Dealing with a Sunday School Dominator, Part 2

Sunday 3rd August, 2008

In Part 1, I asked if you had ever been in a Sunday School class or small group Bible study with a person who dominated group time? It is not healthy or best for one person to do all the talking in any class. What can be done? In Part 1, I shared about a couple of interesting articles on this topic. One written by my friend, Josh Hunt, is entitled How to Muzzle the Overly Talkative Person. The other written by Ken Matthews is entitled There's One in Every Crowd: Dealing with a Dominant Person in Your Group Study. I commend them both for your reading.

In Part 1 I shared from Hunt. In Part 2, I will share from Matthews who offers several good suggestions for dealing with a dominator. Like last time, some of his suggestions involve group members but most involve the group leader. Matthews shares six strategies for dealing with a dominator which I will share in all capitals followed by my commentary:

  • ESTABLISH GROUND RULES. These can be included in a group covenant (see Benefits of a Covenant for a Revolutionary Sunday School Class and Sunday School Class and Home Bible Study Group Covenants), or ground rules can be less formal and yet clear. These rules establish the value of everyone participating in group discussion. They help the group determine order of participation, not interrupting the speaker, and respecting each other's opinions. Ground rules can prevent one person from becoming a dominator and help the group to do some of the policing.
  • AVOID GOING OFF ON TANGENTS. I like what Matthews said here: "Straying into matters that are not pertinent to the subject provides fertile ground for the person who holds opinions on every subject." So it is important to keep the group focused and moving in the right direction. When (not if) the group chases a rabbit, restating "the original question in a different manner will usually refocus the group." If the dominator has already expressed his opinion, he won't be as likely to do the same as quickly if you are building on the same material.
  • WITHDRAW ATTENTION FROM THE DOMINANT PERSON. This is easier said than done, but it is important. If you as group leader will sit next to him/her, you will have a harder time looking at him/her in the eyes which often encourages talking. So it may also encourage others to talk--again balancing the dominant person's participation. If the group will avoid eye contact with the dominator after the first response, that may also help reduce his/her verbal contributions.
  • ENCOURAGE OTHER PEOPLE TO EXPRESS THEIR OPINIONS. After a brief comment from the dominator, ask if others have something to say. Call on group members who feel comfortable talking in front of the group. When the dominator wants to add another response, ask for a couple of other people to respond before he/she adds something else. Divide the group into pairs, trios, or quads. Let them talk. Ask for someone to respond from each small group--besides the dominator.
  • DON'T BE AFRAID OF SILENCE. Matthews suggests waiting "at least seven seconds before you say anything." I have found that enough silence usually results in responses. When the dominator responds, Matthews suggested that you "try shifting the attention back to others by saying something like, 'Excuse me, Bill, your opinion is very interesting, but let’s hear from some others now.'" Again, if necessary call on someone by name (if they are comfortable for you to do so).
  • AFFIRM PEOPLE'S ANSWERS WHENEVER POSSIBLE. This does not mean you have to affirm bad theology, but you can affirm the person even if you disagree with his/her answer. Matthews said, "When you dismiss or negate an opinion, the speaker often feels dismissed or negated, and a naturally timid person may conclude that offering an opinion again is just too risky." Affirmation during icebreakers (at the beginning of group time) can lead to greater comfort in responding to deeper issues later (see below). Again, when more group members are participating, they reign in over-participation by a dominator.

In addition to these great suggestions, I want to encourage you to launch your lessons with icebreakers. When you get the group talking early, they are much more likely to participate freely later and help to balance out a dominator. For additional ideas on using icebreakers, check out Five Suggestions for Using Icebreakers Well in Sunday School/Small Groups, Using Icebreakers Purposefully in Sunday School/Small Groups, Nine Reasons to Use Icebreakers in Sunday School/Small Groups, and Hooks: Launching Powerful Sunday School Lessons. How have you dealt with the dominator in your group? Many groups have dealt with this issue and worked to a good resolution. Share your tips and ideas. Care enough to deal with the dominator for his/her good and the group. Be revolutionary!

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