When people start to see how the Bible meets life, they want to talk about how the Bible meets their life. And that’s a good thing! But some people in your group like to talk a lot. So how do you deal with one person who seems to be dominating the conversation?
Of course, the first assumption is that you as the small group leader are going to be biblical about it. You don’t talk about them to your co-leader. You don’t secretly wish they would come down with a cold on Saturday night. As with any conflict, you care enough to confront him or her according to the rules Jesus set forth in Matthew 18:15 and Matthew 5:23-24—face to face, one on one, and quickly. Be straightforward about it: “I love the energy you bring to the group, and I love hearing how you are connecting our Bible study to what’s going on in your life. And I love the way you’re bringing truly biblical points to the discussion. But other people are wanting to talk also, and sometimes you keep people from opening up because they don’t want to interrupt you.” Obviously, this is the conversation you have privately, away from the group.
But what do you do “in the moment,” when you can tell that the group is getting uncomfortable with the one person talking so much? Here are some ideas.
1. Use names: As you lead, call on individuals by name to respond: “Sarah, what are your thoughts? “Kevin, you and Valerie have two daughters. How have you learned to parent them according to their different personalities?” Or, “Erin, you were on the last search committee. Would YOU have recommended someone like Paul to be our pastor?” Do this cautiously. You don’t want to put people on the spot. You do, however, want to include them. By calling out other people, your dominator will learn to wait his turn. And by connecting specific questions with other group members’ specific life experiences, the dominator may realize that other people really may be more qualified to give an answer than he or she is.
2. Use body language: Let’s say you’re sitting in a circle with the dominator to your left. When you ask an open question, turn to the right. Make eye contact with someone other than him or her. It’s subtle, but it can be the visual cue someone else needs to jump in. Your class will appreciate your managing things so all have opportunity to speak.
3. Use gentle correction and/or humor: Corrections can be low key, such as, “Now, I want to make sure everyone has an opportunity to respond, so who else has a thought?” Humor is tricky. Pulling it off has everything to do with not criticizing Joe and how well you know the dominator. Something like, “Okay, Joe has already used up his answer allowance for this week, so someone else needs to step up” could be effective.
4. Use ground rules: Rather than single out Joe, simply say, “We want everyone to have the opportunity to talk, so we’ll use some talking rules.” The two I like to use are: “No one talks a second time until everyone talks a first time.” And “One sentence per person.” This second one has a double benefit: it keeps the dominator from long discourses, but it also helps hesitant speakers know they don’t have to say much. Remember, keep it light. I know of one small group leader who was having a problem with group members interrupting one another. So she placed a one foot-square sample of linoleum tile in the middle of the circle. When someone wanted to share, they would grab the tile. It was a visual reminder to the others in the group that he “had the floor” for the moment!
5. Use Empathy: Empathy is the art of “feeling with” someone. Try to get inside the skin of the person dominating the conversation. There could be more at work than just the desire to hear himself talk. It may be that they are itching for more leadership or teaching opportunities. Good news! You have a chance to mentor and nurture a future small group leader. On the other hand, their conversation domination may be masking some insecurity. Are they afraid they’ll appear dumb if they are quiet? Are they attempting to control or steer a conversation away from an uncomfortable subject? Are they lonely? Getting to the “why” can open up some amazing opportunities for ministry.
We want to hear back from you! How do you deal with the Dominator?