Communication skills

The trouble with talking too fast is you may say something you haven’t thought of yet.  ~Ann Landers

A friend of mine, a school social worker, has an ingenious way of getting her kids to quiet down and “speak one at a time” in class. As she explained it, each child must wait until he or she is holding the “talking pencil.” I was reminded of an essay from Writing Home, which plays on a similar theme. It’s food for thought during the holiday season . . .

Talking Feather

Like many of the items at The Leaping Lizard gift shop in Traverse City, the talking feather was steeped in Native American lore. As soon as I saw it, I knew it would be the perfect souvenir of my last visit to Northern Michigan.

A bargain at $11.95, the feather was trimmed with strands of colored beads and gracefully suspended from a thin leather cord. But the legend printed on the attached card cinched my decision to buy it:  “When crowds gathered and conversation grew louder, it was hard to hear one speaker, so the person wishing to address the crowd was passed ‘the talking feather.’ It was held above the crowd to signify that the person had the floor as speaker.”

I’m not an expert on Native Americana, so I can’t vouch for the authenticity of the legend. Regardless, many intriguing possibilities come to mind.

The talking feather would come in handy at our extended family gatherings, especially during the holidays, when several conversations are carried on simultaneously and in competition with televised football games. But what if we all sat down to dinner with the sacred talking feather? Every in-law would be entitled to speak her peace while the rest of the family would listen intently, the room hushed.

Maybe I could use a talking feather to control the flow of conversation between members of my immediate family at our regular dinner hour. The magic words, “Please pass the talking feather,” would make our discussions more democratic. Everyone could get a word in edgewise. There would be fewer interruptions and better digestion.

And imagine how different things would be if every American used a talking feather. There would be time to cool our emotions before setting them free. We’d air opinions more carefully and breathe between sentences.

In the classroom, for example, a teacher could silence a roomful of chatty second graders with a mere wave of a feather. And what a boon it would be at business meetings when too many chiefs are present. Problems would be solved with greater efficiency, abrasive personalities subdued. Shouting matches would be curtailed, empathy encouraged. The simple phrase, “Please pass the talking feather,” would instill a sense of corporate dignity. And should hogging the talking feather become a problem, it could be remedied tactfully: “Excuse me, sir, but how long have you been holding the talking feather?”

A born talker, I’m inclined to interrupt, and sometimes I let my thoughts rush out of my mouth like too much salt from a shaker. I often find myself wishing I could take back the foolish things I’ve said. But what if I carried the talking feather in my purse, or hung it around my neck, to remind myself to think before speaking?

“The right word may be effective,” Mark Twain once said, “but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.” Ill bet he knew about the talking feather. — Cindy La Ferle