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“How do I handle the person who talks too much in a group? What about the person who talks too little?” These are questions that most small group leaders are sure to ask at one time or another.

Let’s start with Chatty Cathy. She can’t help it. She loves to talk, loves to hear herself talk and can’t help but give long-winded answers to every question the leader asks. Here are some ways to deal with C.C.

  • Sit next to her. She’ll feel honored, but really what you’re trying to do is avoid eye contact. Eye contact gives permission to speak. Avoiding eye contact may keep Chatty Cathy from jumping in so quickly.
  • Before asking a question, say something like, “This time I’d like to hear from the other side of the table.” or “How about somebody sitting on the couch answer first this time.” Just be sure to direct it away from Cathy.
  • Enlist Cathy’s help. In a private conversation, point out that there are some people who seldom add to the discussion. Ask her to wait before answering a question until at least 3 others have spoken.
  • You may need to have a one-on-one chat with Cathy where you lovingly point out the problem and look for solutions together.
  • Pass a small ball around the room which only the person who is speaking holds. It will soon be clear if one person holds the ball most of the time.

Then there’s Quiet Quint. Quint comes to the group very faithfully, but seldom says a word. You know he has things to contribute to the discussion, but he just won’t. These ideas may help.

  • Remember that listening is a form of participation. Some people are quiet but still engaged in the discussion. Give Quint some time.
  • Spend plenty of time at the beginning of the group meeting answering an ice-breaker question. These questions are based on life experience, have no right or wrong answers, help the group get to know one-another, and are safe questions for a shy person to answer. They will help Quint get used to hearing his voice in the group.
  • If you see Quint has something written in his study guide, gently ask, “Quint, I see you have something written down. Would you be willing to read your answer?”
  • Every once in a while, break into pairs or triads to answer a question. Having a one-on-one discussion might be easier for Quint.


Re Talks too much:

I have found that what helps is to have a covenant that we read at the beginning of each meeting, just like recovery groups like AA and Alanon do. I find that small group members begin to self-police behavior since this is fresh in their mind each meeting. Someone might say, "oops I am talking too much, sorry about that." The covenant point I most like to use to keep people from overtalking is: "I will listen for God in each person’s reflections and stories, encouraging whenever I see the opportunity—prioritizing listening over talking"

Of course it is pretty difficult to implement this covenant if problems in a group have already developed--it will look like a back handed way to say something to a heavy talker.

The best time to start this with a small group is at the first meeting and then read the covenant at the beginning of every session together.

It works!

Re: Quiet Quint

I find splitting a group into smaller groups of three (triads) for the application portion of a study really works to get a more quiet person to talk some. Do this regularly and keep the triads with the same people and Quiet Quint will begin to trust the other two. It is easier to trust two, than ten and two of one's own gender--or at least I find it so.

I know of Shy Sally who never said a word in the small group of men and women but when the group moved into triads, she talked freely each time with the other women in her triad. It appears that she found it less intimidating.

I had an exceptionally shy man in one group I led. He was in my triad. It still was hard for him to talk in the triad--a man of very few words--but he did talk some and got very vulnerable with our other triad partner and me. One thing he told us was: "I learn best by listening. I hate it when small group leaders feel they have to get me to talk. I love listening to everyone else. I wish small groups would let me just listen." As a group leader I no longer spend time in the group wondering to myself how I can get him to talk. I now realize I can best serve him by allowing him to listen, guilt-free.

This is what works for me.

Ruth Kelder on June 14, 2010

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Thanks for the great ideas, Mike. I'd like to be in your group!

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