by Dietrich Kirk 9/17/15
Handling personality types in small groups can be difficult. Groups are made up of a variety of people with a variety of personalities which play out in a variety of ways as we seek to facilitate healthy discussions. If we are to use discussion groups as both an education tool and to provide theological reflection as we looked at in part one of this series, then we must learn to navigate these people. Let’s look at the personalities that we will encounter and how we can best help them participate in the discussion.

The Talker

You will have a love/hate relationship with this student. You will love the fact that he is quick to answer questions and he participates. You will hate the fact that she typically wants to speak first, dominates the conversation, and doesn’t seem to notice that she is hindering others’ opportunity to participate. Learning to help her participate well is key. Here are some ideas for how to manage talkers:

  1. Sit next to her which will limit her direct eye contact with you as a leader. Eye contact is a direct invitation to talk for a talker. Sitting next to her will also make it possible for you to gently remind her (with a gentle nudge) that she is dominating the conversation.
  2. If you are blessed with a group with multiple talkers, you might introduce an object that is held by the person whose turn it is to speak. The object will help talkers wait their turn.
  3. You may need to speak with him individually to help him understand his impact on the group.
  4. Talkers often have leadership skills that need development, so inviting them to help lead the discussion (learning that a good discussion group gets everyone involved) may help them be better participants.

The Quiet Kid

These students are much quieter than the other youth and usually more shy. They are often introverts and internal processors. Although they do not say as much, they are often thinking a great deal about what is being said. They need time to process before speaking. Some ways that you can help quiet kids participate are:

  1. Place him across from you. Regular eye contact from you can serve as a form encouragement for him to share.
  2. After letting her mentally settle into the discussion, you can direct a specific question towards her. You shouldn’t single her out this way, but instead to engage the entire group, direct questions to different students to allow them to play off of their reflections on different questions.
  3. Get to know your quiet kids. If you know their interests and gifts, then you can direct questions to them that are easy for them to engage.
  4. Don’t worry about them. Although they are quiet, they can be the most engaged person in the group. They enjoy listening and observing.

The Wiggler

They fidget. They wiggle. They have trouble focusing. In the process, they distract you and everyone else. He may have attention deficit disorder. Your goal is to engage him in the discussion and by doing so allow others to engage as well.

  1. Many of these folks are kinetic learners. Give them something to do with their hands. Let them mess with Play-Doh. Let them color or doodle.
  2. Invite them to help pass out things, set up things, etc.
  3. Do active learning activities or make something while you discuss.

The Derailer

He does not want to talk about the topic. She not only wants to distract, she wants to take the conversation in a different direction. He asks the question that does not seem to have anything to do with the lesson. Here are some ways to engage these youth and stay on topic:

  1. Be prepared to come back to her topic (if it’s a healthy one) later in the discussion.
  2. Invite him to be involved in choosing topics he is interested in.
  3. You may have to talk to him or her outside of the group. These youth often have something going on in their personal lives and derailing becomes a minor form of rebellion.

The Know it All

She probably grew up in church. He may attend a private Christian school. She gives off an air of having already learned everything you have to offer. These youth can be the most difficult, because they don’t engage because they feel they already know the answers.

  1. “Why” questions become important in engaging her. Don’t be impressed that she knows the story. Challenge her to share why the story is important.
  2. Present contrary views to his. Play “Devil’s Advocate” and push him to clarify and articulate his statements.
  3. She is another type of student who could benefit from leading the group.
  4. Use open ended questions. He shuts down with too many “right” answer questions.

The Challenger

This student challenges every point you make or anyone else tries to make. Challenging can be helpful when it pushes the group to examine its answers, but challengers can also threaten others’ willingness to share.

  1. Having a rule about putting down or attacking others’ opinions will be important with challengers.
  2. Having a rule about only one person talking at a time will inhibit the challenger’s desire to interrupt others.
  3. The object that was helpful with the talker can also be a helpful tool with the challenger as he must wait his turn to share, hopefully minimizing the personal criticism feeling he can create.

Have I left out any major personality types that impact your discussion groups regularly? Comment below!
In our final part to this series Leading Discussions, we will explore how to ask good questions.

About Dietrich Kirk:

Dietrich“Deech” Kirk has been in youth ministry for 20+ years. He served as the youth minister of Brentwood United Methodist Church for six years before becoming the Executive Director of the CYMT in 2006. He continues to serve as one of Brentwood’s associate ministers. He is the author of Raising Teens in an Almost Christian World: A Parent’s Guide and one of the co-authors of Now What? Next Steps in Your New Life with Christ. When he is not leading the CYMT, speaking at youth events, or training other youth workers, Deech enjoys spending time with his wife Keeley and daughters Carlisle and Hallie.