Communication skills are extremely important in small-group interaction. Whether verbally or with silence, group members are always communicating in some manner. Effective communication requires active listening and having genuine concern for each group member. Since it is easy to develop poor patterns of interacting with people, communication skills require practice.

Open-ended questions help create discussion in the group. These types of questions cause the participants to have a better understanding of themselves. Repeating the content of the group member's message helps individuals know that they are being heard and that you are with them. When confronting is needed, care-fronting skills should always be used.

As mentioned earlier, communications are enhanced by having people sit in a circle. Having the need for eye contact, all group participants should be able to see each other. Group members who sit across from each other tend to communicate better than those who sit next to each other. Group facilitators should sit across from each other and acknowledge all contributions to the group process. No one should ever be put down for a comment that is in error.

Group leaders should guard against the temptation to dominate the discussion. It is a common temptation to answer most of the questions, to be the super Christian, or to turn the group meeting into a platform for preaching. The leaders should give direction to the group process by starting the discussion then steering the conversation according to the curriculum being used. It is best to divert conversations on controversial subjects that may cause division among group members. Although the sharing of past experiences can be interesting and in some cases valuable, the focus of the small group should be on the present in the person's life. Since conversation on intellectual levels often results in surface discussion, it tends to kill personal sharing. There is a difference between what persons may think versus what they feel.

Handling excessive talkers in the group. There will be some people who tend to overtalk in the group or who may wish to show off their knowledge. Some may believe they have more knowledge than the facilitator (and they may); others may like the attention. There are certain communication skills that can be used to correct this situation. Questions and answers can be directed to individuals by name. Sitting next to the overtalker may help since the facilitator receives less eye contact than the other group members. This will cause the person to be away from the focus of attention and be less likely to respond.

The facilitators should analyze themselves to see if they are communicating clearly. If the group leaders are offensive, it is possible that the overtalker may see the need to take charge. It may be necessary to care-front the person privately. The overtalker may have leadership potential but needs to learn to be a better listener.

Handling nonparticipants. Some people are very timid or feel they do not have anything to contribute to the group. There are those who may also have reading difficulties. Group participants should be cared for with sensitivity (working within their comfort level). There are certain communication skills that can help increase their comfort level. In all group sessions, the facilitators should remind participants that no one is expected to disclose if he or she does not want to talk. No one is forced to talk-everyone has the freedom to pass. Offering encouragement by gently directing to the shy persons questions that can be answered with ease and comfort will help them become active in the group discussion. These people should receive special attention before and after each group session. Group leaders may need to offer encouragement in private. Every answer they provide should be affirmed.

Material from Understanding the Times and Knowing What to Do
Copyright © 1991, 1997 by Turning Point Ministries
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