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Quick to Listen

An Initiative for Better Discussions in Our Churches

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak…” James 1:19

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Thrive works to promote a culture of encouragement, discernment and relationships in churches and classis within the CRCNA. Few skills are more foundational to our work than the skill of listening well. Yet, as simple as it sounds to listen well, we find congregations consistently getting into trouble because they struggle to practice listening at the scale and depth required. For this reason, we want to share with you one of our favorite tools to encourage better listening in congregations: a talking piece for a listening circle.

A talking piece itself is often unremarkable. A talking piece can be any physical object easily passed from person to person in a room, like a stone, a stuffed animal or a soft ball.

A talking piece can provide a simple but effective structure to transform meetings into listening circles where participation is valued and trust is required.

But what the talking piece represents is both remarkable and simple. What’s simple about a talking piece is its premise: Whoever holds the talking piece is invited to speak. Whoever does not have the talking piece is invited to listen. What’s remarkable about the talking piece is that it reliably reduces anxiety, invites participation and increases trust among the people who use it.

While listening has been a core Christian practice since the New Testament, the use of a talking piece and listening circle has been particularly developed and shared in the last fifty years by Indigenous communities in the United States and Canada.

From youth group to Coffee Break to committee meetings to council, a talking piece can provide a simple but effective structure to transform meetings into listening circles where participation is valued and trust is nurtured.

How to Use a Talking Piece

Step One: Pick the Moment. As leader of a group, select one part of the meeting where you would hope for wide participation or where you expect some anxiety.

Step Two: Select a talking piece. Some choose an object merely because it is nearby. Others select an object with some symbolic meaning: a stone representing our strong foundation in Christ or a wood-carved shepherd representing the Good Shepherd present with us.

Step Three: Prepare the question(s). The prepared question(s) will guide everyone’s response so it should be well-considered.

Example One: Hear from Everyone: Before opening discussion on an item of business before a committee, ask each person to respond.

“As you prepared for this discussion, what, if anything, does God seem to want you to keep in mind?”

Example Two: A Check-Out: At the end of a meeting where there has been meaningful (or heated) discussion, ask people to respond to three questions in succession:

  1. “What did you observe that you want to thank God for?”
  2. “What did you observe that you regret or lament that you want to ask God’s mercy for?”
  3. “What do you hope for the future of our group?”

Step Four: Explain the Rules:

  1. Only the person with the talking piece may speak.
  2. No interruptions or commentary from the group.
  3. You may decline to speak by saying “pass” when the talking piece is handed to you.
  4. The talking piece will be passed around the circle once, and everyone will have one opportunity to respond to the question(s).

Step Five: Listen

  1. State the question.
  2. Pass the talking piece.
  3. Start listening.

We hope this resource gives you a taste for how listening circles can improve the quality of interactions and meetings in your church. If you want to use listening circles to address more complex or divisive issues in your community, Thrive is available to help. Email us at [email protected] or sign up to meet with a consultant experienced with listening circles in congregational settings.