We’ve all been there: someone’s dominating the discussion in a meeting, or the discussion is getting off-track. What to do? Does the facilitator stop the dominating voices, or refocus the group? If not, do you sit there and put up with it? Chances are you’ve experienced both scenarios. As a facilitator, I see it these as two of my primary tasks: to rein in the dominators, to make sure that everyone has a chance to speak, and to keep the meeting on track towards its desired outcome. But ask yourself – is it only up to the facilitator to intervene? What power, if any, do the participants have?

I’m in favor of shared leadership and shared facilitation; I think that anyone in the group can comment, and even recommend a shift, in process. Sometimes the best interventions come from participants. My students asked me recently for language that we can all use, as participants, to shift the conversation. Interventions are most likely to be effective when they exhibit the following characteristics:

  • They exhibit concern for the benefit of the whole group.
  • They don’t come across as scolding or blaming.
  • They come from a place of curiosity, and checking if others in the group share our perception of what’s happening.
  • They come across as suggestions rather than dictating answers.

Given those characteristics, here are some possible comments to help move the conversation forward:

  • I’m a little confused; I would find it helpful to know what the goal is for today.
  • I’d like some clarification – is there an agenda for us to follow?
  • I’m wondering if we could postpone some of these questions to the end? Or if they could be addressed offline?
  • I’m concerned that we’re not going to have enough time for X, so could we discuss that now?
  • I may not be speaking for the whole group, but here’s what I’m noticing… and I’m wondering if anyone else is feeling that way.

Participants don’t have to sit back and give in to their frustration.  Let’s give people guidelines to help them help us and the group with the process.