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A talking circle, is a method used by a group to discuss a topic in an egalitarian and non-confrontational manner. The group members sit in a circle and make comment on the topic of the discussion following a small number of rules:
- Only the person holding the "talking stick" (or other item) may speak.
- An effort is made to listen as you would want to be listened to when you are speaking.
- The talking stick passes around the circle.
Ideally everybody forms a seated circle shoulder-to-shoulder, so that they can see everybody else's face, including those on either side of them. This becomes impractical for large circles and folks may be nested 3 or more deep so that everyone is close enough to hear. A ceremonial opening (and closing) is used in some circles.
Each person is given the opportunity to speak in turn, the speaker holding the talking stick. If they speak loudly enough for a person on the opposite side of the circle to hear (and, when outdoors, it's not very windy) everyone in the circle can hear them.
Unlike meetings, in an effective talking circle speakers are not interrupted by other participants, though this 'rule' may be broken by a request to "address the stick", particularly if something is factually incorrect or controversial. It is the speaker's decision to allow or disallow the interruption. Interruptions generally slow down the process. Some people take notes so they can address particular points that have been raised by others when it is their turn to speak. In international circles a translator may also be involved in the process. As the speaker completes their turn, they pass the stick to their neighbour, who may speak or may, in silence, pass the stick on.
A large circle may continue over successive days. Discussion continues until consensus is reached, that is, no one objects to the proposed decision (it may be obvious that consensus has been reached; or the speaker may say that they are "testing for consensus", silence denotes agreement), or until the stick has been passed around the whole circle once in silence. While highly decorated ceremonial talking sticks are often used, in some circles it is the practise to use a stick found on the ground and to burn it at the end of the circle.