The Monopolizer and The Mouse

September 12th, 2011
Who wound him up?

A good climate for study may be described in words such as these: warmth, trust, enthusiasm, patience, open-mindedness, caring, acceptance, sensitivity, humor, and informality. In a healthy study climate, both the individual and the group are respected. Group members are attentive and sensitive to one another’s thoughts and feelings, and group members feel comfortable in expressing honestly their deepest thoughts and feelings.

But there are two extremes of people that can complicate the group dynamic in any small group or class--the person who dominates every discussion and the person who doesn't speak at all. Let's start with the less frustrating of the two.

Drawing Out Quiet Persons

Many group leaders strive to involve every person in the conversation. And ideally, the gathering would be a perfect ebb and flow of conversation around the table as each person contributes his or her insights. But things are rarely so neat and clean. Some topics will resonate more with some than others. But when one person consistently hangs back from the conversation, it can be disconcerting to a leader and uncomfortable for the quiet person if put on the spot. There are several things to remember in a situation like this:

Recognize that persons participate in ways other than talking and that a person has a right to be silent. Allow group members to pass rather than respond to a particular question or in a particular activity.

Emphasize that all contributions have value. Hesitancy to speak may be related to a fear of saying the wrong thing or of appearing foolish.

Be sensitive to when the quiet person may want to speak and simply needs some encouragement from the teacher or help breaking into a conversation of talkers. Watch for nonverbal clues such as leaning forward, opening the mouth, or clearing the throat. Take care not to embarrass by asking a direct question but rather by inviting a person to speak through such phrases as “You look as though you would like to add something.”

Plan breakout discussions and activities, because those who are reluctant to participate in conversation in the larger group may feel comfortable doing so in a small group of three or four people. Put groups together with care. Begin by putting the quieter persons together and the more dominant persons together. Gradually mix the groups so that all group members will have opportunity to work with everyone else.

Working with the Person Who Monopolizes

On the other hand, there are situations where no one can get a word in edgewise, due to one person dominating the discussion. Such persons may simply be very outgoing and enjoy sharing their perspectives, or this behavior can reveal a deeper need to express certain thoughts or to always have the "right" answer. This can be frustrating and awkward not only for the group leader but for other members who may find it difficult to jump in. Tact and sensitivity are called for in responding to persons who tend to monopolize the conversation in the group.

Be sensitive to what the persons are saying by their behavior as well as in their words.

Recognize that your attitude toward the person who is dominating will be communicated through your tone of voice, body language, and facial expression, as well as through your words.

One response you might try is to summarize what the person has said and invite others to add to the discussion or to give their opinions.

Lessen the opportunity for domination by a person or persons through the choice of group activities that employ small-group work, teamwork, or directed discussion that involves response from each person in turn.

Rely on other group members to help manage the group process. Draw out other group members using some of the techniques described above, such as watching for non-verbal cues when someone else has something to contribute, and opening the door for them to speak up.

When a group is functioning well, all persons in the group take some responsibility for participation and, thereby, cut down the possibility of one person dominating. Group-building and maintenance should be discussed when the study group is forming and deciding on ground rules. The ground rules might include some agreements about how persons are expected to participate and how the group will monitor itself.


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