Council Circle

Council processes have been developed in many cultures and have been used for generations. The structure of council circles may vary, but a basic form remains constant: a group is gathered in a circle for a conversation about a specific topic, and the opportunity to speak is given one at a time to all members of the council. Often, a “talking piece” is passed clockwise around the circle to identify the speaker. Members only speak when it is their turn and are encouraged to listen intently, without comment, while others are speaking. All members have the right to keep silent or “pass” when their turn comes. A facilitator is charged with maintaining the boundaries of the circle to protect the process.

From The Center for Council:

Participants speak one-at-a-time, sharing their personal stories and experiences, rather than opinions, and listen intently while others do the same. Sharing and listening to universal stories about love, loss, fear, and hope enables participants to recognize that, despite their many differences, they have much in common.

By fostering attentive listening and authentic expression, Council builds positive relationships between participants and neutralizes hierarchical dynamics formed by the inequality of status, race, or other social factors. It supports a deep sense of community and fosters recognition of a shared humanity and interconnectedness.  It enables individuals to give voice to their stories, develop mutual respect, cultivate a compassionate response to anger, defensiveness, and violence, as well as strengthen emotional health and  resilience.

The following intentions, originally stated by the Ojai Foundation (the organization from which came the Center for Council), may be helpful in developing your understanding of how to engage in the council process:

Council uses four simple intentions that provide the basis for interaction in the council circle. An intention is a direction that we want to move in to the best of our ability, despite difficulties we might encounter.

  1. The first intention is to “speak from the heart” when you have the talking piece. This means to speak not only with your head and your ideas, but with your feelings as well. It means to tell your own story as honestly as you can trust in the moment. You have countless important and meaningful experiences. When you speak about them truthfully, you are speaking from the heart.

  2. The second intention is to “listen from the heart” when another person has the talking piece. This means to listen without judgment, to listen with an open mind, even if you disagree with what the person is saying. Listen not just with your mind, but with your heart as well.

  3. The third intention is to “speak spontaneously.” This means that we try to wait before the talking piece comes to us before we decide what we want to say. There are good reasons for this. First, if you are thinking about what you are going to say, then you are not listening completely to the person who is speaking. Second, when you don’t preplan what you are going to say, you will often be surprised what comes to you when it is your turn.

  4. The last intention is to “speak leanly.” Something that is “lean” doesn’t have anything extra on it. When you speak, keep in mind that many others would like a chance to speak, and that there is limited time. Use only those words necessary to get your point or story across. Please remember that no one is required to speak.

Further resources for Council Process:

The Center for Council

The Circle Way

Zimmerman, Jack & Coyle, Gigi. 1996. The Way of Council. Bramble Books.