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Community meetings: how to handle tricky situations (12 Jul 18)

The loudmouth problem: how to stop dominant people ruining your efforts

Frankly, community meetings are not that easy to run - and there are several reasons why.

You as the facilitator have to steer and manage the discussion so you get everybody’s views on the topics you need to cover.

You must make sure that everybody can say what they think - and contribute as much as they can - but in a group environment.

Yet paradoxically the real test of how well you do is whether people feel free to discuss their views amongst themselves, as if you were not in control. That way you get a group dynamic going, which encourages further discussion.

So a successful session is one where people don't feel they are being "managed" so as to give their views - that they feel comfortable and able to express themselves.

Achieving this can be even more difficult when something unexpected happens.

You will have to intervene to deal with what has happened. But how you intervene will influence how much the group is disrupted.

And the better you cope with the unexpected the less the disruption.

That's why we are producing a special series of hints and tips on how to deal with difficult and unexpected situations in groups.

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Comment by Alison Trafford Housing Trust — 07 Aug 09 at 10:38:22

I have not faciltated a focus group for quite a while, but one memorable one I held had a blind person and his partner who was also visually impaired.
He would not shut up and dominated the group but body language and eye contact obviously would not work. Despite several attempts at thanking him and asking other people to contribute he just kept butting in. Another member of the group told him to shut up eventually, but even that didnt work!

Has anyone else had this experience, how did they cope with it?


Comment by Kate Bolton at Home — 21 Aug 09 at 14:26:58

I work with customer volunteers and I sometimes find that the relationship with volunteers is difficult as they are giving up their time for free so when problems occur it is hard to point it out as you don't want to offend anyone. We have recently had some problems with personality clashes with some of our volunteers which can sometimes cause problems at events.

All our customer volunteers sign an agreement when they join which has a code of conduct which has proved useful if problems persist as you can remind them of their agreement or make general comments around the code of conduct (and have it printed out on tables) when discussions get heated and this gentle reminder often works. A colleague has recently had to deal with an argument between two volunteers and she handled it well by speaking to both parties individually to get each side of the story and agreed a set of actions to get things back on track. The customers commented on how well she dealt with it as she was prompt and gave them the space to air their views.

I will be trying the “That’s really very interesting George, let’s hear what other people have to say.” approach at my next event and will see how this goes!


Comment by Jennifer Argyll and Bute Council — 02 Sep 09 at 16:00:11

I was running a number of sessions on a topic recently and had the luxury of knowing my particpants, so the first thing I did was ensure that there was a balance of personalities in each group to allow free discussion. I also ensured that dominant people were not in the first couple of sessions, by which time we had some themes and could move the discussion on using comments from previous sessions, addressing these to other members of the group eg 'That's interesting, George; a previous group commented "xxxxx", what has been your experience of that Tom" etc.


Comment by Glen Tower Hamlets Partnership — 26 Jan 10 at 15:50:45

I also use their name quite a lot, as often this helps them feel valued and therefore validated.

Also, make sure that their point is noted on flipchart paper (if possible) and displayed so that they can see it. Remind them that their comment has been recorded and that you would like to hear what others in the group have to say.

Why not join the discussion!

Or even better still offer your own advice and tell us about things that others can learn from.

We moderate comments lightly so bear with us and we'll get your thoughts listed as soon as we can.

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