“I left circles with a wealth of knowledge that I felt that I could put immediately to use in my everyday life and career” – JR

CIRCLE PROCESSES: A New/Old Approach to Peacemaking

Circles assume a universal human wish to be connected to others in a good way.

Peacemaking Circles draw on the ancient Native American tradition of using a talking piece, an object passed from person to person in a group which grants the holder sole permission to speak. It combines this ancient tradition with contemporary concepts of democracy and inclusivity in a complex, multicultural society. The Circle Process is a storytelling process. Every person has a story, and every story has a lesson to offer. Because storytelling engages people on many levels – emotional, spiritual, physical, and intellectual – listeners absorb stories differently than they do advice.

Participants sit in a circle of chairs with no tables. Sometimes objects that have meaning to the group are placed in the center as a focal point to remind participants of shared values and common ground. The physical format of the Circle symbolizes shared leadership, equality, connection, and inclusion. It also promotes focus, accountability, and participation from all. Using very intentional structural elements, Circles aim to create a space in which participants are safe to be their most authentic self.

Key Components of Circles:
1. Circles use a ceremony or intentional centering activity in the opening and in the closing to mark the Circle as a sacred space in which participants are present with themselves and one another in a way that is different from an ordinary meeting.

2. The guidelines are intended to describe the behaviors that the participants feel will make the space safe for them to speak their truth. Guidelines are not rules, but gentle reminders about participants’ shared commitment to creating a safe space for difficult conversation.

3. The talking piece circulates consecutively from person to person around the group. The person holding the talking piece has the undivided attention of everyone else in the Circle and can speak without interruption. It allows for full expression of emotions, deeper listening, thoughtful reflection, and an unhurried pace. It also creates space for people who find it difficult to speak in a group, but it never requires to holder to speak.

4. The facilitator/keeper of the Circle is a participant who assists the group in creating and maintaining a collective space in which each participant feels safe to speak honestly and openly without disrespecting anyone else. The keeper does not control the issues raised by the group or try to move the group toward a particular outcome.

5. Decisions in a Circle are made by consensus. Consensus does not require enthusiasm for the decision or plan, but it does require that each participant is willing to live with the decision and support its implementation.

Be respectful even though you may not always agree.
Speak only when you have the talking piece.
Be honest and speak only for yourself.
Speak briefly so everyone who wants to has an opportunity to speak.
You may pass the talking piece without speaking if you choose.
Respect confidentiality… what’s shared in the circle stays in the circle.
There are no right or wrong answers in the circle.

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