Tool for your toolbox: Talking Stick
Communication is a major area for couples to find themselves at odds with one another. Often, when I am working with couples, a significant portion of time is spent assisting them with learning how to communicate in a healthier manner. This means that I am interrupting negative and toxic communication and replacing it with communication that allows each member involved to feel heard and understood.
"A major communication problem is that we listen to respond, rather than listening to understand."
A technique I've learned from a training I participated in was the use of a talking stick. The concept sounds elementary, or even remedial, but it is really effective at changing, what would otherwise be an argument, into healthy, meaningful communication about an issue. My goal is to have couples practice, inside and outside of, session so that they can learn to listen to understand and better monitor their own thinking and emotions as they impact their behavior and interactions with their significant other. While the idea of a talking stick is pretty straight-forward, there are some rules that MUST be followed for its use to be effective; they are listed below.
- Both members must agree on what topic will be discussed
- Couple must decide on who will share first
- Only the person holding the stick can speak
- Once the stick is passed, the new person must:
- Thank the original sharer for sharing
- Reflect back what they heard their partner say
- Check in with their partner to see if their reflection was correct, and pass stick back to original sharer
- Original sharer can then:
- Correct partner if some details of the reflection were incorrect
- Share more feelings if necessary and repeat steps 3 and 4
- Partner thanks original sharer for sharing one final time and then shares their own thoughts about the situation and what original sharer shared
- Repeat steps 3 and 4 until resolution is reached or need for a timeout is identified
This skill is designed to interrupt negative interactions or create an appropriate environment for an emotionally charged topic to be discussed. Some best practices are to break up the sharing into smaller time periods (>1 minute), this allows the respondent to remember more of the details, and to remember the process can take several exchanges of the stick before both parties feel heard and ready to move on.
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