We’ve all had those conversations where we just can’t seem to get a word in no matter how hard we try or how many hints we drop. In certain settings, like counseling or mediation settings, it is imperative that every person involved gets his or her fair amount of speaking time so that all of their thoughts can be heard. The Expanded Discourse project from Zoe Padgett and Gerardo Guerrero takes an interesting approach to communication equality.
The project uses inflating suits to indicate when one party wishes to talk. The inflation represents the building up of ideas and sentiments, and the need to communicate those words to the other person. A small triangular object fits into one shoulder of the suit and acts as a “talking stick,” or an indication that the person who holds the object has the floor for the time being.
When one person wants to speak, they activate the suit’s interior fan to inflate the plastic skin. Inserting the triangular piece into the shoulder of the suit allows the suit to slowly deflate as the person speaks. This provides another visual indicator – this time, suggesting that the speaker is “getting it all out” and experiencing a release as his or her emotions are communicated to the other person.
The designers suggest that the suits could also be helpful in a business setting. If you’ve ever been in a business meeting where things got a little heated and people couldn’t resist the temptation to talk over one another, the value of these odd-but-effective inflatable sumo suits should be obvious.
Maybe the suits are a little silly, but the silliness can help break down communication barriers by putting everyone on a level playing field. Even those who are too timid to speak up and jump into the conversation can have a turn to speak because the suit gives a visual cue that is hard to ignore.