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A couple of weeks ago I took a fantastic course through RRU Continuing Studies called The Practice of Council. It was a course held in council (what some people call “circle”), and taught us the basics of council process. We had two fabulous facilitators who modelled the way, showing us what great council facilitation looks like. They sat with us in council, participated in the process as much as led it, and opened up my eyes to bringing people together in a different way than we often do at our normal meetings and events.

I have been reading a lot about circle this year. From Jean Shinoda Bolen’s The Millionth Circle to Craig and Patricia Neal’s The Art of Convening to Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea’s The Circle Way, these books have energized me about the process. It feels right and natural to be with others this way – and so it should I guess. Humankind has been meeting “in circle” since we came together around circles of fire hundreds of thousands of years ago. I like that it equalizes everyone in the room, that we can all see each other’s faces. I like that using a talking piece one by one allows me to focus on really listening to others when it’s their turn to speak (a tremendous skill to practice in itself), and feeling heard when it’s mine.

I haven’t always felt that I have been heard in my life. Those moments when you’re talked over, interrupted, or when you’ve said something but the next person to speak totally changes the conversation in another direction without acknowledging what you’ve said. As if you’re not there, as if you didn’t just lay yourself and your ideas out there.  I don’t feel this as much as I did in my younger days – is it my own burgeoning confidence or just others affording me more respect as I get older? – but it’s not totally gone of course. We all don’t feel heard at some point or another, those moments when you feel you might as well just step back into the flowered wallpaper as participate in something because of the result it’s having.

But council process changes all that. It forces us to slow down, to set aside the bubbling thoughts of what I want to say next, to stop the popping back and forth tennis game of conversation. In council we sit, we listen to others and consider their words. We wait our turn. We hold the talking piece. And thoughts come. We are lean with our expression (as our facilitators advised) because, we need to keep in mind, this is not group therapy and everyone has to have a chance to talk. But we hold that piece and we speak our mind and we are heard.

Council feels different and strange at first, and why? We are so used to hiding ourselves behind boardroom tables, struggling to make our voices heard over many others by coming up with something witty and important to say. We don’t slow down enough to really hear others around us. We are unused to having all faces turned toward us, listening intently to what we have to say. It’s time to change all that! I’m looking forward to stepping into my comfort with this process by doing it more and more.

Tell me, have you used circle process? Practiced council? I feel like a sponge seeking the experiences of others around this right now, and I’d love for you to share in the comments how it has worked for you.