Dealing with the Talkers

Cell Basics

by Joel Comiskey


Life groups offer a warm environment in which open sharing thrives. This is extremely positive but danger lurks as well. Some people gravitate to small groups in order to express their opinions, however negative and combative they may be. They take advantage of the warm atmosphere to unload on others, to find a vent for their insecurity. These people love to hear their own voices. No one has an opportunity to contribute while they are talking, and group members will come to resent their comments and behaviors.

Dealing with talkers is probably the greatest challenge in group meetings. I’ve said repeatedly that small group leaders shouldn’t dominate the group. This also means, however, that one or two group members must not dominate.

The facilitator must protect the group from those who dominate the meeting. Here are some practical steps to overcome this problem:

  • Sit next to the talker in order to give less eye contact.
  • Talkers don’t need lots of encouragement. They might even feel that you, the leader, are encouraging their nonstop conversation by eye contact, nods and a listening ear. Sitting next to the person and avoiding eye contact will signal that you’re not encouraging him or her.
  • Call on other people to give their opinions. When you call on a person by name, you’re saying to the rest: “Wait your turn.” By calling on individuals by name, you’re assuming leadership responsibility and directing the conversation of the group.
  • Redirect the conversation away from the talker, if he or she pauses. Granted, this is a more drastic measure. When I share this tactic at a seminar, the crowd roars with laughter. However, leaders need to do what it takes to shield the cell group from such control.
  • Talk directly with the person. Often, talkers simply don’t understand the purpose of a small group. They sincerely think others need their constant input and spiritual wisdom. They’ve never realized the purpose of the small group is to allow everyone to participate and share. Talking directly with the person, after or before the cell group meeting will often solve the problem.
  • If the problem persists, talk to the person directly over you (e.g., supervisor, pastor). Most likely that leader has more experience in dealing with such issues and can offer valuable insight to resolve the conflict.
  • Ask the person to help you make the meeting more participatory. I gave a cell seminar in New Jersey and afterwards a successful cell leader approached me saying, “I’ve found a great way to deal with the constant talker that works every time.” He continued, “Ask the talker to help you get others talking.” This advice makes sense. When the talker understands the larger reason for the cell group and even how to participate in fulfilling this goal, it’s likely the person will change.
  • Clarify the rule that no one is allowed to speak a second time until everyone has had a chance to speak for the first time.

Which of the above methods have worked best for you?