Handling An Overly Talkative Group Member

What do we do with a person that dominates the conversation?

an unsanctioned use of duct tape to control the talkative small group member

©2012 Doug Michael. Used by permission.

This can be awkward!  On the one hand, you don’t want to discourage anyone from contributing to a small group discussion.  On the other hand, you want to give fair opportunities for ALL group members to share in the discussion.   Of course in the process we don’t want to embarrass anybody.  Sometimes this means walking along a very fine line.

E. Stanley Ott in his book, Small Group Life, A Guide for Members and Leaders has a couple of suggestions for treating these potentially obstructive members:

During the group meeting you can respond with “You’ve raised some interesting points, John. Let’s hear from some others.”

Alternately, between meetings,  you can pull the chatterbox aside and say “Sue, I’ve notice you have a lot to share. I value your enthusiasm. I also need your help. One of our goals is for as many of us to speak as want to. That means you and I must discipline ourselves to speak less”.

What about you?  Do you know of any effective techniques in dealing with an overly talkative member?  If so, please share in the comments!


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3 Responses to Handling An Overly Talkative Group Member

  1. CoolHappyGuy says:

    In past small groups I’ve led — especially those without much history or with new member(s) entering — I find it effective to review the participation guidelines. (e.g. “In order to ensure, everybody gets a chance to speak, we ask … etc.”). This serves to drive home the point in a non-threatening manner.

  2. anne weatherly says:

    When ive led counseling groups and one dominates..i try to break eye contact w the talkative one and look to others saying “goood point, and what do you think about what so and so is saying”. O ften others are relieved to be singled out to speak as they have been trying.

  3. uber genie says:

    Seems I run into two separate challenges: people that have prepared diligently and therefore have something to say, and people who are extroverted or narcissistic. In my groups there is significantly prep work including shared teaching.

    Situation 1 –
    When people haven’t prepared they act just like high schoolers who haven’t prepared,they avoid eye contact and when they feel they feel they need to participate or everyone will realize they didn’t prepare, they make up something that sounds … well, like they have little familiarity with the material.

    Solution – rotate teaching so new members have to teach a 10+ minute lesson within the first two months. Help them develop an outline. Keep it casual and encourage other members to give lots of positive feedback early. Speaking public in groups is a skill and the quiet introverts can be fast tracked to grab their share of any conversation. Extroverts will fill the void because they don’t like to have long silence but introverts who are prepared will speak up and eliminate the voids, gaining balance.

    Situation 2 –
    Most groups I have attended do not resemble Situation 1 above. When the average Christian in our culture spends over 25 hours per week focused on entertainment and less than 1 hour per week studying scripture and other spiritual formation resources often only the “Chatty Cathys” will speak out. It’s not that they don’t have anything to add, although it looks that way, it is that no one in the group has anything substantive to add!

    After years attending one such group filled with doctors, lawyers and businessmen, I asked them to share any of the 3 books we had reviewed in the previous 12 months and 2 core principles developed in the respective book. 2 of 21 people were able to do perform that task. No learning (permanent change in behavior) was taking place. The group was awkward and surprised at their lack of assimilation of these ideas. They had all read and discussed the ideas.

    Solution – your solutions above are fine. Little change in knowledge, skills, attitude or values occurs in these groups. Inclusivity is important but the goal of the group must be to develop friendships not maximize learning or spiritual formation.

    Finally, pastors are not trained on human development but rather Bible interpretation and exposition ( hopefully). They have little idea that their great sermons are completely forgotten by over 95% of their members by Monday’s lunch. So don’t expect them to intuit how ineffective these “share your feelings about scripture or systematic or practical theology”, are. Pastors often don’t reflect on how hard it was for them to acquire new knowledge getting their MDiv degrees. And on occasion they have told me that there was no way they could move their members from spectator to participating in their own learning.

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