Tips for handling discussion problems

Ways to cool talkers and involve those who are mute

Any group is likely to have people who will participate a lot, as well as those who are less likely to participate. "A group facilitator will want to encourage that variable to a degree, because you want people to feel that they are in a safe place, and different topics are going to warrant different amounts of discussion," says Shirley Otis-Green, ACSW, LCSW, a clinical social worker in Supportive Care and Palliative Medicine at City of Hope National Medical Center and Beckman Research Institute in Duarte, CA.

While different topics will prompt different amounts of participation from group members, the facilitator will want to be on the alert for people who are at the ends of the spectrum — either monopolizing the conversation or never talking. If certain people continually monopolize and others don’t contribute, the group will not be functional. "The goal is to make sure everyone’s voice is heard and all have an opportunity to speak," says Otis-Green.

There are certain techniques to make sure all group members have a chance to participate in discussion. Following are a few tips:

Move the focus of the group from the person who is dominating by asking the speaker to hold the thought and inviting another member to comment on his discourse. For example, the facilitator might say "Mary, you have been very thoughtful listening to Peter speak, do you have something to contribute," explains Otis-Green.

Often, a person who participates a lot has much to contribute but needs to give others a chance to speak. In this case, the facilitator might contact the member outside the group to explain that the member’s input is valuable, but he or she needs to give others an opportunity, suggests Kate O’Malley, BTE, training/performance consultant with the department of organizational development and improvement at City of Hope National Medical Center and Beckman Research Institute.

Direct the discussion away from the person who monopolizes the conversation by calling on another person or looking in the direction of someone else when you ask a question, says O’Malley.

Ask the talker closed-ended questions that can be answered in one or two words.

When someone is dominating a group, redirect the conversation, advises Patrice Rancour, MS, RN, CS, a mental health clinical nurse specialist at Arthur James Cancer Hospital and Richard Solove Research Institute in Columbus, OH. Notice who hasn’t had a chance to talk, and draw that person into the conversation with a comment such as, "I noticed you were nodding, what are your thoughts on the subject?" Some people must be drawn into the conversation in order for them to participate. The facilitator should proactively invite such people to speak, explains Rancour.