How does a respectful culture of discussion work?

The origin of the “circle”, i.e. meeting in a circle, goes back to prehistoric times and was part of almost every culture. Centuries before us, people gathered around the fire to talk respectfully, make important decisions, discuss problems and find solutions. This form of dialog is therefore learned and socially established. The Business Circle is based on the book "The Circle Way" by Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea.

The business circle

Especially in business, a cultivated and respectful culture of discussion has long since ceased to be a matter of course.

Who of us is not familiar with overcrowded agendas (too many topics for too little time), apathetic colleagues or colleagues busy with something else, constantly interrupting or cutting you off?

The Circle enables a discussion at eye-level and appreciation in a business context − The Business Circle.

Through the given setting, it creates respectful communication, gives the topics to be discussed the necessary time and space (appreciation) and involves all participants. As a result of the participation, decisions made in this way gain a higher level of acceptance in the company.

In the Circle there is no hierarchy – everyone is equal


In my opinion, the Business Circle is best used in jour fixes and management circles. But use elsewhere is also conceivable and worth a try.

>> How it works – a few formalities simplify the routine <<

How it works – a few formalities simplify the routine

These should support and contribute to a better understanding of one another

  • Leader in every chair – all participants are equal. There are no hierarchies.
  • Share responsibility – everyone is responsible together for the success of the Circle.
  • Everyone gives what they can and asks for what they need.
  • Rotating lead of the Circle.


The roles

Host – is the guardian of the Circle (host). The host opens and closes the Circle and introduces the topic (and sums it up if necessary).

Guardian – is the keeper of time (lookout). Their “instrument” is the cymbal or a sound from their smartphone. They keep an eye on time and mood. They ensure breaks when it makes sense to give the participants the opportunity to reflect on what has been said, to refocus, or to recall the “agreements” made. Anyone can ask the Guardian to sound the cymbal, then it is announced why the cymbal was sounded.

Scribe – is the visualizer. They record the spoken words visibly for everyone (logged) – a flipchart or a metaplan board is most suitable for this.

The elements

Middle – the middle is the center of the circle – in days gone by it was the fire. Those in the Circle speak to the middle. The middle guides the conversation and should therefore be consciously chosen.

>> My suggestion – shape inspiringly or in keeping with the topic <<

Talking Stick – The Talking Stick is the speaking object. Only the person with the Talking Stick is allowed to speak. The communication is automatically respectful, as everyone listens and no one interrupts.

Cymbal/Singing Bowl – The cymbal or a similarly sounding instrument is operated by the Guardian. It is a symbol of the time or provides meaningful breaks for “taking a breath” or refocusing.

The setting

Arrangement in a circle – chairs only, no table. It is a social structure familiar to people that invites dialogHost -  ist Hüter des Circles (Gastgeber). Der Host eröffnet und schließt den Circle, stellt das Thema vor (und zieht ggf. Resümee).

Guardian - ist der Hüter der Zeit (Achtgeber). Sein "Instrument" ist die Zimbel oder auch ein Ton aus dem Smartphone. Er achtet auf die Zeit und die Stimmung. Er sorgt für sinnvolle Pause um den Teilnehmer die Möglichkeit zu geben über Gesagtes zu reflektieren, sich neu zu fokussieren, oder erinnert an die getroffenen "Vereinbarungen". Jeder kann den Guardian bitten, die Zimbel zu betätigen, im Anschluss wird gesagt warum gezimbelt wurde.

Scribe - ist der Visualisierer. Er hält das Gesprochene für alle sichtbar fest (protokolliert) - am besten eignet sich dazu ein Flipchart oder eine Metaplanwand.

The phases

>> Here’s how it works in practice <<



The check-in brings all voices into the room. The intention is to get everyone to participate from the very beginning and it expresses appreciation and being heard. The check-in question is asked by the host – the participant who wants to start begins and from there moves round clockwise in a circle. Possible questions could be: Asking about how they feel – “How are you today”; “What is currently occupying you?” or thematically “What are my expectations here today?”

In my experience, it makes sense to formulate the question in such a way that it can be answered by the participants in a personal and/or professional context.


The topics are collected (at the beginning or beforehand), the times for the respective topic are determined and both are entered into the agenda. The respective topic host briefly introduces the topic. Everyone who wants to say something takes the Talking Stick and puts it back in the middle when they’re finished or passes it to the next participant who wants to say something.


The check-out ensures that the Circle closes well. How? The host asks the question – the participant who wants to start begins, then it moves round in a circle counterclockwise. What’s important to know is that no one HAS to answer – participants can simply pass. After the round, the participants who passed are given the opportunity to answer the question again if they wish.


My recommendation

I would always recommend making agreements for the Circle with the participants after the check-in. These are particularly helpful in difficult phases such as critical issues or in the case of differences of opinion or controversial discussions and support the process.

Agreements for a good sharing culture


  • Speak with intention and appreciation
  • Listen attentively
  • We share responsibility for the quality (Leader in every chair)
  • No devices in the Circle

How does a respectful culture of discussion work with you? Have you perhaps even already experienced the Business Circle?

Then please share these experiences and discuss the topic with us on LinkedIn, Medium and Twitter.


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