QUESTION: I’ve belonged to a small weekly discussion group for about five years. Within the last year a man has joined who wants to do all the talking. Several times when others and I have been trying to answer questions that come up, he interrupts, often in the middle of a sentence when someone else is speaking. When he does that as I’m speaking and have been interrupted, I always say, “Please let me finish.” He then backs down and mumbles an apology. It seems he isn’t really listening. After that, when asked to continue with what he was going to say, he’ll say, “I don’t remember.”
Please say something about listening skills and group dynamics. We all like this man, and would like to handle this situation gingerly.
~ Discussion Groupie
Dear Discussion Groupie,
It seems as though the man who has joined your discussion group does not know how to participate in a group like yours and needs some help. Since you all like this man, showing him how to be a good group member would be a compassionate thing for the group to do for him and themselves. Maybe no one has ever taken the time to do that for him. One way to proceed would be for the group to spend some time at the beginning of an upcoming meeting to develop a covenant of behavior. You could create rules about not interrupting, avoiding cross-talk, showing respect for others’ opinions, giving all group members the opportunity to speak, active listening to others, and creating positive interaction. Care would need to be taken to draw everyone into the process, not to single this man out for “education.” And the covenant would need to be in writing on newsprint or clearly visible at each meeting after that.
You don’t say if you have a group facilitator. But, if so, that person could gently take the man aside, outside of the meeting time, and share some suggestions for his participation in the group. If you do not have a facilitator or if the facilitator would not be the best person for the job, someone else in the group could be asked.
There is no guarantee that either of these techniques will change his behavior, but I have seen them work very effectively in discussion groups I have led. However, for the sake of your group and this person, I urge you to try some form of behavior modification. I wish you all the best in this sensitive endeavor.
Rev. Dr. Betty Stapleford, Minister
Unitarian Universalist Church of the Verdugo Hills La Crescenta email@example.com
Dear Discussion Groupie,
I’ve led such groups for years and can tell you now that this stuff never ends, but there are a few things I’ve picked up along the way that may help.
First, there are at least two types of participants – the engaged contributor and the most fascinating person in the world. The latter is inexcusable because every story is about them and they really don’t care to hear yours, let alone allow you to bore them further by finishing your thoughts. The former is really interested in the discussion and they want to help, and they have ideas, and they don’t mean to step on people’s sentences or be rude. The way to handle both is to periodically reinforce some ground rules for the group discussion. Here’s an example:
1. Please be mindful and keep your comments short, so that everyone gets a chance to participate.
2. If you suddenly have a thought, write it down and we’ll give you an opportunity to share it in a few minutes.
3. Stay on topic; we have an end goal in today’s discussion.
4. Understand that everyone’s input is equally welcome so don’t take it personally if the leader seems abrupt by cutting in or redirecting the focus when deemed necessary.
The group leader is always something of a referee, so it’s their job to keep on task, or maybe toss the task for something more important that comes up. Nevertheless, a few rules will help everyone and just be aware that there are some people who misread cues (thinking the last comment ended) so they prematurely chime in. And there are others who simply take a very long time to get their thoughts out, which is hard because you want them to keep it brief – all the while knowing their mental processes run a little slower. This, too, must be considered. Essentially, it’s the Golden Rule that rules:
†) “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” (Luke 6:31 MEV).
Groups are comprised of fallible people, so maintain charity and yours will continue to bless you.
Rev. Bryan Griem
QUESTION: Now that we’re getting into the holiday season, I almost dread shopping because parents bring tired, cranky children shopping with them. I don’t think it’s fair to the children and to other shoppers. More than once, I’ve had the experience of being in a store with several children crying at once. Often I’ve returned later at night, which is not my preference because I’m older and don’t like to drive at night.
I believe shopping time for parents can be managed better. For example, one parent stays home with the child or children while the other shops, or gets a sitter. That’s what I did when I was raising my children. Am I being too judgmental?
~ Impatient Granny
Dear Impatient Granny,
The holiday season always brings with it some stress and lately I have begun to understand that situations that stress or frustrate us are simply asking us to find the real truth at the heart of life. Let me explain what I mean.
The type of challenge you describe is part and parcel of life, pretty much unavoidable, so what do we do when we can’t change something? Viktor Frankl says, “When we can no longer change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” And the Buddha said the more we resist things as they are the more we suffer.
I don’t think it’s possible that you will go out this Christmas and not encounter the situation you describe so I am asking you to think about how you can change your attitude toward the parents of these cranky children and toward the children themselves? Take a moment and ask your heart, “How can I find compassion for this mother or this father who feels they have to bring a tired child out to the store with them in order to get their shopping done?” Could it be that they are stressed too? Maybe they are embarrassed and feel bad because their child, who may have started out enthusiastic and happy, now shows his or her frustration with such gusto. Can you imagine the dirty looks and harsh comments they must be receiving and how this adds to their stress? This situation may not be their ideal either.
Could it be they can’t afford a sitter? We don’t know what their circumstances are so its best not to judge or jump to conclusions. If you can find some compassion for the frustrated parent or child, maybe then you can take the next step and think of a kind word to say to ease the situation. If you think that nothing you can say will help, try sending them love silently. Bless them as you go about your shopping. Smile instead of frowning in their direction. This is more of the true tone of the season, is it not?
The real truth at the heart of life, as I mentioned earlier, is that we all deserve love and understanding. I hear and understand your frustration and I send you love. I hope that you can soften your heart and be gentle with yourself and others this holiday season. Let us only wish the best for others, no less than we would wish for ourselves. It is a wonderful opportunity to practice goodwill to all men.
Best of luck and I have a feeling you will be good at this. But remember if you feel your goodwill is running out maybe its time to take yourself home from the mall and make yourself a cup of hot chocolate as you congratulate yourself on your patience and your ability to change yourself. There is always room for more love in the world and you can be a channel for it this Christmas. How powerful you are!
Joan Doyle, Author and Scalar Heart Counselor
North Hollywood Center for Spiritual Living
Dear Impatient Granny,
First of all, let me commend you on the fact that you were able to handle your shopping in the past without your young children as they were growing up. I am sure it saved you and others a lot of difficulty. Unfortunately, not all parents have that same ability to manage their situation with the same ease and consideration, due to lack of time or money. It is not easy to be in crowded stores where there are lots of holiday shoppers trying to get their lists completed while finding the best deals. Struggling with children, bags and other people in crowded aisles can be disconcerting, to say the least, for everyone. Shopping earlier in the year, or early morning, are two ways to avoid some of the crowds. Going online can be another way and you can usually save money because of the super deals – and they ship directly to you.
I have found that when I get overwhelmed during the extreme shopping days I stop and find a nice quiet place to just sit and watch the activity around me. It helps me renew the spirit of the season, find some humor in the insanity, as it unfolds, with lots of gratitude that I am not the one with all those screaming children. Pacing myself, while looking for the gifts I want, helps me to remember that the season is one of mystery, love and tolerance.
I can find the blessing in the moment while giving thanks for the gifts I already have in life. We don’t have to make the holidays the “hellishdays.” Don’t give up your serenity by allowing the activity around you to spoil the sacredness or beauty of the season. Have a very Merry Christmas or, if you prefer, Happy Holidays.
Gary Bates, RScP
Center for Spiritual Living – La Crescenta