For years, I’ve heard group leaders complain about that one person in their groups that always hogs the spotlight and dominates the conversation. This is a big problem, they feel, because they are trying to build a community and do life together—goals that are incompatible with the concept of someone who takes more than their fair share of allotted time.
Well, it’s time to flip the emphasis of those complaints, in my opinion.
How Much Is Too Much?
Let me say this right off the bat: the idea that everyone should talk for an equal amount of time in a small group setting is a myth. And not a helpful myth.
It’s not realistic for every person to share the same portion of a conversation pie. And in most circumstances, doing so wouldn’t be helpful for building community or deepening relationships within a group.
The reality is that people enjoy talking and conversing and sharing about themselves in different amounts. Some people are open, while others are reserved. Some people are extroverted, while others are introverted. Some people are auditory learners and prefer to process ideas by talking about them, while others are visual or kinesthetic learners and find it more profitable to work things out in other ways.
All of this is okay. It’s normal. It’s natural.
You will have different kinds of people in every small group you lead, and these people will be comfortable talking in different amounts. Again, that’s okay.
The goal for your group is to have everyone participate, yes. That is important. And it’s crucial that all of your group members have equal freedom to share what’s on their minds and enjoy different opportunities for growth.
However, the goal is not for everyone to participate in equal amounts.
If you feel annoyed or uncomfortable at one or more people in your group who talk more than everyone else, I recommend you take a step back. Ask yourself some important questions before you decide whether things need to change:
- Is there really a problem, or am I just reacting to someone who is different than me? As group leaders, we have a habit of using ourselves as the measuring rod for what should be considered “normal” behavior. Therefore, if someone talks quite a bit more than we do, we think there must be something wrong—something that needs fixing. In reality, that may not be the case. In fact, that’s probably not the case. People will always be different from you in different ways. Part of your job is to embrace those differences and work them into a cohesive group.
- Have others in the group expressed discomfort or annoyance because someone else is “hogging” the conversation? If you pay attention, you’ll typically know when there’s a legitimate problem in your group. Your group members will let you know. They might not come right out and say, “Bill is talking way too much,” but there will be plenty of signals.
- Are group members being actively denied a chance to participate because one person is monopolizing the conversation? You will know someone is talking too much if others in the group want to talk—if they are actively trying to express themselves or share their opinions—yet are regularly prevented from doing so.
Intervene When Necessary
If you honestly feel like one or more group members are dominating the conversation within your group, then it is important for you to take action. Fortunately, there are proven ways to improve the situation.
For example, people usually view eye contact as an invitation to talk. Therefore, by sitting next to a person who talks more than others, you can minimize the amount of eye contact that person receives from you, the leader—which will likely reduce their participation.
It can also be helpful to regularly remind the group as a whole that everyone benefits when everyone has the chance to participate in a discussion. There’s nothing wrong with setting a few ground rules and reinforcing them every now and again.
In the end, however, if you feel that someone is dominating the group and hindering others from participating in a meaningful way, your best choices is to step in as the leader and have a private conversation. This doesn’t have to be a stern or disciplinary conversation. Simply affirm that person’s willingness to participate in the life of the group, and then request his or her help in creating space and opportunities for others to participate as well.
Sam O’Neal is a Content Editor on the Adult Ministry Publishing team at Lifeway. Sam is author of The Field Guide for Small Group Leaders and the Bible content writer for About.com. Follow him on Twitter: @SamTONeal.