What brings you back to a group again and again, even though your life seems like an endless to-do list? You probably have a purpose, which can be as simple as getting out of the house and having fun or as challenging as wanting to be informed about political issues. You may want to learn something. Or to accomplish something. You may like to discuss your views related to a common learning experience- without being put down, ignored or dismissed. The experience has an importance to you. And don’t forget the famous line in the Cheers TV series, “I like to go where everybody knows my name.” You feel like you are a welcome member of the group.
What causes you to drop out of a group you thought you might enjoy? You might simply be too busy, of course. But, possibly, the group experience is not meeting your needs, as outlined above. The following tips are designed to help you, a political book group leader, create the group that participants want to come back to.
· Do make room for fun some fun. A few minutes for refreshments and conversation help to get things started.
· A book-related question for people to briefly answer when they introduce themselves can add to the enjoyment and learning. (“What did you learn in reading this book that most surprised you?”)
· State your purpose from the establishment of the group and frequently reiterate it. Re-assess it if you and the group think you are losing the sense of it. “This experience is designed to better inform us on political issues so that we can be better-informed and can make better political decisions.”
· The discussion questions, including occasional small group ones, really do begin to set a tone. The members come to know each other better and occasionally even disagree. (If you think members of a political party book group agree with each other, think again. You will have conservatives and liberals and everything in between.)
· Your closing question could tap into their feelings of accomplishment or their need to see the importance of a book discussion. “Take a few moments to think. What is one worthwhile take-away for you from this book and discussion?”
· And make no mistake, book group leaders. You set the tone. Your # 1 priority will be to LISTEN. When I hear an interesting point someone has made I make a mental note or a quick jotted note about the thought and who said it. And, where it applies, I try to come back to it (Ex. “Katherine’s comment on ____ is actually a good lead-in to this next question”). This shows that you VALUE their views.
· Use their NAMES. Invest in a package or two of name tags and some markers. You will often have new members attending, and everyone should be able to address others.
There are challenges, and I hesitate to mention them even, because they rarely happen after a session or two, when you yourself model support for all.
· Sometimes a participant wants to dominate the discussion- it usually works itself out as you model good listening and encourage the more reticent ones with such extenders as “Can you give an example of that?” or “Can you tell us a little more about what you mean?”
· Sometimes a participant cuts someone off. I let them have their say briefly and go right back to the previous speaker and say, “John, you were making a point about _____. Can you follow up on that?” If the interrupter continues, I would say something like “Paul, Let’s let John finish and we’ll come right back to you.
· I have never had a participant that is so disruptive of the group that he/she will drive others out of it, but I would talk to that person apart from the meeting and be very clear about the need for respect between group members.
These are some ideas to help build positive and respectful group dynamics. There will be more on this topic.