Refer to Module 6 for guidance on managing difficult situations, including challenging behaviour and people who are distressed.
Balancing the discussion
An important aspect of group facilitation is balancing the discussion so that:
- Each participant has the opportunity to participate.
- The behaviour of one or more individuals does not adversely affect others – for example, dominating time, putting others down, distracting from the group purpose.
You may find it useful to include the importance of balancing participants’ needs in the terms of engagement or ground rules for the group. For example, you might include a commitment ‘Enable everyone to participate.’
Then you can refer to these ground rules when necessary – for example: “Tom, I’m going to interrupt here and thank you for sharing that with us. We said in our ground rules that we would enable everyone to participate. In the interests of time, I’d like to ask others to share their thoughts now.’
Focus your efforts on the passive majority - encouraging them to participate more, rather than simply asking the dominant person to change their behaviour. Trying to change the dominant person may just result in more attention being focused on that individual.
Remember that a kind and caring person can dominate a group just as much as an opinionated or negative person. The key thing is to ensure a balance that enables everyone to participate.
The group becomes distracted and loses focus.
In this situation, it is a good idea to aim for a break as soon as possible. People are likely to have lost focus because they are overloaded or worn out. After a break, they will be able to focus much better.
Low participation by the whole group
Low participation can often be due to anxiety and shyness or to people feeling insecure. Try moving from large group open discussion to smaller group activities or to listing ideas.
Two people start arguing with each other
Turn the focus of attention to other people in the group by asking, “Who else has an opinion on this issue?” or “Let’s step back for a minute and look at other issues that need to be discussed.”
One or two people are silent in the group
Try encouraging contribution without putting individuals on the spot. For example, “I’d like to
get views from people who haven't spoken yet." Another option is to break into smaller groups so that it is easier for quieter people to speak out without competing with many more vocal participants. In an online environment, you can encourage use of Chat for quiet people to put their views forward. Then you can acknowledge the points they have made and put them forward for further discussion.