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
  him/herself alone.

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
  dialog process.
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
Circles-MN home page

Last update to this page 6/4/99