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Circle Process: What Needs to Be Heard

By Circle Process facilitator Daryl Snider (names and details changed to protect privacy)

This was the first time everyone had come together since the conflict arose. I felt an odd mixture of stress and delight from the eight people as they arrived for the Circle Process. They had been close before it all exploded, and the strong feelings were evident, differently in each person. Some were quiet and stiff, while others were chatty and joking. Our gracious hosts served coffee and tea.

As the Circle started, even the jovial participants tensed up—a natural response in a situation that feels dangerous. As a Keeper of this Circle, however, I knew from listening to each of them that they feared hurting others as much as getting hurt themselves.

“Terry” was almost shaking. Some had warned my co-keeper and me that Terry might derail the whole process. At first, Terry had been reluctant to engage at all, but after we listened to their story and concerns, Terry was willing to give this Circle a try—to everyone’s surprise.

We started with a light warm-up activity, building a sculpture together out of random scraps of wood and construction materials. We took turns around the Circle placing an object in the sculpture or rearranging them until everyone was satisfied. I noticed that even here, different approaches stood out. Some had a clear vision of what they were building. Some were being polite and careful not to disturb what others wanted to do. Some seemed determined to undo what others did. And some took risks, placing objects in precarious positions. We shared laughter and enjoyed this diversion, with a focus on building something fun together. The ice was melting.

Janet Connors working through grief and anger with teens using a circle process.

The Circle shifted to talking about “values,” and together, we listed shared values that help us be at our best, committing ourselves to them: honesty, openness, listening, empathy, respect, grace.

Then we began rounds of the Circle with guiding questions, passing the Talking Piece from one person to another. At first folks were worried about offending others or saying the wrong thing. Eventually, it was Terry—the live wire—who pushed us forward saying, “Let’s just say what needs to be said.” Pretty quickly then, that’s what happened. There were many tears as people shared their pain and their love for each other. No, their friend hadn’t suddenly become an awful person; they were hurting or afraid. Apologies were offered and readily accepted. It was time for our Circle to close, and everyone was talking freely.

This Circle did not resolve everything, but it started something in motion. There was relational mending yet to do and a larger community to involve. But the Circle provided a space safe enough to say “what needed to be said” and hear what needed to be heard. The result was real and sacred connection, renewed trust, and confidence that we can indeed get through such things—and come out stronger and wiser.

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