Conversation Dominator | Dawn Stuemke [Guest Post]

Dawn Stuemke is a staff pastor at Calvary Temple Christian Center in Springfield, Illinois. Today she is sharing her post "Conversation Dominator." In all the years that I have been leading small group discussions, I have learned that there is almost always someone in the group who tends to dominate the conversation.  We will call that person (You must please use your best Arnold Schwarzenegger accent to make this work!) “THE DOMINATOR”.

 For brevity and to avoid finger fatigue on my part, we will lovingly call this person from heretofore “T.D.”

While we love this person “T.D.”, and we certainly want to have their input, they just get carried away in conversation getting their thoughts across, going on & on & on & on &…you know what I mean.  You will be aware of a shift in group dynamics when you experience the phenomenon of  group members fidgeting, nodding off, or entering in a mass exodus to refill their coffee cups – especially if it is you!

Of course, “T.D.” gives no time for the other group members to interject.  We, as small group leaders, must keep the situation “group friendly” and be able to kindly yet firmly bring “T.D.” into submission to appropriate group etiquette.  Otherwise the group will suffer and you will have less talkative group members pulling away.  Your group will shrink.

Here are a few hints that I have picked up through the years. (One of the few advantages to growing older.)

  1. The first hint has to do with geography and placement.  Almost all of us “teach to a direction,” right or left.  Do some self-discovery and find which direction you tend to teach to.  Do your best to sit “T.D.” on the side of you that you DO NOT teach to.  This way you have less opportunity to make eye contact, which gives unspoken permission to a group member to talk.
  2. Try the “Timer Technique Game.”  You probably do not want to do this all the time and with every discussion, but sometimes it can let group members understand what it is like to present their statements without “fluff.”  For example, “I have the stop watch on my phone set for 30 seconds.  We are going to go around the table and ask each person to tell how they would phrase an invitation to church to their next door neighbor.  Ok, Mary (start with someone in your group that is comfortable with this type of exercise), we’ll start with you.  On your mark, get set, GO!”  If the person is still talking at 30 seconds say “stop!”.  Then move to each person around the table.
  3. Set some ground rules for your discussion.  This is easy if you are a brand new group just starting out, but if you are a group who has been meeting for a while, you can still pull it off.  Blame it on me.  :)  Tell them it has been requested that all groups go over the:

“GROUP DISCUSSION GROUND RULES”

  1. NEVER interrupt another group member while they are talking
  2. NEVER carry on a separate conversation during group discussion. Respect other group members by listening and being attentive to their input. In a group setting EVERYONE’S input is valuable and every person in the group is worthy to contribute.  Be sure you are being as willing to HEAR the input of others as you are to GIVE your input.
  3. CONFIDENTIALITY is key.  What is said in the small group STAYS in the small group so that everyone is assured that the group gathering is a safe place.
  4. NEVER criticize another group member in front of the group.  If you have an admonishment or feel the need to make a constructive criticism to another group member, do it privately, in love, and after asking their permission.
  5. NEVER gossip.  Not just in the group. Not anywhere.  It is sinful.  Ask yourself: 1) Is it kind? 2) Is it true? 3) Is it necessary? 4) Can the person/s I am telling do anything about the situation?  If the answer to any of these questions is NO, then it is probably gossip and should not be brought to the group discussion.
  6. Stay on topic.  If the Group Leader asks a question such as “How can kindness be shown to your co-workers when you go into work on Monday”, an appropriate discussion response is not “So, how ‘bout them Cubs!”  (OK, this might not be the best example.  We all know ‘bout them Cubs!)
  7. Do not dominate the discussion.  Be as concise in your statements as possible. Get to the point. Give everyone an opportunity to speak.
  8. Come to the discussion with a teachable spirit, with the intention of learning and growing spiritually
  9. Do not use small group discussion time as a place to vent about what you feel is wrong in the church.  If you have concerns with the church take them directly to pastoral staff who can do something about it.

If you, the Group Leader, have done steps 1 & 2 several times and “T.D.” is just not getting it, you may have to, after much prayer, lovingly and privately have a discussion with “T.D.” going over the Group Discussion Ground Rules.  Affirm “T.D.” and let them know that you love them, WANT them to contribute, and that you value their input.  Stress to “T.D.” that everyone in the group needs to have an opportunity to share.  If this is uncomfortable for you and you need prayer back up, or would like someone to go over this conversation with you, please let your small group pastor know.