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Facilitation Q&A: How do I respond to a “Big Talker” in my group?

Facilitation Q&A

Nov 29 2012 Yangyang Zong
CCR Director, Adam Davis, advises a training participant

Q: What should I do if there's a talkative participant in my group who's dominating the conversation and getting in the way of other voices being heard?

A: There are several different ways to respond to this situation -- in the moment and in the future. To help prevent this situation in the future, we suggest that the facilitator lay down "ground rules" prior to the actual conversation, and note that one goal of the discussion is to get everyone involved. For example, the facilitator could say: "Please be mindful of your participation -- if you're someone who doesn't normally talk in groups, try and speak up; if you know you're a talker, try and dial back a bit to get other people involved." It's important to establish from the very beginning of the conversation that hearing every participant's voice matters -- and will get the group farther in their thinking and talking than hearing one, dominant perspective. A little humor here also helps! Chances are, if someone's a big talker, they'll know that already, and will laugh or chuckle along when you mention "big talkers" at the beginning of the conversation. Either way, saying something BEFORE the discussion that lets big talkers know, "I'm watching you" and lets the group know, "Getting everyone involved is one of our main goals here" helps participants have a sense of what's expected of them and watch their own participation.

If a big talker still emerges despite ground rules being laid out at the beginning of the discussion, we recommend trying the following:

  • Use body language that encourages the "big talker" to stop talking -- turn away, break eye contact, learn toward other participants to engage them
  • Reiterate that you would like to get everyone's voice in and gently invite others into the conversation
  • If necessary, don't be shy about stopping or interrupting the big talker by saying "thank you" and opening up the conversation to others by asking, "What do other people think?"
  • If all of the above has failed, you could always call for a 5 minute break and talk with the big talker to thank them for their contribution to the conversation and ask them to be a kind of co-facilitator who can help you getting everyone else involved

As always, if you would like help dealing with a specific facilitation challenge, please contact CCR at 312-750-1760 or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). You may see your challenge in next month's edition of Facilitation Q&A!

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