Group members who talk too much present a different problem. At first you may be glad for their participation when others are hanging back, but your reaction may soon switch from gratefulness to gritting your teeth. It’s not just that their constant chatter is irritating. That you could handle. But when one person takes up fifty per cent of the time, others are getting shut out. They may even decide that crashing in is not worth the effort for fear of appearing as obnoxious Mr. Know-it-all.
Your response to the person who has no unspoken thought will depend on the reason for their talkativeness. It’s no use being subtle if they’re insensitive to the reactions of the group. Chances are that talking has been their way of getting attention since childhood. (My nickname in junior high was “The Mouth.” Not very flattering, but I learned that if I talked long enough and loud enough, people would at least pay attention to me. It was better than being ignored.) The firm approach works best. “Kathy, you’ve put in some interesting ideas. Now give some other folks a chance.”
Sometimes it may be necessary to interrupt a rambling monolog. “Hold it right here, Pete. You’re tossing out a number of worthwhile ideas. I’m not sure we can handle all of them at once. Take your first point, boil it down to one simple declarative sentence and we’ll see what the others think about it.”
Excessive participation may be due to a special interest in the topic. In these cases monopolizing isn’t chronic. The person merely gets caught up in a topic that fascinates him or her and has a chance to shine. I’ll sit on my hands when the subject is Oriental mysticism, but just try to shut me up when we’re talking about airplanes, persuasion or a Christian’s responsibility to world hunger. A bit of private affirmation will usually bring the amount of participation down to an acceptable level. “Bill, you know a lot more about Sanskrit than others in the group. I’m afraid your knowledge might intimidate them. How about hanging back awhile so others can get in their licks without feeling stupid?” This way you’ve deputized the monopolizer as an associate discussion leader. Instead of concentrating solely on his own comments, he shares your concern to draw out others.
If there’s no chance to talk with him in private, a public comment can accomplish the same effect. “Bill, you’ve obviously thought a lot about this. Your ideas are pretty well cast into wet cement. That’s been helpful for us all. But creativity is a tricky process. Fresh ideas often come from those who are brand new to the problem. Let’s see what others have to say.” The precise way you do it isn’t as important as making sure you intervene. If monopolizers are unchecked, they’ll kill the discussion.
Griffin, E. A. (1997). Getting together: A guide for good groups. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
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