Talking in circles

We are living in the “Information Age”, a time when we can broadcast our thoughts, amplify our opinions, multiply our connections and leverage our influence. One timely tweet has the potential to connect with hundreds of thousands, one cute video the chance to find an audience of millions.

The Flynn Effect tells us that the increase of information is raising our IQs over time. We have more data, more information and we are getting smarter, but are we getting wiser? Are we better listeners as a result? And do we understand each other better? What follows are excerpts of a conversation with a client about her challenges in talking, listening and being understood.

“We don’t seem to connect and understand each other anymore! We talk with each other, but the more we do, the more it feels like we are drifting apart. We seem to talk past each other. We don’t fight, but neither do we seem to gel like we once did. The lack of connection is irritating to the both of us – well at least me, but so far, we’ve kept it civil. We both want to connect, to reconnect, but it sometimes feels more like we are strangers than a long-term couple, and that makes us wonder who is it that we are trying to connect to. In a nutshell, it feels like we are talking in circles.”

Emma and her partner Rob have been together almost twenty-years. Both are professionals that travel regularly, often separating them for up to a week at a time.

“I’ve also been talking in circles too recently,” I said.

She looked at me quizzically.

“A different kind of circle. I’ve been talking in sacred circles. It’s a wisdom model of communication in which everyone has an equal place in a sharing circle. We take turns. We all get a chance to speak and be heard as well as a chance to listen carefully to each other.”

“Wisdom model?”

“Most wisdom traditions have some version of the sacred circle, where open and honest expression are encouraged, and patient reflective listening is practiced. Sacred because wisdom traditions see each individual as sacred and vital to the wellbeing of the group.

“How big is the circle?” she asked.

“Between 6 and 9 people, depending on the day and who is free to participate.”

“That’s more complicated that our situation. There is only two of us.”

“If it can work for 9 people it can work for 2.”

“How does it work?”

“Like I said, everyone takes a turn to speak. We call it ‘checking in’, which means expressing where we are at, how we are feeling, what is challenging us and where we could use some support.”

“Is that it? Does it work?”

“There is one step more that helps it work and that is reflective listening. The speaker can invite any member of the circle to ‘reflect back’ to them what they heard. This lets the speaker know that they have ‘been heard,’ which creates trust and openness.”

“So, the person giving feedback is not giving advice?”

“If the speaker asks for help and advice then yes, advice or opinions can be given. But sharing opinions is not what the circle is about. It’s about creating a space where people feel heard, understood and supported.”

“What do you think is the main benefit of sacred circle sharing?”

“My experience is that it creates emotional understanding and connection. This brings people together and creates acceptance of each other for who we are and where we are at.

“It sounds like a good way to stop talking past each other. I was thinking about my communication with Rob the other day and wondered if we are talking to each other like we are making posts on social media. That kind of communication is one-way… while I talk, he is thinking about what he wants to say. It feels more like a debate, like posting an opinion that is better than mine.”

“Sacred circle communication helps to take the competition out of communication. The goal is connection and mutual understanding, not conquest or dominance.”

“So, how do you think Rob and I could apply the sacred circle in our communication.”

“Start with a simple practice. First thing is to sit down with each other and don’t rush into talking. Take a moment to be calm, breathe and get centred. A minute of quiet can be helpful. Then take turns. Let him speak and listen carefully. Let him talk until he feels he is done. Then he can tell you that he is ‘checking out and his turn is over.’”

“OK. We definitely don’t do that now!”

“I understand. That is another reason for the word sacred. You take extra care with something sacred.”

“Go on. What’s next?”

“Then you reflect back to him, as accurately as you can, what he said. Try to enter into his mood. Speak respectfully to that mood. Go through the main points of what he said. When you are done, ask him if he ‘feels understood.’ Then he can confirm to you that you’ve understood him and also explain important points that you may have missed.”

“And then it’s my turn?”

“Exactly. Once you have had a chance to speak and he has reflected back to you, once you feel understood, then you can both take turns deepening the exchange, following the careful reflective listening way of doing things.”

“Well this is something new, isn’t it?”

“Well not really. Sacred circle sharing is ancient. But if you think back to when you first met Rob, I wager that you spoke to each other with the same careful listening I’ve been talking about. You were both attentive to each other, and it felt wonderful to know that someone cared enough about you to listen to your views and feelings, fears and hopes.”

“I’d like to get back to that. I am going to try it and will let you know the results.”

“You’ll be surprised how magical and transformative careful listening can be. I am sure it will help revive your understanding of each other.”

“Thank you.”



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  1. Inez

    Such wise Practice of improving our communication with others especially those who we are in
    Meaningful relationships with or should be. Thank you Micheal for always providing such valuable insight in such practical and understandable ways. Gifts to us all🙏🏻💐✌️

    • Michael Geary

      Thank you for your sharing Inez. I appreciate the feedback and the encouragement. So much of what I am writing is common sense, or common wisdom. For instance we know that Respect the best way to talk with others. Do unto others…and all that… but the demands and distractions of life make us forget it… ideally we take the time to get fully present to the one’s we love… after all life is brief…
      Love and blessings,

  2. Bevis

    Always timely

    • Michael Geary

      Thanks, Bevis.


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