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How a tiny stick may help your discussions
April 03, 2018

The Indian Talking Stick

Have you ever found yourself immersed inside a discussion where both parties want to talk at the same time – and neither of you REALLY listen to the other person?

This condition is actually much more common than we all would like to admit.

You don’t have to be screaming at each other in order to be in this situation.

You may be conducting yourself politely as a well behaved coworker – but while the other person is talking to you, you are simultaneously looking inside your head for what it is you are going to say next to win the argument.

Usually – more often than not – this condition tends to lead to misunderstandings.

And misunderstandings have costly consequences – such as massive waste of time, and / or waste of money, and / or unnecessary conflicts.

The Indian Talking Stick:

Here is a communication technique that I heard Stephen R. Covey mention in an interview – I don’t know if he ever wrote it somewhere (he became famous with his book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”)

Covey named this technique, “The Indian Talking Stick” – and it is very effective for when two people begin to have trouble listening to each other – and truly understanding one another.

For example:

Let’s suppose two of your direct reports (Erik and Bob) are in a heated discussion – and you notice that neither of them is REALLY listening to the other person. And you want to help them communicate better among themselves.

This is what you do:

Grab any object that you want – like a pen, or a pencil, or any object that you can easily grab with your hand (it doesn’t matter).

Let’s assume you grab a pen.

You give this pen to Erik – and this is what you tell them:

“Erik – this pen is your ‘talking stick’

“Now that you have the talking stick in your hand, you have the right to speak.

“Once you finish explaining your idea, you will ask Bob to repeat back to you what it is he understood.

“Then – Bob repeats back to you what he understood you said.

“If you consider that Bob did not understand you to your satisfaction, you will explain to him your idea again – and once you finish – you will ask him to explain to you what it is you said one more time.

“Once you consider that Bob understood you correctly – then and only then will you give the talking stick to Bob.

“Bob –

“Now that you have the talking stick in your hand – you will now explain your idea to Erik.

“Once you finish – you will ask Erik to repeat back to you what it is he understood you said.

“If Erik does not explain your idea to your satisfaction – you will explain it again – and you will ask him one more time to explain it back to you.

“When you consider that Erik understood you correctly – you give the talking stick back to Erik.

“And now you Erik, you repeat the process. Etc., etc.”

As you see my dear reader – the idea is very simple.

In other words

Only the person who has the talking stick can speak – and all you can do is to listen until you can restate. This is the only time that you can speak, when you restate the other person’s point to her satisfaction.

And as soon as the other person feels understood – then and only then it is your turn to speak.

When you get the talking stick, the other person cannot speak except to listen, to emphasize and to restate your point.

This simple technique shifts the discussion – from a situation where you are talking back and forth being defensive and protective, without listening emphatically – to a situation where you begin to listen authentically and begin to genuinely try to do that.

You literally see the energy changing from negative and defensiveness to positive and creativeness.

You begin to see how the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.

You literally see synergy and new solutions emerge.


The “Talking Stick” can help you change your worn out discussions into constructive (very constructive) dialogue.

Try it.

You might become addicted to it.

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See you next month!
Joseluis Romero - Publisher
April 3, 2018. Copyright: All rights reserved
I publish "Leader Newsletter" on the first Tuesday of every month
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