Federation mediator Riva is brought aboard the starship Enterprise, commanded by Captain Jean-Luc Picard, to help resolve a dispute between warring tribes on Solais V. Riva is deaf from a hereditary genetic-deficiency, but has his "chorus", an entourage of three people in telepathic communication with Riva and able to enunciate his thoughts. Riva is aware that the centuries-long struggle for the tribes of Solais V has long been about personal beliefs rather than any tangible assets. When Riva, his chorus, and the Enterprise officers transport down to meet tribe representatives, a warrior resistant to the peace process fires upon Riva's chorus, killing them. The warrior is branded a traitor and is summarily executed by his leader, who then begs Riva and the away team to stay as they leave the area via emergency beam-up.
On the Enterprise, as Riva struggles to communicate with the crew, Captain Picard orders Commander Data to find and learn Riva's sign language and assist with translation. Captain Picard offers to stand in Riva's place for the mediation, but Riva knows that the Solais tribes will only cooperate with him. Riva is prepared to return to his home planet as they will be unable to complete successful negotiations. Counselor Troi speaks with Riva telepathically, trying to understand what tactics he would need for completing the negotiations. Riva responds that he always sought to make each group express themselves to the other, forcing them to listen and turning a disadvantage to an advantage. In discussing the issue with Troi, Riva is inspired.
Riva, through Data, announces he will continue negotiations, and arranges a meeting spot on the planet. To the crew's surprise, he tells them that they should return to the ship and leave, and he will signal Starfleet when the negotiations are complete, possibly months later. The crew realizes that in order for the tribes to work with Riva, they will be forced, together, to learn sign language from Riva, and quite possibly learning to work in peace together. Riva acknowledges his conversation with Troi, and has taken his disadvantage of being unable to communicate into an advantage. The crew leaves Riva to await the tribe representatives.