have finished, they pass the stick or token along. If someone does not wish to speak, they simply pass the stick or token. The stick or token may go around several times; when everyone has had the opportunity to speak as many times as they wish, the conductor ends the circle.

The most common type of circle is a simple sharing circle, where people just share whatever they have to say. There is no particular purpose or theme, and many fascinating side-trips often happen. The sharing circle is also an excellent introduction to ceremonies.

A talking circle may lead to a more deliberate circle or facilitated discussions that focus on specific issues and finding common ground to resolve them.

Steps in the Talking Circle Process

Stage 1: Determining Suitability – This involves assessing whether the circle is an appropriate process for this situation by asking a series of questions.

Stage 2: Preparation – This involves determining who should participate in the circle, what skills or resources are needed, and what the context of the circle will be.

Stage 3: Convening All Parties – This involves the actual facilitation of the circle, including guidelines, storytelling, asking probing questions, and determine areas of consensus.

Stage 4: Follow-Up – This involves assessing any agreements that were made, making adjustments, and celebrating any successes.

Basic Guidelines for a Talking Circle:

  1. Only one person speaks at a time, only the person holding the talking stick may speak.
  2. Introduce yourself during the first round.
  3. Speak from the heart, the speaker should address the circle from the heart, and may speak for as long as they need to, with respect for the time of others.
  4. Listen with respect, all people except the speaker should listen attentively and give support to the speaker.
  5. What is said in the circle stays in the circle, never repeat anything that is said within the circle, unless you have the permission of the speaker.

For more information on talking circles, and how they work, contact the Department of Student Rights and Responsibilities and ask to speak to one of our highly trained Ombudsman about the mediation process and the benefits of mediation.