Handling "Book Group Divas"

An Exclusive by Reading Group Choices

Our recent survey revealed that almost 2/3 of reading groups have had a group member dominate a discussion and prevent others from speaking at some time.  Some of them just let it pass, and the problem did not persist.  But the rest found it necessary to take some action so that everyone in the group could have fun and take part in the discussions.  Many groups have asked to hear what others groups did about their "Book Group Divas," so we’ve summarized your comments here. Thanks to all who provided us with the benefit of their experience.

Many groups found that advance preparations helped prevent such a problem from occurring in the first place.  Establishing guidelines such as, “Everyone gets a chance to talk,” “Only one person talks at a time, “No side conversations, helped to set the tone for future discussions.  Some groups have even established a time limit for any one member to speak about a single topic.

Having a list of discussion questions ready for each gathering also helped, because it made redirecting the discussion easier.  Some groups that had never established guidelines before simply made an announcement to the group (including the “diva”) that everybody had something to say and needs a turn to speak.  Some even established a new convention that rotated the discussion among each and every member to ensure that everyone had a chance to speak.

Many of you reported that the task fell to the discussion leader, who gently and politely redirected the discussion back to the book, to the next discussion question, or to another group member.  (In a few cases, the “redirection” was not so gentle or polite, resulting in the “diva’s” leaving the group!)

Groups without a formal leader spoke with the “diva” privately or took turns bringing the discussion around to others.  Comments like, “Excuse me, Susie – I’m having difficulty hearing Jane,” or just plain “Shhhhh,” seemed to work well in some cases.  In groups where the members have established strong relationships, a member might say, “You’ve had your say, and now it’s my turn!” without ruffling too many feathers.

In a few cases, the problem actually caused the group to disband.  In those cases, group members in their new groups are careful about inviting new members to join.  In some cases, the group votes before a new member is invited.

The problem is definitely a thorny one. Hopefully, some of the ideas that your colleagues have used will help you to keep your discussions fun and lively.

Copyright © 2007 Reading Group Choices