The Talking Stick – A Powerful Communication Tool

Communication is the activity of sharing thoughts, ideas and messages. We do this primarily through words, body language and facial expressions. Our message is sent through a specific frequency which the receiver must be tuned into.

As simple as communication can be, breakdowns happen frequently. The most common being the frustration of being misunderstood or unheard. Successful communication is achieved when there is a clear transmission and reception of the information.

Communication is a foundational cornerstone of any relationship. When the channels of communication are open and clear, there is more harmony, satisfaction and intimacy. However, when the channels are blocked or obstructed, the relationship becomes confusing, tiresome and stressful.

The most common way communication breaks down is when we express ourselves or listen through our emotional filters. If for example, we are trying to tell our partner about something they did that made us feel hurt, the emotional pain will affect how we express ourselves. We end up blaming and shaming our partner for how we feel. Our partner receives this communication through their own emotional filters, like guilt or resentment. This usually triggers a defensive counter attack or they shut down to what we are saying.

Regardless of which emotions are at play, the outcome is usually the same. Both parties end up feeling hurt, frustrated, bitter, resentful, angry, unheard, disrespected and misunderstood. These feelings sit between them in a heap of emotional toxic waste, dormant and suppressed, only to be resurrected when a similar incident arises. As more issues go unresolved, the troubled pile expands into a mountain, pushing the partners further apart. They end up feeling alone, abandoned, miserable, hopeless and unfulfilled. Whenever they come together, all they see is the unsettling emotional pain. Eventually, the discomfort is so unbearable, they end the relationship.

No relationship needs to suffer this fate. The Talking Stick is an excellent communication tool for breaking through the challenges of being heard and understood. It comes from a century’s old tradition, originating from the First Nations People of North America. The Talking Stick was used to settle disputes, disagreements or dissolve personal agendas. It was also used in council meetings to ensure everyone’s voice was heard.

To ensure communication is clearly transmitted and received, all participants are required to follow a few simple rules when using the Talking Stick.

It’s important to be in a private space away from any distractions or interruptions with both people comfortably seated facing each other.

They must agree to speak openly and honestly about the current issue without dragging the past into it.

They must also agree not to let their emotions take over and give in to the impulse to make themselves right and our partner wrong.

The person holding the Talking Stick is the speaker, they have the right to speak and share their point of view. Their partner, the listener, agrees to listen silently and attentively.

Once the speaker has finished, the listener takes the Talking Stick and shares their understanding of what was said.

They are not to express their opinion or defend themselves by explaining their side.

If the speaker doesn’t feel satisfied their partner has understood what was said, the speaker takes the stick and clarifies their communication, then the listener reiterates what they understood. This process continues until the speaker is content they have been heard.

The roles are then reversed, the listening partner becomes the speaker by sharing their point of view while the other becomes the attentive listener.

A successful Talking Stick session does not involve trying to get the other person to agree with our point of view. Its purpose is to create a climate of mutual respect in the relationship. Regular use of the Talking Stick helps both partners learn to speak clearly and honestly while listening impartially, without being defensive.

Making a Talking Stick can be a fun and enjoyable experience for everyone involved, including children. It is made from a tree branch which is decorated with items from nature. There should be representations from the mineral, plant and animal worlds of Grandmother Earth. Things like crystals, rocks, seeds, bark, feathers, figurines, leather and fur can be used. Each item will hold the energy of the world it is from, along with the personal meaning it has for whoever is making the Talking Stick. The mineral world will help us find the strength to be in our own circle of power, holding a stable and grounded stance for truthful, honest communication. The plant world helps us find the self-trust to share our feelings with an unrestricted open heart. The animal world helps us to listen with an unbiased open-minded receptivity.

You may already have a stick at home that will suit your needs, if not, you can go for a walk in nature with the intent to find the branch for your Talking Stick. If you end up taking a branch from a tree, the traditional way is to take only what is needed and then show respect to the tree by leaving a token of gratitude like a pinch of tobacco or a personal item at the base of the tree. Once the Talking Stick is finished, it can be hung on the wall where it is easily accessed by every member of the family.

The power of the Talking Stick cannot be denied. The principles behind its use are profoundly effective. Making a conscious choice to apply these principles will help to hone communication and listening skills as well as improve the quality of any relationship.