Tips for Scholars
- Be sure that everyone wears a nametag to help the participants become acquainted with each other.
- Suggest that the group form a circle, if possible, so that each person can see all the members of the group and the format is less like a classroom.
- Make certain that everyone who wants to participate has a chance to do so.
- Help keep the group on track.
- Aim to be the “leader” as little as possible.
- Accept and acknowledge the ideas of all group members.
- Look mainly at the overall group atmosphere. Don’t overreact to the needs of specific individuals.
- Listen attentively to what each member has to say. Listen in such a manner that members will see that you are listening and are genuinely interested.
- Encourage wide participation by occasionally asking if there are alternate points of view.
- Don’t require members to ask for permission to speak.
- Don’t require members to speak only to you.
- Don’t preach or teach. Avoid advocacy.
- Don’t take sides or argue on any issue.
- Don’t manipulate the discussion or inhibit its flow.
- Don’t push people to participate before they feel ready.
- Don’t embarrass any member.
- Don’t hog the spotlight.
Tips for Dealing with Problem Situations
Here are some ideas from experienced discussion leaders of ways to deal with typical problem situations:
To deal with a dominating participant:
- “Just a second, Bill. Let’s get back to the first point you made. Is there someone who would like to add to Bill’s remark?”
- “Bob, I think your point is a good one, and I see that Mary would like to comment.”
To include the shy participant:
- “I remember your saying, Sarah, that you particularly enjoy memoirs. Do you have anything to share about your thoughts on this reading?”
To include all participants:
- When participants share information about themselves, make a mental note of it and bring it up at a later time, when appropriate.
- Use personal names often during the discussion and encourage others to use them.
To cope with expressions of deep emotion:
Remember that Let’s Talk About It is a reading and discussion project. While its purpose is to encourage lively and profound discussion of the humanities through literature, it is not the appropriate setting to explore personal problems.
- Acknowledge the depth of feeling in a members’ remark:
- “I can feel from the tone in your voice how much this means to you.”
Draw others into the discussion. This helps remove the person from the focus of the group and allows him or her to get their emotions back under control.
- “I understand this is a problem for you, Lisa. Let’s hear how the others have coped with it.”
Widen the discussion, moving from the personal to the impersonal:
- “You sound like the man in this story, Glen. Do you remember how he dealt with this situation?”
To deal with conflicting opinions:
The way you handle conflict will greatly influence the way the participants handle it as well. Give people time to say what they think, but don’t prolong the exchange beyond the interest span of the group. No matter what is said, it is important that no evaluation of opinion or judgment of personality is indicated.
- “This disagreement shows diversity of feelings here.”
- “I think both points of view are valid.”
- “This subject certainly evokes strong emotions, and that’s good.”