Talking Sticks and
“When people talk, listen completely.”Ernest Hemingway
It must be about 20 years ago when I held my first talking stick. If you’ve never heard of it, a talking stick is a special small branch, it can be from any tree. It can be quite plain, or decorated with stones and feathers, or elaborately painted or carved.
Sizes can vary too, but a good talking stick should feel comfortable in the palm of your hand.
A talking stick is a tool that helps people talk to each other in a group.
Why would you need a stick to help you talk to others in a group?
Actually, it’s not just about the talking, it helps you listen too.
The talking stick comes from the Native American tradition. It gets passed around in the circle during a meeting of the clan. The one holding the stick has the right to speak.
All other members of the circle listen attentively. When the speaker has finished, she passes the stick on the the next person.
If you don’t want to say anything you can simply take the stick and pass it on – it’s a neat way to let the stick talk for you.
This is one of the uses of the talking stick. There are two others: the stick helps with speaking and listening.
The effect of the stick on both, the speaker and the listeners, is quite surprising. How can a simple object like a piece of wood be so powerful?
If you sometimes get nervous speaking in a large group of people — like I do — the talking stick helps to make you feel calm, clear, and centred.
If you have a tendency to think about what YOU are going to say when it’s your turn — like most people do — the talking stick helps to really listen and focus on the speaker’s words instead of your own thoughts.
That’s why the talking stick is a power tool for effective communication.
“An appreciative listener is always stimulating.”Agatha Christie
Last year I tried metalogues. I’d come across them before but had never practiced it myself.
What’s a metalogue? And what does it have to do with talking sticks?
A metalogue is a kind of conversation, a bit like a dialogue but different.
Dialogue usually is a conversation between people with different opinions and positions. They talk about a topic they disagree on, and the dialogue helps them come to an agreement or understand each other better.
A conversation is a general, casual, spontaneous way of talking among several people. It can start with one topic and wander off to another one. There is no particular goal or direction.
A metalogue is a mode of conversation, but it is focussed like a dialogue.
The difference between dialogue and metalogue is that it’s not about agreement or disagreement. What brings people together in a metalogue is a common interest in one topic.
But it’s more than a general theoretical kind of interest. You’ve got to have a real personal interest, maybe even an emotional attachment to the topic.
Ideally you have some burning questions about it, or a curiosity that makes you want to find out more.
The metalogue mode is engaging, exciting, and it often leads to surprising insights. Everyone gets the opportunity to tap into everyone else’s consciousness for half an hour or so.
The goal is simply to broaden the horizon of all participants. Agreement or disagreement are irrelevant.
In metalogue mode two or more participants create a kind of ‘listening bowl’ where everyone is heard, and everyone’s say has equal value.
The space that is created by the metalogue mode seems to play an important part too. It draws deeper insights out of each player. I see it as a kind of game.
These are the rules of talking in metalogue mode:
Number of players – 2 or more (I recommend you start with 2).
Conditions – Each player has a real personal interest in the topic and is genuinely open to learning something new.
Tools (optional) – Talking stick, pen and paper to take notes.
Start of the metalogue – Agree on a time limit for the metalogue (about 20-30 minutes is usually a good time). Agree on who speaks first, and then take turns clockwise (if there are more than 2).
Speaking in metalogue mode – Be spontaneous. Don’t think too much about what you’re going to say. Speak about your personal subjective experience rather than objective facts.
Keep it short. This is NOT a monologue. Stick to one point at a time and limit talking to 3 or 4 sentences. If you feel a need to say more you can make a note, or ask your listeners for permission.
DON’T contradict or correct other players (if you disagree you’re allowed to say so, but don’t make what others say seem wrong). DON’T try to win an argument.
Speakers may ask questions directly to other players. In response to a direct question the sequence of speaking can change. But make sure it doesn’t become a ‘private conversation between 2 people (if there are more than 2 players). Keep it equal.
Listening in metalogue mode – Listen attentively to the speaker. Take the opportunity to gain a new perspective on the topic.
If you disagree with the speaker, that’s particularly intriguing. It helps you understand the topic in a way you would never have thought of.
Allow the words of others to open your mind to new perspectives.
DON’T think about what you’re going to say next.
End of the metalogue – the metalogue ends when all participants feel satisfied that they have gained a deeper understanding of the topic, or when the time is up.
In my experience a conversation in metalogue mode usually takes about 20-30 minutes and then comes to a natural ending. Initially however, it may take some time to get into the mode. It is an unusual way of having a conversation, so it’s easy to slip into old habits.
In metalogue mode all participants create a space together, in which everyone has the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding.
A metalogue is like a container, and all players contribute freely, spontaneously and honestly from a deep personal place, without dominating the common space.
Listening and speaking are equally important.
One of the most intriguing outcomes of having a metalogue is that in a ‘good game’ each participant feels at the end that they have really gained some profound insight.
There is a strong sense of having achieved something together, of having helped each other get to a higher place, even though nobody really knows what’s going on in the minds of the others and what’s changed for them. That is totally irrelevant.
A good metalogue is a very uplifting and energising experience. It may take a little practice, because it is an unusual mode of having a conversation. Don’t give up if it doesn’t work straight away. It’s great fun once you get the hang of it.
Good practice topics for metalogue mode are subjects that affect everyone. Here are 3 suggestions to get you going:
1 – Time Flies (Why do I never seem to have enough time to do all the things I’ve got to do?)
2 – Being Yourself (Why is it so hard, and what does it really mean?)
3 – Living your Dream (Is it realistic or just a pipe dream?)
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