Discuss, Don't Dominate

by Terrell Clemmons

An effective small-group leader directs without dominating. Here are some guidelines for facilitating group discussions.

Wait out the silence. After you ask a questions, don't rush to rephrase or answer it. Allow group members time to think.

Watch faces. If you see the wheels turning, invite members to think aloud: "Mike, did you have a thought you'd like to share?"

Ask follow-up questions. This draws the speaker out and helps everyone think about the subject more thoroughly. You might ask,
  • "What do you mean by that?"
  • "In what way?"
  • "Why do you think that is?"

Know when to contribute. You don't need to do what your group members have already done. If a member has offered a gentle, appropriate correction to a wrong answer, it's not necessary to add to it. If the group has covered a question well and your answer is the same, go to the next question.

However, if you have a different answer to offer, do so respectfully. "I thought of it from a different angle" and, "We really see this differently, don't we?" are good ways to introduce your idea.

Consult the group. When a member asks you a question, let the group add its input first. Someone else may have an excellent response. You can summarize with your answer afterward if it would help.

Monitor tangents. Decide if a tangent fits the purpose of the group. Allow those that aer beneficial, but refocus a discussion that's gone too far off subhect or degenerated into meaningless chatter. Sometimes a knowing smile and a "Getting back to question seven..." are sufficient. If your group wants to address a tangential issue in more detail, consider scheduling a seperate meeting to examine it.

Affirm members' input without condescending. Don't over-comment. Correct their responses gently when necessary.

Encourage quieter members. Some members are more reluctant to share than others. Consider gentle invitations: "Jan, we'd love to hear from you. Do you have any thoughts on this subject?"

~from Discipleship Journal, November/December 2006