The Mediation Times


Effective listening with a talking stick

by Amanda on June 11, 2010

I learned the power of a talking stick many years ago. It was one of the most important insights into good conversation I ever had. I have used one in mediations and I would like to use one more often – simply because it works every time. I know my colleague Alan Limbury in Australia will shout “here! here!” if he reads this. Alan has the most beautiful aboriginal talking stick which he takes with him everywhere. I have asked him to find me one just like it but I know they generally find their way to you, rather than the other way around! When the right one finds it’s way to me it might be made of cedar wood.

Here is a video of Dr Stephen Covey (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) explaining why he thinks using a talking stick is amazing.

Phil Hesketh
Phil Hesketh

Hi Amanda,
OK this is like a fashion show - the costume looks outlandish but elements of it are going to end up on the High Street.
I'd be interested to hear how mediators are incorporating this idea into a mediation with counsel, solicitors, insurance executives and angry clients? What's the important element here, people feeling that they are listened to and understood - or getting people to listen to others?

Nancy Milton
Nancy Milton

Thank you Amanda for sharing this information and the fabulous video. We've been using a "talking stick" in our family meetings for about a year now and it's so helpful. Our "talking stick" is a large wooden spoon made in the Amish country of Pennsylvania. As we know, the Amish are a very peaceful people who work hard to understand each other and practice forgiveness. I love how Stephen Covey educates in his video about this wonderful concept. Thanks again for raising everyone's awareness about using a "talking stick."


Welcome Phil! Thank you for commenting on what is one of my favourite conundrums. Why a conundrum? For the reasons I sense you imply in your question about how mediators are incorporating it. There are some, and I include myself here, who have used a talking stick in mediations, but I confess I have never used it in a classic commercial mediation as we know them. Ironically, that is a shame because the effect is quite astonishing. Given my experience of counsel, solicitors, insurance claims managers and angry clients all in the same room, it could make a significant difference to how long it takes to get where you are going! What stops us? The risk of appearing foolish and being dismissed as something a bit too left field and of course I can understand that.

So, as you quite rightly surmise, it is about both getting people to listen and therefore helping others to feel heard and we both know how fast things can move on when that is achieved. My personal work around to achieve the same effect? Using my body language. Making my attention the symbolic representation of a "talking stick". That version I can use in any case but it takes practice and awareness of exactly how you are transmitting.

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