After so many questions about dealing with difficult people in groups (Article: When to Refer), I’m tempted to say, “Count your blessings.” But, we do want everyone to get involved in the group discussion. The most significant gift that we can give another person is our full attention and a listening ear. There are several reasons why your group members may not be talking.
1. How large is your group? Quiet people tend to disappear in large groups. The quick solution is to make your group smaller. If your group has more than eight people, then sub-group during the discussion. I do this with my group that meets in a restaurant. When it’s time for the discussion, we divide it down the middle. One half of the table turns toward each other to discuss, and the other half does the same. It works. Everybody can get their word in. Another way to get quieter folks to talk during the discussion is called “Neighbor Nudging.” It goes like this: “Okay, on this next question, turn to the person next to you and discuss it, then we’ll come back together again.” Every person is at least talking to one other person. If your small group is beginning to look like a small church, it might be time to think about sub-grouping on a permanent basis. As Andy Stanley says, “It’s not a small group if it has a back row.” 2. Who tends to answer first? If your more talkative members are the first to answer every question, then it’s time to have a conversation with them. For some pointers on dealing with talkative members, check this post: They Keep Talking and They Won’t Shut Up. If someone is dominating the conversation, then your quieter members won’t try to enter in. If you, as the leader, are the first to answer the questions, stop it. Count to 10. Count to 100. Give your group an opportunity to answer. If you answer every question, the discussion will be inhibited because you have gone from facilitating to teaching. The teaching gift is awesome, if you have a class. Your small group is not a class. 3. Get comfortable with silence. Silence is deafening. We don’t talk about awkward noise. It’s awkward silence. But, in your small group, silence is golden. It allows people to think. Silence also allows reluctant people to finally chime in. 4. Assume that your members didn’t prepare. We used to say that statistically half of group members do homework and half don’t. These days I think far fewer group members prepare for the meeting. Don’t get on your soapbox, just go with it. As the leader, you’ve looked over the questions and thought about the answers. Since your group members are coming in cold, they will need a little time to think about the answers and respond. Allow for a little thinking time. Refer back to #3. 5. Talk to Your Quiet Members Post-Meeting. If they didn’t have anything to say during the meeting, talk to them about the topic after the meeting. Hear what they think. Give them positive feedback about what they have to say. (Don’t lie.) “That’s a really good point. Wow, I wish you would have shared that with the group.” Each touch will build their confidence to participate in the group. The last thing you want in small group is yet another environment where someone can’t get their word in. The early church met in temple courts and house to house (Acts 5:42). The large gathering was informational and inspirational. The smaller gathering was interactive. How are you going to help your quieter group members this week?
Now that your group is a few weeks into the study, you’ve discovered that there are some people that have a lot to say. They answer every question. They dominate the discussion. You secretly hope that they won’t come back. But, the fear is that the rest of the group might leave. What do you do?
This is a tough one, because you want people to open up and share. Unfortunately, some people aren’t self-aware enough to realize that no one else is talking and that the group is not all about them. I know this guy. I’ve been this guy. Here’s how to deal with me, I mean, him.
1. Take a deep breath. This isn’t going to be the showdown at the O.K. Corral. Jesus is with you. He wants them to shut up too.
2. Drop a hint. After two or three questions, if your big talker keeps chiming in and dominating the discussion, say something like this: “Okay, some of you have been kind of quiet so far, let’s hear from someone who hasn’t shared yet.” In small group language, this means “shut up, blabbermouth,” but we are too kind and relational to actually say that. For most big talkers, this should work.
3. Don’t look them in the eye. When you ask the next question, intentionally avoid eye contact with your big talker. Look at other people. Pray that they will open their mouths. By avoiding eye contact, you discourage the big talker from speaking up.
4. If they still don’t get it: Next time, sit by the big talker. Intentionally place yourself right next to the person. First of all, this avoids direct eye contact, because you can’t really do that without the risk of a neck injury. Secondly, if they haven’t gotten the hint by now, when you ask the question and you see them begin to answer, tap them on the leg or gently elbow them. This will cause them to pause long enough to allow someone else to answer.
5. The Nuclear Option. If after using these tactics for a couple of meetings and the big talker still hasn’t changed, it’s time to have “the talk.” It goes something like this: “Have you noticed that some of the folks in our group don’t talk very much? (“Yes, they must not be as intelligent as I am.”)Would you help me draw some of those folks into the conversation? (“Sure.”) Here’s what I need. Let’s wait until a couple of our quieter folks have shared with the group before you jump in. You have some great things to say, but we need to make sure that everyone gets their word in.
Here is what I suspect about your big talker. He or she probably has a leadership gift, a teaching gift or a neurotic personality (I’m not joking). If she is a leader, then with the right coaching, she could probably lead her own group one day. She just needs to be directed toward the right behavior in group. If he has the gift of teaching, then a BrookwoodU class or another more formal setting would probably better suit his gift. Small group leaders with a teaching gift turn their group into a Sunday school class, even if they don’t meet on Sunday.
If the person constantly talks about himself and completely dominates the discussion, even after you’ve exercised the Nuclear Option, then you might have a big problem on your hands. “The term ‘neurotic disorder’ is used to loosely describe a range of conditions that involve an inability to adapt to the surrounding environment’” (Source: Lifescript.com) Now that you’ve quickly diagnosed half of your group and your mother-in-law, don’t move too quickly on this. The Care and Support Department at Brookwood Church is a great resource to get advice on how to help a neurotic personality. Connect with our Care Department and see what your next step should be. Chances are, they might already know your big talker.
While small groups are a place to share and to support each other, leaders must be conscious of how the behavior of one member can affect the entire group. Work with your big talkers. Your small group will thank you.