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The Power of “Witnessing in Circle”

By M. Kate Allen

As I move through different social settings, I have noticed a few constants around listening. Often people struggle to project their voices loud enough to be heard, while others don’t hear what others have to say for a variety of reasons. At Girl Scouts – Arizona Cactus-Pine Council, we believe in nurturing a culture of listening. We call this: witnessing in circle. 

Witnessing in circle is an experience where people come together to simply be heard. The point is to be present in the moment and “witness” the person who is speaking step into their power with what they share.  Some troops practice this by using a talking stick that gives everyone a chance to speak without interruption, crosstalk, fixing, or contradiction from others. 

When I first practiced “witnessing in circle”, my go-getter spirit found it a little unnerving. I thought, “Am I supposed to do something with what I just heard?”, “Am I supposed to offer comfort, remedy, or insight to this person?” The answer to my questions was “no.” I was to remain silent unless someone asked for a response. While there are circumstances in which hearing what another person has to say, does require further action there are instances where a solution or an opinion is not required. If someone shares they’ve been struggling to establish a good habit, and I offer unsolicited advice, I am placing myself in their experience instead of witnessing it.

The choice to witness (be fully present) while someone is being vulnerable in their thoughts and words is a profound way of honoring their humanity. It’s like saying, "what you have to say is valuable without limit." Instead of approaching conversations with an intention to change their mind, or prioritize our voice over theirs, it’s important to take a step back and create space for others to share their thoughts, ideas, and experiences. It’s a powerful tool that I hope more Girl Scouts and volunteers can embrace.