Talking to people in a group sounds like the most natural thing, but stop considering it sometimes daunting. It can get loud when people compete to speak over each other, while some who thought they’d join in give up in frustration. You can constantly be piping up, interjecting here and there while all the thoughts you need to express stay simmering beneath the surface. To make group conversation work, you’ve got to take a step back and slow down. Things improve when you settle on some ground rules. Here are nine practical ways to have better group conversations.
1. Keep The Discussion Bouncing Back And Forth
A good discussion flows from one participant to the next, and everyone can assist in the steady exchange of ideas. Maintaining a proactive back and forth will reveal the group’s commonalities and disagreements. Avoid falling into lulls or the encroachment of dominant personalities.
Sometimes just a few people haphazardly contribute while others fall silent, stalling the flow. Indicate you’re going to speak next by saying, “I’ll have a response to that.” Then invite participation by asking others if they’re interested too. They might perk up and start thinking carefully.
When people are given positive attention, they put more stake in a conversation. Be considerate when getting things going by asking, “is it okay to move on?” or “Does anyone want to add?” If someone is talking too much, wait for the right moment to politely say, “let someone else weigh in.”
· Don’t Sweat Disagreements
A minor disagreement is good for conversation and will undoubtedly get people talking. When things lag, challenge people by saying something controversial. Say you want to hear everyone’s take on it so you can get to the bottom of things.
2. Make It Clear That You’re Tuned In
Striving to be tuned in makes contributing easier, even if you’re unsure what to say yet. People will be more interested in talking to you if they can tell you’re listening. You certainly don’t want them to think you’d rather be somewhere else.
Periodically make comments to stay involved while reassuring people that you’re listening minimally. Brief phrases like “oh yeah?”, “that’s good” or “I heard the same thing” go a long way. Acknowledge people in small ways by responding “yeah, I do” when some say, “ya know?”
Group conversations can be intimidating, but you should speak up regularly to boost your positive thinking. Doubt creeps in when you get stuck in your head and pointlessly turn things over. Even when you’re not entirely confident in what you’re saying, responding to others gives you less mental energy to worry.
· Body Language
Make it evident that you want to speak. Making eye contact is a start, which research shows can increase the number of turns a person will take in a group conversation. Be open with your body language by leaving your arms uncrossed and pointing your feet toward the group.
3. Speak To Bolster Group Conversations
Don’t just speak to get your opinion across. Try to direct group members into a productive discussion. When people are reluctant, prodding and singling them out isn’t likely to work. Instead, what you say should create the right arena to draw them in.
· Grab Their Attention
Even if you’re not that interested in it, say something you think will intrigue the group. Speculate on a rumor. Ask them if they’ve heard about a recent event. Bring up something you think they won’t have heard of. This can increase the group’s general enthusiasm.
· Spur Them On
Avoid asking questions that can just be answered with a simple response like yes or no. Follow up what people say with phrases like “how?”, “why?” or “tell us more.” This will give everyone else opportunities to respond and keep it interesting.
It can help to frame the conversation as a high-stakes brainstorming session. Everyone can throw their hat in the ring and give unflinching criticism to narrow down the best ideas. Research shows that creativity is nurtured when people are conceived as being on a journey together and are providing thought-provoking feedback.
A tense environment smothers conversation, which can come from a lack of respect. If people are mouthing off or opining that disagreement is unwelcome, participants will silence themselves or get into fights. Consideration should be assumed and reciprocated from the start.
· Productive Disagreement
No one should be afraid that others will disagree with them. To avoid that, you might bring up potential conflicts and discomforts when you start saying something. If someone points out an error of yours, thank them and take the opportunity to learn.
· Good-Natured Habits
Cultivate a respectful attitude to set the example and make the group comfortable. Don’t interrupt even when they’ve misspoken, and don’t obnoxiously object if they offend. Get used to saying “that’s fair” or “I want to hear you out,” so it’s clear you’re acting in good faith.
· Reach Out
Being respectful involves showing that group members matter to you. Reassure them when they falter and praise them when they make good points. Bring up topics you think the quieter group members would want to discuss, making them more receptive when you get around to what you’re interested in.
5. Encourage Structured Group Conversations
A group of people needs structure to run smoothly, or some voices will crowd out others. Negotiating a structure requires a delicate balance, so try to see varying personalities as a positive element. Differences will enrich conversation while a roadmap is still followed.
· Initial Plan
You’ll likely have some idea of what people want to talk about. Have the group decide what it wants to cover and what it’ll get to if there’s time. People should understand upfront that they may be disappointed.
· Take Turns
Dilemmas in how to proceed can be solved simply by taking turns. Have an order for which person or chunk of the group will speak and for how long. You can eventually shake up the order to prevent people from getting antsy.
· Time To Move On
It would be best if you had a plan for when you’re at an impasse. Complex topics and disputes can spiral out of control and ruin conversation. When you aren’t getting anywhere, put your foot down and remind everyone that it’s in the group’s best interest to move on.
6. Think Your Statements Through
Do the group justice by absorbing what they’re saying, so you have a handle on things. Parse the details, so you don’t misrepresent them. If you’re intimidated, let positive thinking well-up and empower you.
· Pause For A Moment
It can help to stop yourself just as you’re about to talk. Confirm that you’ve genuinely got something to add. Imagining a potential comeback from someone could make you think twice about saying something unhelpful.
· Reflection After Response
There are times when you really need to mull over what someone has said to you. Think it through so you can reply constructively. It’s all too easy to rush to defend yourself and say something silly in the process.
· Challenge Yourself
Get introspective during the conversation to make a better contribution. Ask yourself how your preconceived notions could have been wrong. It might be time to address and rectify your values based on what you’ve learned.
7. Find The Right Way To Manage Authority
During a group conversation, there isn’t necessarily a leader, and each group has unique needs. Mismatched goals and battling egos are trouble when there’s no one to regulate things. You’ll have to figure out who group members should turn to for guidance.
· Share Authority
It’s helpful to divide power among the most responsible in the group. Pick an odd number of authority figures so you can vote on how to proceed and always have a tie-breaker. You must put the priorities of other group members before your own if this is to work.
· Be Palatable
If you wield influence in the group, don’t let it go to your head. Point out that you could be wrong and make suggestions instead of giving orders. No one should feel like they have to modify their speech to suit you. Instead, they should be happy to ask for advice.
· Take Charge When Needed
Of course, there are times when you can’t stand by. Whether you’ve been given the authority or not, address bad behavior and other problems swiftly. According to Dr. Michael Lowe, sometimes groups need someone to say the right thing and take the lead. If you can tell that others are reluctant to make a decision, make your own decision, and they might appreciate it.
8. Have A Proactively Constructive Conversation
Be proactive to make sure that you’re getting somewhere. A kind of finesse is needed to help the group conversation meet its potential. Work with group members to tackle any shortcomings in the ongoing process and create a setting for the spark of creativity.
· Keep Things On Track
Rein in discussion topics and take note of when you go off track. The more interruptions you’ve had, the more you need to assess your strategy. Maybe the group needs breaks at different intervals, or they’ve grown uninterested but don’t want to admit it.
· Assess And Improve
Take steps to have better sessions in the future. Some time into a conversation, you might recap it all so that you know where to head next. You might ask questions or pose some of your own to keep people attentive and thinking.
· Stay Motivated
Encourage introspection so that participants can determine what they do and don’t like about group conversations. That way, the group can properly tailor sessions to their needs. Group leaders should take some time to inspire positive thinking so that talking is more cathartic.
9. Think Of The Group As Your Team
A group conversation is a place for good-faith actors. Everyone should support each other. Everyone should be concerned with the well-being and improvement of those speaking. The group doesn’t just have to talk. It can think like a team.
· Be Problem-Solvers
Group conversations are great when they’re cooperative, not combative. In fact, research shows that collaborative activities allow people to practice skills like creativity, communication, conflict resolution, and time management. Team conversations are training grounds for the real world.
· Act Altruistically
Be positive about your surroundings and remember that everyone is on the same side. Group members should wish the best for each other and conduct themselves accordingly. There’s no need to resort to divisive tactics like goading one-liners, “gotcha” questions, and baseless accusations. According to Alison Wood Brooks, Ph.D., you can reduce people’s hostility towards you by being open and upfront about your shortcomings.
· Appreciate Differences
Everyone involved has got to celebrate, not lament, each other’s differences, even when there are significant disagreements. No practical person would endanger their team over a difference in opinion. When someone says something you dislike, explain both what you agree with and what you don’t. You can learn more about each other that way and explore interesting topics.
Group conversations can be fun, engaging, and thought-provoking. By following these tips for facilitating these discussions, you can build relationships and tackle complex topics.