Small Group Challenges: One Person Dominates the Discussion

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We have all had someone who dominates the discussion in small group. This person is seldom malicious with it. He or she simply knows the answers or likes to talk or enjoys sharing his or her opinion or gets nervous with silence. There are lots of reasons. But, when one person dominates the discussion, discussion is usually shut down or at least diminished. In worst case scenarios, sometimes a discussion-dominating person can affect attendance or hurt the sense of community the group needs to develop. Sometimes the group will learn that if they don’t speak up, ol’ Bob will, so they don’t feel obligated to join in the discussion.

One of the goals of small group is to develop community in a safe environment where everyone can talk about their lives and the study. As you encourage and give every person an opportunity to be heard, you take steps toward community.

While this is a common challenge in small groups, it is not insurmountable. In fact, there are ways to improve this situation that can be a win-win outcome for everyone. Here are some ideas:

If you know the constant talker well, try these ideas:

  • Say, “Thanks, Sue. Good insight. Let’s hear from someone else.”
  • Ask to meet up with your constant talker at another time, maybe taking them to lunch. Thank him or her in a genuine manner for their significant contribution to the group discussion. Explain that you need his or her help in teaching because you use the discussion to gauge how well everyone is learning. Ask him or her to help you teach and evaluate learning by giving other people opportunity to speak. Ask, “What are some ways you can help me?” You might listen for or suggest responding to every third question or responding only after two others have responded first. If the plan works, be sure to thank him or her immediately after the session for all the help he or she provided that improved the discussion.
  • Ask him or her to team teach with you from time to time. Train him or her as you go along.
  • Ask the constant talker to take on some needed small group task: check attendance, lead a five-minute prayer time, meet and introduce new people, etc.

If the constant talker is new to the group, then try to guide the discussion with your responses:

  • “Great comment! Let’s consider that idea for a moment. Who else can add an insight?
  • If you know other members of the group well, direct questions to particular people. “Joyce, would you make the first response to this question?”
  • In younger groups, make discussion a game of sorts. Bring a nerf ball to group. Hand it to someone, maybe even your constant talker. Say, “Our next question is ‘______________?’ Toss the nerf ball to the person you want to hear answer this question.”
  • “Let’s hear thoughts from three people this time.”
  • Ask questions that can have multiple correct answers.
  • Brainstorm a question, letting and encouraging every person to answer in some way.

Remember, some people are naturally quiet so don’t put people on the spot in ways that may make them uncomfortable. Get comfortable with silence. If silence means they are processing the question, that is a good thing. Don’t answer your own questions.

Next Monday, let’s deal with another challenge, the group who will not talk at all.

Scripture: Read Proverbs 14:23. If this verse has an application for a small group Bible study, what would “poverty” look like in a group that was all talk?

Dig Deeper: Read “Tips for Facilitating a Group Discussion.”

Now It’s Your Turn: Have you ever dealt with a dominate talker in your group? Please share your ideas so we can all grow together.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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