How to Muzzle the Overly Talkative Person

by Josh Hunt

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One person can single handedly ruin a class. All the prayer, study and preparation that went into the lesson can be ruined by one person who talks too much. It is frustrating to the teacher and frustrating to the other pupils. Here is what you can do about it.


The Indirect Appeal

If the problem is mild but persistent, this is the best way to deal with it. Begin the class session with a statement of your goals. You might say something like this:

My goal for this class is to involve everyone in the discussion. Does everyone agree that this is a good goal? OK, then I want to ask for your help. I want to ask some of you to get real brave and dive in a little more often, while I want to ask some of you to back off until everyone has had a chance to talk. I am not trying to squelch the conversation; quite the contrary. I am trying to get everyone talking. If we get into the discussion and you have shared several times and you notice some of the rest have not shared so much, I want to ask you to back off. Sound fair enough?

Get everyone to nod and agree. If the problem persists, you can probably get away with reminding everyone one time during class about the goal. Beyond this, I would go to the Private Appeal.


The Private Appeal

The private appeal has the same goal and works in much the same way. Because it is private it tends to be more direct and therefor effective. The key is to not approach this as scolding; that will never work. Instead, appeal to a common goal: good group discussion. The private appeal might go something like this:

Bob, have you noticed that I just can't seem to get everyone in the class talking? It is really frustrating for me as the teacher. I was wondering if you could help me? Here is what I have in mind. I know you know the answer to a lot of the questions I ask. Often times, you answer exactly right as soon as I ask. While this gets us to the right answer right away, I would sill like to see if I could get some of the quiet people talking. What would you think about helping me out by backing off a bit and not answering so quickly? Let's see if we can get everyone involved.


The Direct Appeal

There comes a time to be more direct. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. It is better to hurt one person's feelings, if that what it takes, than to let one person ruin the whole group for the rest. There is a lot riding on this. Courage is necessary. If it comes down to it, you might need to say something like this:

Bob, can I shoot straight with you? You are talking about twice as much as anyone else in the group. While you have some good things to say, others won't talk when you are doing as much talking as you are. I need to ask you to back off a bit. Here is a rule for you to follow: don't talk three times everyone else has talked once. I really need you to do this for the group. Can you do that for me?


What Is Wrong With These People, Anyway?

In order to effectively deal with overly talkative people, it is helpful to understand what drives them. I can think of at least two things:

Some people are just buffoons. These are those fun loving, enjoy-talking, happy people. They are the easiest to deal with. We can make a joke out of the issues with these people. "Come on, Mary, let someone else have a shot."

Some talkers are deeply insecure. They deal with their insecurity by talking, talking, talking. Talking feels like love to them. It feels like love to them when they talk and others listen. These people must be handled more carefully. The only way to really solve the problem is to help them with this core need. We must muzzle them, and make them feel good in the process. This can be a real challenge, but no one said teaching a small group would be easy. Compliment them. Praise them. Take them to lunch. Don't reject them. Don't crush them. Love them.


What If Nothing Works?

The needs of the many out way the needs of the few. An overly talkative person can single handedly ruin a Sunday School class. Do the brave thing. Do the courageous thing. Do the loving thing. Do whatever it takes to create a group discussion. Love them, but love the group as well. Do what it takes to keep the whole group talking.

Do what needs to be done, but do it with grace. Remember, this is a brother for whom Christ's died. If you do not love him as Christ loves him, you will never help him to change. People only change in an atmosphere of love. Be grace and truth to him. Grace is about telling him he is accepted. Truth is about telling him he is driving everyone craze and he needs to be quiet.