A common problem many small group leaders face is dealing with people who dominate the discussion time during the meeting. Dominators like to contribute their insights early and often to every question. They often speak up before others have a chance to say anything and often give long rambling answers to questions.
There is a limited time available for each question and dominators tend to take up most of the time with their own contributions rather than allowing others in the group to participate. When dominators are allowed to continue unchecked in a small group setting it might lead less vocal people to check out, become passive or eventually leave the group in frustration.
It’s important to remember that not all dominators act this way intentionally or maliciously, in fact most do not. For most it’s simply a combination of eagerness and lack of social awareness. But whatever the motivation, it’s important to deal with the issue otherwise the health of the group will be in jeopardy. Here are a few tips for dealing with a dominator:
Set discussion ground rules
At the outset of your group make sure to set up the expectation that you want lots of participation from everyone in the group which means giving everyone an opportunity to share. You can speak directly to the issue of conversation domination before it becomes an issue so that everyone is aware. As the group continues, remind people occasionally at the beginning of each meeting’s discussion time of the importance of everyone participating and not having one person speak too much. If domination becomes an issue, say at the beginning of each meeting something like “I want to make sure everyone has a chance to talk tonight, so let’s give everyone an opportunity to share before anyone speaks twice.” When this encouragement is given broadly to everyone it helps the dominator not feel singled out or offended but hopefully to understand the issue.
Use gentle correction and/or humor
If a dominator hasn’t picked up on the ground rules, sometimes using more direct tactics can be necessary during the discussion. But if you need to address the dominator directly during the meeting, it can be done so gently, casually and using light-hearted humor. You could say something like “Now, I want to make sure everyone has an opportunity to respond, so who else has a thought?” or “Okay, Bill has already used up his answer allowance for this week, so someone else needs to step up.”
Call on specific people
If a dominator is usually quick to answer a question first, you can try calling on specific people by name to answer a question. After asking a question say something like “John, what do you think about this one,” or “Let’s hear from one of the ladies (opposite gender of dominator) on this one.”
Use body language
Often a dominator will look to make eye contact with the leader during the discussion and as soon as they lock eyes they will start speaking. So a simple tip is to look the opposite way of the dominator when asking a question and try to avoid direct eye contact. Another effective method is to try and sit right next to the dominator during the discussion which makes it much more difficult for him/her to make eye contact with you and begin speaking.
Talk to the dominator privately
Sometimes if a dominator fails to pick up on all the clues you’ve given as the leader it may be necessary to talk to them privately about the issue. When you talk to them, give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they’re simply not aware of their pattern rather than sounding accusatory. Encourage them that you appreciate their participation and eagerness to to share but remind them of the importance of giving everyone an opportunity to share. Tell them that you don’t want them to stop participating, but give them some guidelines like letting others share first, limiting their responses to one minute or less or waiting until you make eye contact with them to share.
If you let a dominator go unchecked, people will become discouraged. Eventually they will drop out of the group. Worse than that, they won’t be able to process the truth together with the group and their pursuit of God will be stunted. Develop the courage and skill to deal with the dominator!
- Watch the video together or invite someone to summarize the topic.
- What is your initial reaction to this video? Do you disagree with any of it? What jumped out at you?
- How can dominators hurt a small group?
- What are some specific things you have done to manage dominators in your small group? How effective were your actions?
- What else can you do to manage a dominator?
- Write a personal action step based on this conversation.