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Facilitation: Addressing dominators with grace

As I mentioned last week, every group has dominators and quiet voices. As important as it is to pull out quiet voices, it’s also very important to address the dominators with grace. They are dominators for a reason. They may be particularly passionate about a topic, highly extroverted, very engaged and wanting to contribute or they could be very self-absorbed.  I try to lean toward thinking of them as so enthusiastic that they can’t wait to contribute to the group as a whole. Honestly, I’ve been a dominator – and sometimes have to be careful that I am not once again a dominator. My intentions have always been good, but my enthusiasm can take away from the important contributions of others. As a facilitator, it’s important to address the dominators with grace. You still want them to contribute but not to dominate. So how do you do it? Join me this week as I provide three recommendations on addressing the dominators with grace.

  1. Set guiding principles or ground rules. At the beginning of the meeting, set expectations related to participation. Some of my favorites include: Be respectful. Everyone participates. Be a teacher of others and a learner from others. If you have already provided feedback, wait until others have had an opportunity before speaking again. You may also want to set up a system for providing feedback. For instance, in one group I facilitated, we had participants turn their name cards upright if they want to talk. This allows you to know when someone wants to speak without the distraction of everyone raising their hands – or interrupting. If you set the expectations ahead of time, it helps everyone know that you truly want everyone to participate and no one to dominate.
  2. Acknowledge them gracefully. Let them know that you know they would like to share again and thank them for their enthusiasm; however, let them know you would like to hear from others first. One example could be: I see you would like to provide additional input, Don. Thank you for your enthusiasm! Let’s first hear from Debby, Kathy and Jason and I’ll come back to you. If folks have expressed a concern that they will not remember what they were going to say, encourage them to take notes in order to remember when there is another opportunity to share. It’s always a good idea to have a paper or post-it notes at each table.
  3. Talk with them one-on-one.  Let them know that you value their contribution and appreciate their enthusiasm, passion, expertise and insights. Also, let them know that you are trying to provide an opportunity for everyone to participate and that some folks are not as comfortable sharing their perspectives.  It is important to be clear and kind when you are having these conversations. While you can show appreciation for their contribution, it’s also important to let them know that they may be keeping others from having an opportunity to participate and that they may need to speak less during a meeting. You may even try to enlist them to help bring out others in the meeting and encourage others to participate. If they are dominating because they are enthusiastic about participating, they will probably also be enthusiastic having a “role” in helping others as well.  

So, what about you? What do you do in order to address dominators with grace when facilitating a group?

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