Relationships, Part 41 : Constructive Conflict: The Talking Stick

Here’s another object in my office I want to tell you about.
Talking Stick
It’s a Talking Stick.

No, the stick doesn’t talk. You do when you hold it.

The concept of the Talking Stick comes, I’ve been told, from an old Native American tradition. When the elders gathered in a teepee to talk about important matters, they would pass a Talking Stick around. Whoever had the stick had the right to speak. Everyone else listened.
There are characteristics about sticks that make them perfect for talking. A stick performs the same functions that words can. A stick can be used for support. It can point things out. It can be a weapon. Your words are the same way. Your words can also support, point things out, or be used as a weapon. When you are handed a Talking Stick, you are being trusted that you will use your words wisely.

My Talking Stick has some feathers on it. When you hold the stick and speak, the feathers will move, blown around by the wind your breath makes. Your words have effect. People can be stirred, affected, or blown over by your words.

I attached a small bag of stones to my Talking Stick. Stones that have been through my rock tumbler. The rock tumbler is my favorite metaphor for relationships. Someday I’ll write about why.

The Talking Stick is best held so that the bottom end is resting on the ground. That’s to symbolize that the talker is grounded. He or she is connected to reality, that Earth upon which we all stand. However, the point only touches a very small piece of the Earth. The talker can only claim a small bit of reality, just the point he or she is trying to make at the moment.

I frequently use the Talking Stick in marriage counseling whenever the partners have something they need to learn from one another. You may remember in my last post I said that if you are not getting feedback, you are not learning anything. When you use the Talking Stick properly, you get feedback; you can learn.

Whoever starts off with the stick gets to speak first, but, but just as the stick can only point to once place at a time, you can only make one point at a time. You can’t go on and on and on and expect that your partner can absorb it all, must less show comprehension, and respond to everything at once. Keep it short and concise.

Once you’ve made your point, your partner has to earn the right to speak by demonstrating that he has understood what you have just said.

Your partner should paraphrase the point you just made, not parrot. It’s possible to mindlessly repeat what you’ve just said without understanding it. Paraphrasing is harder. Paraphrasing requires that he put into his own words the gist of what you were trying to say. He should paraphrase everything you just said when you had the stick. If you asked him a direct question, he should paraphrase the question before answering it. That’s so he can prove to you and to himself that he understands the question he’s answering. Otherwise, he could be answering a question you didn’t even have. What good is that?

When you are satisfied that your partner comprehends the point you made, then you give him the stick. Even if he doesn’t agree, you can be satisfied that he gets it. He knows where you are coming from.

If you’re not satisfied that he understands, you have to make your point again, in a different way. Maybe he wasn’t listening. Maybe he distorted what you were trying to say. Maybe you weren’t explaining things well. Maybe you two have a variance over the meanings of words. In any case, aren’t you glad you asked him to paraphrase? If you hadn’t, then you might have gone on in a confused manner.

When he gets the stick, be prepared; you will have to paraphrase when he is done.

My Talking Stick has a lot of spiritual medicine from hundreds of people talking with it over a quarter of a century. You’ll have to make an appointment if you want to use it. If you can’t make an appointment, it’s easy enough to make your own. However, you would have to provide your own spiritual medicine.

Click here to go to the entire Relationships series.

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