Tips for effective discussions

February 26, 2012

Business, Success

Facilitation does not mean control; it simply means making sure that everyone gets a chance to participate in the discussion.

by Regina Best — 

We have all been frustrated when participating in discussion groups that are dominated by a few talkative folks and by the group’s leader who does nothing to stop them.

Three basic personality traits that show up in every discussion group include:

  • Participators, who are willing to speak up and share their points of view, while allowing others to do the same.
  • Dominators, who have something to say about everything — and do.
  • Slower processors, who simply take longer to formulate their opinions and speak up, and who tend to get talked over by everyone else.

Without a facilitator to guide these dynamics and give everyone a chance to speak up, many folks will get tired of listening to the dominators and mentally check out of the discussion.

Facilitation does not mean control; it simply means making sure that everyone gets a chance to participate in the discussion. Here are some tips that anyone can use to successfully facilitate a discussion:

1. Have the participants wear nametags if some or all are not known to one another, so that you can call on people by name.

2. Begin with a prompting question, such as, “Who liked the book, and who did not? Give us a couple reasons why.” This accomplishes several things:

  • It establishes your role as facilitator, so that your dominator does not jump in and take over the discussion.
  • It sets boundaries (if you choose to do so), so that people know to share a comment or two, but not drone on endlessly.
  • It sets a precedent that you will call on people, so that they know to raise their hands if they have a comment, thus minimizing the talking over one another.

3. Keep a mental “who is next” list. When several people raise their hands at once, say aloud, “Ken, let’s hear from you, and then Katie, and then you, Bill.” This will help you remember who is next, but it is not a big deal if you forget the order. Since you have already coached the participants that everyone will get a chance to speak, they will chime in about whose turn is next.

4. Encourage the slower processors. Every once in a while say, “Let’s hear from someone we have not heard from” or “Would someone like to share who has not spoken yet?” This opens the door for the folks who have not made any comments and also gently reminds the more enthusiastic talkers to give someone else the floor.

5. Tie people’s points together. When you can briefly comment on how Sam’s point ties in with what Sarah said a moment ago, you bring cohesiveness to the discussion and help people feel heard. This is also a good way to gently bring the discussion back to the subject at hand if it is veering off track.

Remember that a good discussion facilitator essentially does three things: gives all participants the chance to speak; guides the discussion back to the subject at hand; and ties the points together so that people feel heard. If you follow these simple suggestions, people will walk away feeling enriched by the discussion experience and will likely ask you to facilitate the next one.


Regina Best is a licensed New Thought spiritual counselor who teaches people to use spiritual principles to heal their own lives. She has a background in both corporate training and pastoral care. or

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 29, Number 4, Aug/Sept 2010.

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