How to Handle Monopolizers and Onlookers

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All small group members are not created equal. Some talk more than others. In fact, some talk too much while others don’t talk enough! What to do? Before you give up and give in to dynamics that are keeping your group stuck, try the tips below. Your group will be grateful!

6 Tips for Talkers

It is normal for a small group to have some who talk more than others. But when a participant monopolizes the conversation or thinks he or she has to answer every question, the imbalance will invariably become a problem. Quieter members who aren’t given a chance to share their ideas can become discouraged or silently annoyed. They may pull away or stop coming all together. A talker who is allowed free reign may eventually destroy your group.

If your group is struggling with this problem, try one of these tips:

  1. Do not sit directly across from the monopolizer. Instead try to sit next to him or her. This limits eye contact and diffuses power, since monopolizers are encouraged by eye contact.
  2. Don’t be afraid to break in. Affirm one of the talker’s statements and then raise a new question or ask, “What do the rest of you think?”
  3. Use the Participant Checklist from our Group Tools as a way for the group to self-evaluate. Read through the list with your group, asking everyone to think about ways to improve their own participation in the group.
  4. At appropriate times, remind the group of your limited time and desire to finish the lesson.
  5. Ask the group at the beginning of your next meeting, “What would help us keep a healthy balance in how much each of us talks during a discussion?”
  6. If the problem persists, talk to the monopolizer alone and ask for help in getting wider participation from the group. You might say, “I’ve noticed that you and I do most of the talking. How do you think we could draw out the quieter members of our group?”

Proverbs 18:15 states, “The mind of a smart person is ready to get knowledge. The wise person listens to learn more.” You will be offering the monopolizer in your group a gift by helping him or her listen and learn!

5 “Non-Talker” Tips

It is also normal for a small group to have some who are quieter, who may need encouragement to participate in the discussion. Sometimes all that is needed for a quiet person to open up is for the talkers to be quiet. (Try silently counting to twenty if you are prone to jump in too quickly.)

Here are a few ideas that will also help:

  1. At an appropriate moment, feel free to ask a quieter person, “What do you think?” or “What has your experience been?”
  2. Affirm the contribution of a quiet member by a “thank you” and a specific comment about the value of what was shared.
  3. Get to know this person better outside of the group so that you can find ways for him or her to talk about an area of expertise with the group.
  4. Sit across from a quiet group member so you can encourage with eye contact without pressuring the person to speak.
  5. Read the quiet person’s body language. Notice when that person is about to speak and make sure that he or she has a chance.

Remember, it is fine for some participants to be quiet. Just because they’re not talking does not mean they are not thinking about the discussion. If you are a group facilitator, your role is to encourage, not to manipulate or coerce. If it seems appropriate to discuss this with the “quiet” person, meet up separately and ask what would be helpful for him or her to be able to share ideas more in the group discussion. When participants feel loved and accepted for who they are, they are more likely to contribute.

Fran Goodrich
Q Place National Field Leader

P.S. Access a printable PDF for this and many other free group resources in our Group Tools.

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