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The Talking Stick: Listening like a leader


“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” —Stephen R. Covey

When my friend and fellow business owner Susan and I met for drinks at a conference earlier this year, neither of us could stop talking because we both had so much to say on any given topic. Of course, the cocktails only fueled the fire. So we employed the Talking Stick ritual.

Here’s how it works: Whoever holds the talking stick has the floor. The others must listen and actually hear the speaker’s point without interjecting, interrupting or talking over the speaker until he or she relinquishes the stick.

It was tough to be patient. It was difficult to listen without interrupting. It was impossible not to be jonesing for that damn stick! However, I learned a valuable lesson. The more the speaker feels not only heard but also understood, the more willing he or she is to pass back the talking stick. I also realized when I listened with the intent to understand, I heard more than the words uttered, I heard the meaning behind the words.

It works the same in client meetings and brand facilitation sessions. I ask the right question, then allow the client to talk it out, while I listen with the intent to understand—not just the words but also the underlying meaning. I gain a wealth of deep understanding. With that knowledge I can lead them to expose and articulate the true value their brand brings to its audience.

Whether you head up teams, lead global companies or are simply coaching someone, the most important thing is to ask a carefully considered question, pass the Talking Stick and listen with an open mind and open heart. Your attentive listening will often allow the speaker to gain clarity on the issue, feel respected and understood. They will appreciate you for the great leader you are.

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