Solutions for facilitators to deal with challenging behaviors

How to effectively manage the talkative and silent members of a group.

Recognizing and understanding typical team member behaviors – both constructive and destructive – will be very helpful to you as a facilitator. These behaviors can affect team development and performance. Members of the team may exhibit these behaviors at varying times throughout the development cycle of the team. Keep in mind that a facilitator needs to model constructive behaviors to help the team reach its goals.

Groups that work well together develop a sense of trust, camaraderie and even synergy. In such groups, communication is open and honest, everyone contributes and people are excited about what they are accomplishing. Sometimes people with “challenging behaviors” can derail the work of a group and make synergy impossible. What are “challenging behaviors?” In groups or teams that have a shared purpose and some goals to accomplish, ‘challenging behaviors’ are those that make accomplishing goals difficult. They may distract, disrupt or get the group off track in some way, or contribute to difficult behaviors by either not participating or dominating the conversation.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison offers a Facilitator toolkit called “A Guide for helping groups get results.” The kit offers a comprehensive guide to tools, methods and techniques for assisting groups. The guide explains that sometimes it will be necessary to intervene with a particular individual or an entire team because of behavior or actions during team meetings. An intervention will include any statement, question or nonverbal behavior made by a facilitator that is designed to help the group.

The goal of any type of intervention is to maintain the group’s autonomy and to develop its long-term effectiveness. Eventually, the interventions used by a facilitator should decrease the group’s dependence on the facilitator.

An intervention is never an easy task, so it is important to recognize when to intervene and whether to intervene with an individual or the entire team. There is no set time or tried and true method for when or how to intervene, but the following are methods to deal with two of the most common issues that arise in groups; those that are silent and those that overly talkative.

Silence

Most groups include some people who are timid about sharing their opinions. They may feel unvalued, unsure of themselves or unfamiliar with the topic or process. Or they may just need time to listen, think, and formulate their thoughts. This may be a problem if they never feel comfortable sharing ideas.

Strategies:

  • Use an icebreaker that involves a lot of interaction.
  • Go round-robin in the group whenever appropriate, asking each person in turn to share a comment.
  • Ask the quiet person specific questions related to his or her expertise.
  • Distribute cards in advance for written anonymous input.
  • Give the group a few minutes to think silently before asking for responses to some questions or tasks.

Talkativeness

Some people talk a lot in groups, which may be a problem if they dominate discussions and don’t let others share their opinions freely. This can sometimes cause others to drop out, thus weakening the group and diminishing its chances of success. Getting through an agenda and making decisions can also be difficult.

Strategies:

  • Establish and enforce ground rules. Some helpful rules are: keep comments brief; balance participation; listen more than you talk; or, you can speak a 2nd time after everyone has spoken once.
  • Interrupt the talker and offer to talk to him or her more after the meeting.
  • Put a time limit on each person’s comments for each topic, and enforce it. It may help to ask someone else to be the timekeeper.
  • Ask people to raise their hands to speak.
  • Talk to the person privately and explain that you’d like to get more people participating.

The Michigan State University Extension Leadership and Community Engagement team offers professional development training, including volunteer board development, communicating through conflict, meeting management and facilitation skills development, and organizational strategic visioning and planning.

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