MN Dept of Corrections Jan 1998
Value of circle format for discussion, brainstorming or problem solving:
o Share leadership, equality - Placing everyone in a circle minimizes
structural distinctions between "teacher" and "learner" and sets tone of
equal participation and equal capacity to teach and learn among all
o Visual contact among all participants at all times - In a circle no one
is looking at anyone else's back. It is easier to listen and hear when
there are direct sight and sound lines among participants.
o Focus - The structure of the circle focuses attention on the
participants and task of the circle and reduces distractions.
o Connection - The circle links all participants with one another
encouraging a sense of shared effort or common purpose.
o Respect/ accountability - Because everyone in a circle can see one
another encouraging a sense of shared effort or common purpose.
o Input and participation from all - Use of the technique of going
around the circle providing each person with a chance to speak ensures
that everyone has an opportunity to be heard and reduces domination of
discussion by a small number of people.
o Inclusion - In a circle no one feels isolated or left out.
Advantages of the talking piece.
o The use of the talking piece helps manage discussion of very emotional
issues. Emotions can be expressed without taking over the dialog.
Because participants must wait for the talking piece to speak, they
cannot respond without thinking. Because the talking piece must go
around the full circle, it prevents two individuals from getting into a
back and forth emotional exchange. If the words of one participant
anger another, multiple members of the circle may address the issues
raised before the talking piece reaches the angry participant, thus
relieving the angry participant from a sense of needing to defend
o The talking piece creates space for the contributions of quiet people
who might otherwise not assert themselves to claim room in the dialog.
These people often have valuable insights which are lost in an open
o The talking piece spreads the responsibility for peacemaking to all
participants. In traditional mediation, participants expect the
mediator to control the dialog. In the circle process, the keeper
does not interrupt the flow of the talking piece, thus every participant
carries responsibility to address conflict which may be arising between
some participants in the circle.
o The talking piece promotes better listening. Participants listen
better when they know that they will not have an opportunity to speak
until the talking piece reaches them. In open dialog we often stop
listening and begin formulating our response before a speaker is
finished because we need to rush into an opening in the dialog.
o The talking piece encourages the use of silence in the process.
o The talking piece reinforces the principle of equality in the circle
because it provides equal opportunity to all to participate an presumes
equal capacity for contributions from all participants.
Role of the keeper.
o Create an atmosphere of respect and safety for all.
o Create a tone of hope ad optimism for constructive solutions.
o Guide the process to remain true to the underlying values.
o Articulate the progress and accomplishments of the circle as it proceeds.
o Clarify unresolved issues to focus of the circle's energy.
o Participate as a member.
This page is maintained by Fred H. Olson fholson at cohousing.org
Circles-MN home page
Last update to this page 6/4/99