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Guiding Without Controlling

by Clark Cothern

People shifted in their seats, looking first at each other, then down at their Bibles. Janice didn't seem to notice. She just kept on talking, answering almost every question in the guide before anyone else could speak.

As the group members shuffled out after the study, Martha, the hostess, gave encouraging looks, as if to say, "I understand." She was concerned some might stop coming if Janice continued to dominate the group's discussions.

Does this scenario sound famililar? Almost anyone who has been in a group study can identify with the feelings of frustration that result when one member controls. What can be done about a leader or group member who assumes the role of "expert" and dominates discussion?

Establish ground rules.
This is preventative maintenance for your group. Each time you begin a study, make sure the group understands the guidlines for group study. One way to do this effectively is to pass out guidelines (try writing them on bookmarks) to each participant and ask each one to read the guidelines aloud. In that way, everyone takes part and each member knows how the group will be led.

One or two of the guidelines should emphasize that the discussion is for every group member. No one person should dominate the study. By emphasizing this before the study, you leave the door open to gentle correction of the problem later. Sometimes a simple reminder can bring people back to the guidelines and avoid a frustrating study in which people wonder what to do about a controlling individual.

Set an example.
When, as a leader, you set the pace, others tend to follow your lead. That means you should avoid answering every question. Listen more that you talk. Seek to guide the group in making their own discoveries rather than always feeding them yours.

If your good example is not enough, firm but gentle suggestions can be made in a positive way without hurting feelings. For example, when someone begins contibuting more often that others, you might say, "I would really like to hear from some who haven't shared yet. What do the rest of you think?"

This often works with those who are sensitive to others are are simply unaware they are starting to control.

Confront caringly.
You have probably met those who don't respond to subtlety. With more aggressive personality, caring confrontation is often necessary. For an example of this type of intervention, let's return to our origional scenario.

After the study, Martha approached Janice. "Would you like to stay for a cup of coffee?" Janice accepted.

Over coffee, Martha expressed her delight that Janice was getting so much from the studies. She affirmed Janice by pointing out several strengths she had demonstrated to the group. Martha's genuine concern for Janice was evident.

Then, Martha asked clearly, but kindly, "Janice, may I be cadid with you about something you may not be aware of?" She asked permission from Janice to offer a caring critique.

With Janice's consent, Martha continued. "Because you are getting so much from the studies, you may not have notices that several others in the group have not spoken much. I'd like you to help me draw them into the discussions. We want to share our discoveries, and I'm sure others need to have the joy of discovery as you have. Would you help me do that?"

Because Martha involved Janice as a team member, asking for her help to accomplish a group goal, Janice felt accepted, not threatened. Things improved greatly after the caring confrontation. Members of the group thakned Martha for intervening on their behalf.

Janice still tended to dominate. However, Martha gently reminded her from time to time of their team effort, and Janice responded to Martha's loving correction.

from Discipleship Journal January/February 1994 Issue #79


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