I was facilitating a meeting recently for a team.  I had talked about the possibility of using a talking piece to introduce the idea, however, it was left at that.  Just an idea.  Then there was a moment in the meeting which was so poignant and so clearly illustrated one reason a talking piece can work magic.  I wanted to share it with you all as well, because it was such a learning moment for me.

The group had been meeting for most of the day by this point, and it was near the end of the day.  There had been just a few times throughout the day when the conversation purposefully went around the circle, as it were.  Each person was invited to speak in turn, around the table.  This was one of those times.  People were going around the circle, speaking to what had been meaningful for them over the last few times we had met with them as a team helping to facilitate a different kind of conversation.

We were about half way through the circle when one person spoke from a deep place in his heart.  It was a beautiful moment.

In my work, I have noticed when these heart-felt expressions happen, they need a minute or two to land.  They need space and breathing room for people to feel the impact of the words.  Unfortunately, within about two seconds, the next person started up.  This person’s expression was completely different and the moment was lost.  I noticed the expression on the face of the person who was, in fact, perhaps not quite finished.  He didn’t show much, but I could see he was still in the experience.  He was not quite done.

After this second person completed, I did draw the attention of the whole team to the benefit of having a talking piece, as perhaps the person before was not quite done.  The second speaker admitted she was not sure that the person before her was done.  She was only guessing.   The original person with the heart-felt expression didn’t want to go back to the moment (it was in fact lost) – but appreciated, he said, the opportunity to stop for that moment.

That exchange illustrates for me one of the benefits of having a talking piece for those times in group conversations when you might need to slow things down.  Going slower allows our brains, bodies and hearts to absorb more completely what each is saying to the others.

This meeting also showed me that talking pieces aren’t necessary for all parts of a team meeting.  They are impactful if you are doing an agenda item where it might be important for “all voices to be heard.”  I hear this phrase a lot from team leaders who want to ensure that the introverts as well as the extroverts get a chance to speak.  Having a talking piece is an easy and elegant way to ensure everyone does get to speak when all voices are wanted.

One practice where a talking piece could be specially impactful is by instituting a “check in” and a “check out” process to staff meetings.  A check in is an open space where people can either simply share where they are at that day, or it can be a more directed process.  In the meeting spoken of above, their check in was sharing what their best intention was in attending that meeting and they were also invited to express one appreciation or strength they see about the person to their right.  The feeling in the room after this exercise was palpable.  It was a wonderful way to start the meeting.  This is a perfect time to use a talking piece as well, to give people a sense that when they are speaking, they are in control of when it starts and when it ends.

Do you have any staff meeting talking piece experiences?