The magic of the talking stick (HR)

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Firstly I have to thank the Divisional Executive, I was working for in my previous Business Unit, for being so open and allowing me to introduce the magic of the talking stick to him and his management team. The operations meeting was not only productive but improved communication ten-fold. Everyone shared in the conversation and listened attentively to one another. Magic!

For me the talking stick is one of the coolest tools that I have come across in my HR journey.

What is a talking stick?

The talking stick, is a stick passed around a group, and who ever hold the stick has the right to speak, while the rest in the group, listen’s attentively.

The facilitator keep track on who the stick need to be passed to, and ensures that everyone has a turn with the stick and thus contribute to the conversation (matter under discussion).

The talking stick is an ancient practice originally used by indigenous tribes in North America where it may be passed around a group or used only by leaders as a symbol of their authority and right to speak in public.

The best symbol of a talking stick?

You will find beautiful, carved walking sticks (Africa) – which will do nicely. My favorite is a wooden-baking spoon which brings a smile and does the job nicely.

A modern twist of the talking stick, is to link it with the ideologies of two experts:

1) A time to think by Nancy Kline (Transformative Listening Principles) – My take:

  • While the speaker, talks, everyone will pay attention and he/she will not be interrupted.
  • This allows, the speaker, to go in their best thinking & speaking.
  • The speaker feel trusted and that he/she has made a contribution.
  • It allows everyone, in the session to relax and to pay attention. Comfortable in the knowledge that they will get a turn to contribute and will be shown the same respect & curtesy.
  • This really amps up the productivity of the session and the outcome.

The talking stick really help to anchor these principles.

So note down your burning questions, until it is your time to talk. You will find that sometimes, the questions goes away, when the speaker get to finish his/her talk. If not, don’t worry, you will get a time to ask and to get answers.

2) Bring in all the voices – Benjamin Zander

I love what Benjamin Zander says, “Maybe, the way to think is that we’re all the symphony, Sym-Phony: sounding together. Sounding together. That means, all the voices of the symphony are sounding together.”

When everyone contribute in the conversation and thus become part of the symphony the outcome achieved, produce the results that is sought after. It is therefore important that everyone in the session/meeting gets a turn with the talking stick, so that their voices could be heard as well.

The magic only happens – when everyone has contributed because then an average idea goes to something spectacular. What I have also found is that it helps to tackle the elephants in the room that everyone is aware of, and no-one, airs. Once the air is cleared, emotions take a back drop and the objective at hand gets all the attention. Everyone then becomes focused on how to achieve a successful outcome. Everyone is fired up.

I have found that when you start introducing the talking stick method, it is good to use an actual, physical, talking stick. Once the concept is embedded, it can become a virtual imaginary stick.

And then when communication goes back to old habits, by simply saying, “talking stick” everyone magically reverts back to the communication principles of the talking stick.

This has really helped me in facilitating sessions, and sometimes, a tough team would say to me, “Yes we have heard of the talking stick, but it won’t work on us!”

Well guess what it does 🙂 Even some of the toughest nay-sayers, will admit to me afterwards, “OK, it works.”

The best tool for HR Professionals and leaders.

Try it & tap into its magic 🙂

With love & light


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