Thanksgiving has passed and we’re just a few days away from Christmas. It’s the time of year when extended family gathers, maybe for the first time all year, and conversation can be *lively* - and not always in a positive and constructive manner. I’ve been at my share of unruly dinner tables, both with kids and adults. I bet you have too. There are times I wished I had a magic wand to put an end to the bickering and cross talk.
The native American cultures originated the custom of the Talking Stick for this very purpose. You may also be familiar with it from its adopted use by the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts for their meeting management. The Talking Stick was used to keep order during meetings. The Talking Stick is passed from person to person as they speak and only the person holding the stick is allowed to talk during that time period. This allows the focus to be only on the speaker and allows the speaker to complete their thoughts without being interrupted. It truly is a magic wand!
How does this relate to mediation, you ask?
The couples I see at The Mediation Table often cite communication as one of their biggest issues. They say they can no longer talk to each other. They cite examples of how they cut each other off, talk over each other and do not speak respectfully to each other. Usually it is the other person’s fault. In the end, neither party feels like they are being heard. Well no wonder with that pattern of communication! And while the topics may be different, it sounds kind of like the unruly family holiday meals.
I don’t set many rules in my mediation sessions, but one thing I do stress, and try to adhere to, is that everyone will have time to speak and that we will not interrupt someone when they are speaking. I assure each party that I will get to them in turn and that they will have an opportunity to have their say. I set this intention at the beginning of each session to reassure everyone that they will be heard. For most people this “verbal talking stick” is enough. But some people are so ingrained in their ways, or so anxious about stating their position, they continue to interrupt frequently. For those folks I bring out my physical Talking Stick. In my case it is an actual Magic Wand from Cinderella’s Castle, just like I always wanted during those unruly family meals. I use this Magic Wand/Talking Stick as a visual reminder that only the person holding the Magic Wand/Talking Stick may talk. It’s a little goofy, but it works!
When my clients call me they often express concern about being able to have a constructive conversation about their issues. They may be separated or still living under the same roof, but whatever has moved them to make that call to me has created tension in their lives to the point where they need professional assistance. Having a neutral third party in the room to facilitate their conversation, and using visual cues like the Talking Stick and other techniques allows them to communicate effectively to reach their stated goals.
Hmmm . . . maybe I should start bringing my Magic Wand to holiday meals!