If you lead a Bible study group, odds are you’ve got a “talker” in your midst. You know the type—they love to hear themselves speak and they can dominate a group’s discussion, often hijacking the conversation away from other group members.
The talker loves to answer questions, grind a personal axe, or advance a favorite theological conviction. If you’re going to grow in your ability to lead and manage your group, you’re going to have to deal with the talker at some point. The talker can create a lot of unhealthy tension in your group. It’s possible he or she might adversely affect the conversations in your group, with some people choosing to remain silent because of the talker’s dominating nature. In an extreme case, the talker might create sufficient tension that drives group members away.
To handle the tension caused by the talker in your group, consider doing some or all of the following:
1. Set the stage.
When your group comes together, and before you start the Bible study, remind your people that you want everyone to participate when you ask questions. Let them know that their answers should not be so long that they accidentally dominate the discussion.
2. Call on specific people to answer questions.
If you have a talker, quickly shift your teaching strategy and ask a specific person to answer a question. Rather than asking the group to respond to a question in your Bible study material, try this instead: “Hey, Bill, how do you respond to the second question on page 16 of the personal study guide?” This is a way to call on someone besides the talker to answer a question, and it sends a signal to your talker that you value other people’s input.
3. Use some kind of “talking object.”
One way to handle the tension that a talker creates is to have an object, any object that gives a person the right to have the floor and speak. It might be an eraser, a rubber ball, a stick, or anything that you want to use for this purpose. When you ask the group a question, pitch the object to someone, and only that person can answer the question at hand.
By doing this, you can control the dominant person and still give everyone else the opportunity to speak.
4. Enlist the talker to answer assigned questions.
You might say something like, “John (the talker), I value your input during our group’s discussion. Would you be prepared to answer questions 1 and 5? I’m going to assign the other questions to different people in our group.” By doing this, you can limit his or her input and give others in the group a chance to answer the remaining questions.
You also let the talker know that you want others to speak up when their questions come around.
5. Interrupt the talker and apologize.
If your talker just won’t let go of the reigns, you may have to gently interrupt him or her and say something. You could say, “John, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. I appreciate your insights. But I’d love to hear how a few others might respond to the question at hand. Group, what do you say about the question we’re discussing?”
You won’t have to use this one that often unless the talker chooses to ignore what you’re telling him.
6. Take the talker out for some “coffee and confrontation.”
If the talker insists on continuing his or her domination of the group, it’s time to sit down and have a face-to-face conversation. This is a true measure of your leadership ability. Kindly confronting the talker can be intimidating, and you may find it easier to simply ignore the situation. But to grow as a leader, you have to grow in your ability to manage more difficult people.
Let them know that although you value them and their contributions, they are keeping others from fully participating. Be sure to end this difficult conversation with a heartfelt “thank you” to the talker for regularly speaking up in the group’s Bible study. Tell them how they have made a difference in the group, and how they have encouraged others to more fully join the conversation during the Bible study.
If confronting someone is difficult for you, I recommend you take a look at the book Fierce Conversations.
7. Pray for the talker—and for Wisdom.
Don’t underestimate the power of prayer. As you lead your group to study the Bible, make prayer for the talker a regular part of your prayer routine. You’ll need great wisdom to handle the talker. You’ll want to preserve the relationship if at all possible, and you don’t want to see group members leave or express frustration with that individual.
Navigating this part of the leadership journey is not easy, and daily prayer time spent asking God for wisdom to deal properly with the talker may well be the one thing that makes the most difference.
8. Don’t hang a label on the Talker.
During times of frustration, you may be tempted to think ill of the talker in your group. Don’t. Resist the temptation to hang a label around his or her neck. Their over-talkative nature might occasionally make your blood boil, but think don’t allow that to color the way you see them. Consider that they might simply be overusing a strength they possess. Allow yourself to believe that they do what they do without truly knowing the effects of their dominating nature.
Remind yourself that this person is a child of God, someone redeemed by Christ, and in need of biblical community. See yourself as a shepherd, and care for them. If you lead a Bible study group long enough, you’re going to have to deal with the tensions created by a talker.
You’ve got lots of options, and probably some not even mentioned here. Be patient, but act. The tension created by a talker can hurt a group in several ways, and as the group’s shepherd, you don’t have the luxury of not taking action.