Helpful Hints For Small Church Community PFS

Ideas for Handing Difficult Situations:
1. Interrupting, Jumping in…“Maybe we could stop for a moment to be sure that we are listening to each other.”
2. Two People Talking at Once…“We seem to have two conversations going on here; maybe we could hear from X first and then Y.
3. No Response to Questions…“Perhaps the question is difficult to respond to; let’s reword it” (or ask another question related to it.)
4. One Person “Wipes Out” Another Person’s Comments…“What ______ has said is from his/her felt experience and has value.”
5. Member Remains Silent…Gently invite participation, reaffirm the right to silence. Get to know the person before and after the meeting. Say, “_______, you have been listening intently. Is there anything you’d like to add?”
6. Repetition of the Same Idea…Summarize their main points and go on. Say: “That’s helpful; maybe we could hear now from someone else.”
7. Wandering from the Topic..“To bring ourselves back to the purpose of our sharing, it appears the basic question here is…
8. One Member Dominates the Session…Remind the person that each person needs to have the opportunity to share before we hear from the same person again. Say: “What you are saying is helpful, but maybe we could hear from someone else.” Remind them of the “Basic Principles for a Small-Group Agreement or Contract between Members”.
9. A Member Questions Each Response…Remind the person that each statement is not open to group scrutiny. Say, “We hear your criticism and questions on this but what is it saying to you personally?”
10. A Member Begins to Cry…Comfort any way you are able (just touching is often enough). Offer option to be silent for a few minutes. Acknowledge the person, and thank them for the gift of the tears.
11. The Sharing Becomes Too Academic…“While what we are discussing can be very interesting, it is not the purpose of our time together. I think if we look at the questions we will come back to the focus of this session.”

Dealing with Difficult People
When a problem person disrupts a meeting, begin by accepting what the person is doing, rather than simply ignoring the interruption. You can acknowledge the individual’s action by describing it without evaluating. When a Doubting Thomas makes a loud noise in disapproval of a particular suggestion, you might say, “Thomas, looks like you don’t believe that we’ll be able to reach consensus on this. Am I correct?” Always check out your perceptions. Don’t rush off to assumptions. You may be wrong.

Once you have let a problem person know that you have heard him or her correctly, legitimize the validity of the feelings behind the behavior. “Thomas, I know you’re concerned. The process of coming to consensus can be frustrating. And you may be right” You don’t have to agree with the problem person; just acknowledge that it is legitimate to feel that way. Point out that he or she may be helping the group by raising doubts or introducing different points of view.

Suppose you have reached a decision point: You can either deal with the issue right away or try to get agreement to defer until later. Let’s take the latter option first. In many situations it’s better not to try to resolve an issue in the middle of a meeting, or it’s just more appropriate to address it later. Make sure that the concern is recorded in the group memory so it will not be forgotten; then explain to the problem person why you prefer to defer. In the case of the Doubting Thomas: “We won’t know if we can reach consensus until we try. Are you willing to give it a chance? If we can’t reach consensus we can always faIl back and settle the matter by a win/lose approach.” If the problem person agrees to defer, quickly refocus the meeting and continue with what you were doing before the interruption. If the problem person insists on continuing the disruption, go on to the following step.

Graduated response.
In dealing with problem people, always begin with the most subtle and least threatening interventions. If a low-key approach doesn’t seem to work, then you may have to escalate, saving direct confrontation as a last resort. Move gradually from win/win to win/lose techniques. In the case of a loudmouth, begin by looking directly at the person, thanking the individual for his or her contribution, and then calling on someone else. “Thank you, Harry. Okay, Elizabeth, you’re next.” If this doesn’t work, move to Harry’s side of the room and finally step up very close to Harry, making him feel uncomfortable by your physical proximity, by your invasion of his private space. Look him in the eye and say, “We’ve got that, Harry!” Still remaining close, turn away from Harry and call on someone else. If that doesn’t work, confront Harry outside the meeting! “What’s going on, Harry? Why are you dominating the meeting and not letting other people have a chance to talk?’ Finally, you may have to confront Harry in front of the group: “Hold on, Harry. It’s my opinion that you’re dominating this meeting and not giving other people a chance to talk. I’d like to check my perceptions out with the rest of you. Do you feel the same way?” This is the most threatening approach and should be reserved for last.

Excerpt from How to Make Meetings Work , Berkley Pub. Group, pp. 104-107, copyright 1976 by Michael Doyle & David Strauss.