by Lynn H. Pryor
My favorite part of leading a Bible study group is the discussion. Sure, I also love unpacking the background, context, and words that are not readily grasped by simply reading the text. But I especially love asking questions that get the group talking about the passage. These are not fill-in-the-blank type questions, but questions geared to get group members discussing the text and interacting with each other over its principles and application to their lives.
Yep, it’s great until The Dominator shows up and … well, dominates. You know the person. When you ask a question, he is the first to respond. Every time. And when he talks, he doesn’t know when to stop. (Or maybe he knows, but hey, he’s got the floor now, and he doesn’t want to stop.)
What The Dominator says may be good and insightful, but the fact that he hijacks the conversation stifles the insights and growth that happens as your group discusses Scripture together. The Dominator has taken a discussion—a two-way street of dialogue and learning—and morphed it into a one-way street that he controls.
Let me suggest three ways to keep The Dominator in check.
- Form smaller discussion groups. A good discussion happens when everyone is involved. The smaller the group, the more people will talk. When you hit the time for discussion, break your group into smaller groups of 3 or 4. Even two people can be a group. Granted, this may not help those who end up in the group with The Dominator, but it allows more people in the overall group to participate. The Dominator is not dominating every conversation.
- Direct the questions to specific people. If you just toss the ball into the group, you know The Dominator is going to grab for it. Instead, ask your question, and then immediately follow it up with, “Bob (or whoever), what do you think?” As Bob answers, turn to someone else. “Joan, what do you think?” (I’m working on the assumption that Bob or Joan is not The Dominator in your group!)
To pull this off successfully, you need to know your group. Even in a small group, some people are terrified to speak up. Others want time to process the question before they answer. But if you have created an environment where people feel comfortable and questions don’t feel academic (i.e., the question has only one correct answer), they are less likely to freeze up and not want to answer.
Experience has taught me that many of the quieter people in my groups have some of the best insights. They are reflective learners, and their silence does not mean they’re not engaged. While others are jumping into the conversation, the reflective learners are quietly thinking it through. Their minds are engaged more than their mouths, but they often will not speak up and share their insights. But when I call them by name and encourage them to speak, the whole group is blessed with some great insights.
- Talk privately to The Dominator. A private conversation with The Dominator doesn’t need to be either awkward or confrontational. You may be tempted to scream, “WOULD YOU PLEASE SHUT UP, TAKE A BREATH, AND LET SOMEONE ELSE TALK?!” but there’s a better approach.
Make The Dominator your “assistant.” I had a group member once who was a textbook dominator, taking over every discussion and shutting down input from others. After one study, I met with him afterwards and thanked him for his insights. I explained my desire to get everyone engaged in conversation around the study, so I asked him to partner with me in encouraging others to share. I asked him to not answer right away but let at least 2-3 others speak and get the conversation going first. After that, he could jump in with his thoughts. It worked! He pulled back and others stepped into the conversational void.
Every group is different, but most of those who hog the conversation are not really self-centered people wanting all the spotlight. They love Jesus, they are genuinely excited about God’s Word and engaging with it, and consequently, they enthusiastically start talking when given the chance. In so many of those individuals, there is a seed of someone who should be in a teaching role. Maybe the person in your group who dominates the conversation has the gift of teaching; he or she could better serve the church as they are trained to lead their own Bible study group.
Lynn Pryor is a publishing team leader at Lifeway and has been involved in creating Bible studies for over 27 years. You can read more from him at lynnhpryor.com.