Having encountered this problem many times, my initial response is to go into groups of three for part of the meeting, putting the talkers in one group and the shy or quiet ones in another. This approach puts the talkers to “battle it out” and learn listening skills from each other. Three who like talking will bring chaos or order. It is worth a try.
Similarly, putting the quiet ones in a small group together means they talk—or all stay silent (not really an option when feedback to the whole group will be required). It also gives them safety without being interrupted and overshadowed by those more bold.
Always have a time of feedback to the main group to bring cohesion and to enable the rest to hear a summary of what was said. In this context the value of what was said in both groups will be equally honored.
Another approach would be to get the “talker” on your side by asking him or her to help draw out the quieter ones or help to allow silence so they feel safe. In this way they will not feel criticized but honored.
Of course there may be genuine reasons why someone does not speak up. Perhaps he or she has been mocked for input in previous situations and might feel inhibited by other group members. Or there might be other internal reasons. Taking time to invite this person for a personal meeting outside the group is a great option. In this meeting the leader can discover how he or she feels and can listen to concerns and then take action that will bring healing.
Another way might be to address the issue of everyone’s participation in the group and ask how the group can ensure everyone has time and opportunity to express themselves. Brainstorm ideas and bring group awareness of this essential dynamic.
One thing NOT to do is ignore the problem, hoping it will just go away. Of course every member may be quiet for a few meetings or overtalk for others, but when there is a persistent challenge, it must be dealt with in a loving way.
…And by the way, the leader must make sure that he or she is not the talker!
This article originally appeared here.