The Art of Hosting

The sharing below was a start of an interesting conversation on the AoH emaillist:

Just wanted to share something I have been using for quite a long time already and that is making a big difference when introducing the "Talking Piece".

I explain what the Talking Piece is, introduce a valuable object of mine and expose myself vulnerably to the group by totally sharing the story of the talking piece, this was hard at the beginning, but as I kept on doing, it becomes a very beautiful moment that allows connection at personal level as well as respect for the Talking Piece and the process.

Once I have introduced the piece itself, I conclude by saying (and writing in the flipchart under the words "Talking Piece") that the way I see the talking piece is as a tool that will allow us to "Talk in Peace"... So the flipchart looks like this:

Talking Piece
Talk in Peace

Hope this is valuable somehow for you guys.

Love tons,



Thanks Dey
for sharing the story of the talking piece!

This made me think that perhaps this group might have some ideas for a "professional" talking piece. Specifically, we need to find a way to slow down the pace of discussion within a French group (mixed corporate, NGO, government) so that someone doing whispering consecutive translation into another language can catch up. The French are notorious for speaking on top of one another and cutting one another off. It's what makes conversation "exciting".
The corporate project owner rejected a talking stick/object as too artificial and non-professional. So we thought about an MP3 dictaphone that has to be passed around. This has the happy side-effect of also creating a high-quality recording of the conversation.
We first thought of a simple microphone, but the rooms are too small for that.

Has anyone tried using a dictaphone/handheld voice recorder for a "talking piece"? Any other ideas in case this fails?
I have been in conversations and circles where we wanted good voice recording so we used a handheld device to do that. Its effect was just the same as a talking piece - it slowed the conversation down; and people were kind of careful to speak clear and not interrupting each other. This was not in a "professional" environment, but I do think it will work. (you might think of what will happen with the recording - and maybe tell them beforehand... transcribing is very, very time consuming!)
With love,
I find this kind of fascinating. I use talking pieces regularly, usually selecting one the day or so before the Circle, usually something that reminds me of the people in the group, or strikes me on my way to the event! ie: Recently the talking piece was a geode, rough on one side and polished to reveal the variations in color and concealed patterns inside... it also had a nice weight and texture... so the object was a lot like the process the young men in the Circle were in at this time in their lives... Other times the group selects a talking piece that represents them.
I hear that the Project Owner said an object would be too artificial or unprofessional - I wonder if there is an object with a LOGO related to the project, which would represent the project's mission, values and goals, its image in the world...perhaps that would be professional enuf:)
Even a paperweight or something like that?
Transcribing is very tedious and then no one wants to read the entire occurs to me that faced with being recorded some people can become less creative, authentic etc. regarding the discussion at hand.
Don't know if that would be a problem with this group.
Wishing you well,
One of my clients is in the Lime & Stone business (they exploit quarries). When I first did a Circle with them, about 6 months ago, there was some doubt at the idea of introducing hosting techniques which could be perceived as unprofessional by the participants. I introduced a beautiful stone as the talking piece and explained its story (my children found the stone during a beach walk in Southern Italy, gave it to me, and it has since traveled the world with me). Because their business is about exploiting stone, and the talking piece was a stone, it went smooth and easy.
I think that the talking piece is not neutral. I think that it is important that both the hosting team and participants can relate to it, can have a (respectful) relationship with it. For that reason, I never used a recorder or microphone as a talking piece... (although I could, if we were in a media environment)
Christian De Neef
I am enjoying this strand of conversation and it's helping me reflect on how I introduce the talking piece to clients. I do so in the context of what we are doing and how it serves the purpose of helping everyone engage in conversation. In many so -called professional environments I have encountered a great deal of un-professional behaviour takes place, including talking over others/ignoring people/dominating conversation/aggression etc. I explain how the talking piece helps creates a more conducive and creative environment.
It reminds me of time when I was hosting a world cafe conversation for a large hospital. Participants included plenty of senior surgeons and I was warned that they would probably find the talking stick rather patronising. Anyway, with courage (and this work does take courage) I nonetheless offered the talking stick to them. One of the surgeons came up to me afterwards and said that he had been doubtful about its merits but now saw how useful it would be in his patient case meetings. He said that often professionals in such meetings would either not talk or talk too much--he felt the quality of the work they do would be enhanced by the use of the talking stick between them. So..... the talking stick and conversation can truly save lives! I think a strong reaction to the talking stick also opens up some interesting contracting conversations about what the client actually wants to accomplish rather than what they might have indicated at the outset.
(I would avoid the use of a hand-held recorder for the reasons others have explained)

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And more on the talking piece:

I agree that a professional tape recorder, or digital/visual recording devices of any kind, might never be an easy first choice as a talking piece.  There are circumstances in which the call comes from the group itself. Working with folks that society treats as discarded, for example, after the untimely death of one of our members the group wanted to capture their stories and images so that they didn't pass unremarked.
"When we lost Eric, we lost so much" as one said, "why didn't we take photographs, record his story. He is only in our memories."  said another. This group doesn't have cell phones to take pictures or the means to access things many of us take for granted.  Access to photographs, to cameras and recorders of any kind may have been negative experiences in the past (i.e. may only have been through the criminal justice system) but the group wanted a way to tell their stories in ways that live on. We began to work with technology in a different way and out of this came a powerful digital story that used photographs they had taken and video snippets and tape recorded voices... A talking piece that dressed up and went out on the town, so to speak....
with an aching heart, from a witness to the violence of a different kind following the Stanley Cup riots - in Vancouver.
This is an interesting conversational thread. Curiosity leads me to question, "What lies beneath the discomfort around using a talking piece and how might we talk about that rather than about its form?" 
Hi all, 
I am so glad I took some time to read the dialogue about the talking stick. I use a naturally heart shaped rock I found while hiking on a trail near my home for my Mind-Body Skills groups. I have not been "brave" enough to use one when I do consulting work for organizations and I have missed it there. I think now I feel empowered to try it next time. For me, it is because I am already bringing in many new ideas such as "soft-belly breathing" and even "shaking and dancing" that create a feeling of disbelief, followed by relief at the benefit. I try to maintain a sense of "corporateness" so that they will not feel too threatened by the too many things at once. 
The other issue for me in consulting is that we are not sitting in a wonderful circle either and so it is often difficult to easily pass a "talking stick" to another. I love the idea though and hope to continue evolving my work and creating an ever greater impact.
Note: a microphone serves as a de facto talking stick. Sometimes calling folks' attention to that makes it easier for them to see the value/point of using another object, and makes it seem less touchy-feely.

Have a great day!

Kat Morgan
Dear Margaret,
I share your curiosity about the underlying thread of this conversation. Although I don't doubt that this is obviously a needed conversation for many I felt myself so absorbed by the conversation about the immediacy of the happenings in Greece that I easily judged it as secondary at first. I am learning again and again... that everything is a potential opportunity to learn more.

"Does the talking piece and how or what kind we apply in different contexts" give us some indication of how we are hosting ourselves and our work in the world?" -that's what I'm asking myself right now.


 "How can we remain conscious and compassionate in the face of violence"? this question stays with me since I am reading the messages and watched the videos from Greece.  And "isn't what we all deal within our work a question of how we heal the internalised  structural violence which is at the core of what we want to transform?"

Best wishes to everyone

and especially to our friends in Greece


Thanks for sharing,

I used to handle a stone from Lake Titicaca as a talking piece. I used to tell the story of the stone since it was a bunch of sand millenia ago. It helped the circle to connect with a long term perspective of time, the geological sense of time.

Now, I also use an anti-stress ball with a world map. It is interesting how people reacts when they feel they have the "world in their hands". Some people handle it carefully, while others suddenly feel powerful, and others just play with it. Some people throw it, some others feel guilty if the ball falls. Anyway, it helps the circle to bring the planet and a global perspective to connect it with the local conversation.

Kind regards from Chile,


Some more on the talking piece:

Courage comes from telling the story of who we are with our whole heart....

I have been following the replies to the Talking Piece conversation and I observe the pattern of "fear" to use it in a "professional" environment.

What is it professional anyway?
Where is our courage to bring along with us as hosts what we believe it works?
How can we tell the story of our practice with our whole hearts when we may seem to be paralyzed by the fear of looking unprofessional?

Just questions that keep on coming to my mind every time I read a new post...

Love tons,
Dey Dos



As I practice The Way of Council, the talking piece is a central part of that practice. I was taught and have seen that the talking piece is a focusing agent. If you find that your attention has wandered, come back to the person who is holding the talking piece. If you find that emotional reactivity is creeping up on you, focus on that talking piece, reminding yourself of who has the floor, that your turn will come and that your work when someone else has the talking piece is to listen from the heart to that person, regardless of whether you agree or not or find the person interesting or not, etc.

In the book The Way of Council, Jack Zimmerman tells of being called to a car dealership in Florida back in the day when the sales staff was comprised strictly of men and the support staff strictly women. It was not a time or place in which anyone in the room would likely have ever heard of anything like meeting in a circle, etc. Jack knew that the selection of the talking piece would be important in helping the men to feel comfortable. He chose a paperweight model of the type of car sold at the dealership that he spotted on the desk of the owner.

I find that if one introduces the talking piece and the reason for it, there is acceptance, even gratitude. It helps to hold the form of what we are doing. It helps us to know that we have chosen to spend some time together in a way that is different from our ordinary meetings. After all, isn’t that why you were invited?

And yes, I have used a microphone as a talking piece though it would not be my first choice.

In gratitude,

Lauri Austein


Beautiful Lori!

I have witnessed in first hand how in corporate environments, the usage of the talking piece takes the whole conversation to the next level, where gratitude is openly manifested as you mentioned. In those cases, the process have been described as unique and powerful, I do believe they will agree to say that has been the most "professional" way of handling a conversation they have experienced.

Out of curiosity, I have decided to go back to some of my corporate customers to explore their perception of the professionalism in the usage of the talking piece, I know that some of my customers use it in their meetings when they find the need for it, it will be cool to get some more straight forward insights from them.

Love tons,



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