Book Club Blues—members who dominate

Book Club Blues—members who dominate

bcblues-3Here's a query that showed up in my mailbox recently. It's a common problem for a lot of book clubs—the dominator.

How do you handle a member who tends to dominate the book discussion? We have someone who hogs the conversation. Worse, she always feels free to interrupt others.

This is by far the toughest problem facing any book club...and one with no easy solution. Still, here are a few approaches to try:

1. Use a special token. Pass an object—a branch, painted stone, or small pillow, say—around the room. ONLY the member who holds the token may talk. Those who aren’t holding the token cannot interrupt. You could even limit the number of times a person can hold the token. (I personally don’t like the token method, but groups who use it say it works.)

2. Limit comment time. Use a timer to restrict comments. No one should talk more than two (2) minutes for openers—and certainly no more than one (1) minute to comment on someone else’s ideas. The goal for all is to learn to talk succinctly so that there’s time for everyone to voice an opinion.

3. Take charge of the discussion. The leader can interject with comments like, “Great, Bill. Thanks. But let’s give others a chance” or “Can we hear from someone else?” or “What do the rest of you think” or “Mary, you haven’t said anything.” It takes an active, fairly skilled, leader to move the discussion from one person to another, without letting a single individual dominate. It’s not easy.

4. When all else fails…be direct.

• Initiate a one-on-one conversation, either face-to-face or phone—never, never email. Choose someone who has diplomatic skill.

• What to say? Assure the person that he/she is a valued member of the club, but some feel they don’t get to have their ideas heard...or that while the group appreciates the person’s insights, there’s a tendency to over-do. Ask him or her to give others a chance...or not to interject so frequently...or to limit the length of his/her comments.

• The worst case scenario is to ask the offending member to leave the group. This is painful, but for the sake of the overall group it may be necessary. If the problem isn’t resolved, members may start dropping out and finding other groups. Suggest—kindly—that the member move on.

Is this a problem in your club? Any suggestions?

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