Talking Circles: Speaking From The Heart And Listening From The Heart



For many years, talking circles have been a traditional way for Aboriginal people to solve their problems. These rituals are still being carried out today. Sometimes they can also be referred to as speaking circles, sharing circles and healing circles. Although, the healing circles are slightly different. These circles have been proven to be very successful on many levels. This has led other cultures (including schools and corporations) to include such circles to benefit the growth and development of their people.

The shape of a circle has always represented many important Aboriginal principles. The talking circle symbolizes completeness and equality for everyone within the circle. There is no hierarchy in this space. If you have not had the opportunity to be part of a talking circle, this is generally how one works:

  • All electronic devices are turned off! Not silenced. They are turned off.
  • A token is passed around the circle clockwise, giving everyone equal opportunity to speak. The token can be any item you choose such as a rock, stick or feather. The token can be passed around the circle several times until everyone has had the opportunity to say all that they need to say.
  • When the speaker is finished speaking, the token is passed on to the next person.
  • Only one person speaks at a time. As that person is speaking, other people in the group do not speak. They do not try to console that person, nor interrupt with any questions.
  • Speak from the heart when it is your turn to speak. Honor and respect all people with your words.
  • Listen with your heart when a member of the group is speaking. Hear the true intent of what the speaker is saying.
  • Silence is respected. If you choose not to speak, just pass the token on to the next person and say “Pass.”
  • What is shared in the circle remains in the circle. Whatever you have heard, it is never to be repeated.

Talking circles are usually a small group of people (6-8) sharing a mutual respect and some sort of common ground. A particular topic is often times chosen and it is agreed upon by all members.  Talking circles can be held among close friends.  Sharing through talking circles in therapeutic programs is an excellent way for everyone involved to be fairly represented.  Talking circles for children provides them an opportunity to share their concerns, fears and feelings. It is a space where they feel equal and know that they are being heard. Teachers can benefit from these times in assessing various situations and programs involving the children. Talking circles can benefit corporate teams by generating new ideas, problem solving and planning fresh new projects.

I have been honored to have taken part in various talking circles. Each circle was held in totally different settings. Each circle’s purpose had different goals but their intentions were the same.  Some of the circles I attended were brief as there were only a few people.  Some of the circles were much larger and spanned over several hours.  As I reflect upon the most recent circle that I attended, I can honestly say that all the guidelines were followed. As I spoke from my heart, I looked up and realized that I was surrounded by warm smiles of the people in the circle. Seeing those smiles validated that I was in a safe place to say all that I needed to say. Looking into their eyes, I was also able to see that they were genuinely listening with their hearts. There wasn’t one person in that circle that said “pass” in choosing not to speak. Members of the group appreciated the knowing of everyone to be equal and they embraced the opportunity to be heard. Since then, I have met several people from that group in various social circles. During these encounters, not once has anyone mentioned the talking circle topic again. However, usually hugs are exchanged.  The experience we all shared within that circle created a special bond between us all that will never be broken.

If you are ever invited to to sit and share within a talking circle, be sure to accept. Talking circles are very powerful!

Jennifer Doherty

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