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Book Group Divas

Book groups often bring together a mix of personalities. That’s part of the fun! But sometimes one person, the group “diva,” has a lot to say and makes it difficult for others to participate.

In fact, our recent survey revealed almost 2/3 of reading groups have had a member who has dominated a discussion or prevented others from speaking at some point. Some of the groups let it pass, and the problem went away on its own. But the rest found it necessary to take action so everyone in the group could have fun and participate in the discussions.

Many groups have asked to hear what others have done about their “Book Group Divas,” so we’re glad to summarize and share your comments here. Thanks to all who provided us with the benefit of their experience!

Establish Guidelines

Many groups found that setting up expectations from the beginning helped define expectations and ensure everyone was on the same page. Guidelines were agreed upon by all members to set the tone for discussions. Some examples shared in the survey included:

  • Only one person talks at a time
  • No side conversations
  • Everyone gets the chance to respond

Some groups even established a time limit for any one member to speak about a single topic, or created a new convention that rotated the discussion among every member.

It may be helpful to revisit the guidelines at the start of each meeting. If none currently exist for your group, take some time to come up with ideas at your next meeting. Make it a group effort!

Follow the Leader

Many of you reported that the task of redirecting the discussion fell to the discussion leader. It may be easier to handle a dominant member when someone is clearly in charge, and the survey mentioned that leaders were able to politely shift the talk back to the book, the next discussion question, or another group member.

Groups without a formal leader tried speaking with the “diva” privately or took turns bringing the conversation around to others. Comments like “Excuse me, Tom – I’m having difficulty hearing Dana” or just plain “Quiet, please” seemed to work well in some cases. In groups where the members were close friends or had established strong relationships, someone could say, “You’ve had your say, and now it’s my turn,” without offending the other person.

Know When to Part Ways

For some groups, the challenge of a “Book Group Diva” couldn’t be solved without the difficult member leaving. (In a few cases, the “redirection” by the leader was not so gentle or polite.) Occasionally, the problem caused the group to disband. Yet members joined new groups and learned from the experience, being more careful about inviting new members or voting before admitting someone new.

The issue of dominant members can be tough to navigate, but keep in mind that the goal of the club is to create a place where all members have the chance to share their thoughts. We hope that some of the ideas from your book group colleagues will help keep your discussions lively, democratic, respectful, and fun!