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Ancient techniques may be bang up to date

If we could see emails on their way, the sky would be a mishmash of script, dense, intertwining, and going on forever. That’s just the emails. We also have fax, voicemail, instant messaging, video links, and doubtless more on the verge of invention. It’s all designed to speed us up, and it has.

We have come to expect massive inputs of information. As an example, Google brought up 50 million sites about communication in half a second. It takes time to sift through and select out what’s relevant. Having too much, too quickly, slows us down.

Human interaction isn’t meant to be instant. We have evolved as social creatures. Speed is OK if you merely want to know which platform the train goes from, but if you want to share a project, you need to develop relationships. There are always several possible ways to go forward, and several ways of joining forces to create something new. If it has to be quick, quick, quick, those ideas won’t develop.

As well as that, people have basic needs, like approval, acknowledgement, achievement, and laughter. Some chitchat is essential as lubricant to keep people working together in harmony.

Every group of people brings variety of experience, skills, ideas and perspectives. It’s possible to railroad things through quickly, just skimming the surface, but it’s a waste of resources. If you allocate time to discussion, thinking, rethinking, and discussing again, you have more chance of a good outcome than if you go for instant decisions. Yet there’s a high value on in being quick. There’s a competitive rush that makes any delay seem destructive.

This isn’t brand new. There’s always been a tendency to want to solve things quickly. The Native Americans had a device that effectively slowed things down, and gave people time to talk. This is called a talking stick.

The stick might not be a stick. An eagle’s feather could be used as a symbol. Some talking sticks are elaborately carved, with centuries of tradition behind them. We could use anything that is respected as a symbol of the right to speak for the moment.

People sit in a circle. The talking stick is in the middle. The first to speak picks it up, and has the right to be heard for as long as they are holding the stick. It might seem that the most loquacious would hold it forever, but the right to speak seems to reduce their need to be dominant. They are allowed to finish, then they put the stick down. The next person picks it up, and says what they want to say. Everyone else listens. It’s simple, and it works.

The talking stick has been used in modern organisations to help with

  • Planning
  • Clarifying
  • Improving communication
  • Solving problems
  • Teamwork
  • Developing products
  • Resolving conflict

...and just about any situation where communication is important

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