It happens. Full-group discussions can often degenerate into awkward moments when one or two people dominate the discussion or take it down a road you never intended. What do you do in order to regain some control? Here are three ways to wrestle control away from dominant group members:
- Change the way people participate – if you sense things are getting out of control, simply change the way people are able to respond. Move from full-group discussion and quickly place people in pairs or triads to diffuse the influence of the dominant person.
- Communicate nonverbally – move closer to the difficult person, make eye contact, flatten your hand and move it from left to right, or make a “T” signal with your hands (signaling “time out”). Signal that it’s time for the discussion to end and for the group to move on.
- Poke fun at yourself – use humor to diffuse the difficult situation by saying something like, “I guess I’m the only one not getting it…” or “That just went over my head.” Don’t make fun of the participant, but take a poke at yourself as a means of relieving the tension and allowing for a time to move the discussion in a different direction.
- Extend an invitation – when a group member leads the group down a dark path of discussion, simply say, “That’s an interesting take on this topic – I’d like to hear more at our break that’s coming up. Let’s visit for a few minutes.” Then move on and change the discussion or move on to another activity.
Don’t take things personally. Sometimes people act out because they are hurting or feel very passionately about a particular topic. It’s not you, so try not to be defensive. Just learn to manage the discussion-stealing people in your group. The whole group will thank you for it!
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