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Dealing With Bad Behavior in Your Group

Imagine the last time you were at family dinner with young children, either your own or a friend’s. If it was a casual event at home, most likely the parents said things during the meal such as, “Don’t interrupt her,” or “Ask for the bread; don’t reach,” and “Eat with your mouth closed; don’t smack.” It is the normal diligence of using the family meal to help kids learn about rules of life.

Recognizing Noncompliance

Group fulfills the same function as the “second family.” It is a place to observe, address, and resolve noncompliance and disrespect of agreed-upon standards. Much of a group’s value is in how both the noncompliant member and the group itself benefit from the corrective process.

Here are a few examples of noncompliance:

• Chronic lateness

• Irregular attendance

• Leaving early

• Not ending their talking when the group time is over

• Breaking confidentiality agreements during contacts with people on the outside

• Not engaging with the group during the meeting

• Constant disruption within the group (interrupting, not accepting feedback, outbursts, the equivalent of eating with your mouth open)

Deal with Root Causes

As a facilitator you should take a proactive stance toward noncompliance. Don’t look at these as disruptions in the group growth. See noncompliance as a growth issue; it is often the reason the member needs the group in the first place. In fact, two benefits result from dealing with the problem. One is for the noncompliant member, who needs to learn to take responsibility and adapt to group norms. The other benefit is for the group, which needs to learn how to confront and deal with noncompliance with others.

Noncompliance occurs for several reasons. Identifying causes can help you deal with them.

Lack of awareness. Some group members may not know how disruptive their noncompliance is or that it is a problem in the first place. You can say, “Rachel, you’re interrupting Chuck. Let’s let him finish.” If it is not an isolated event, but a pattern, you might say, “Rachel, it seems you interrupt people pretty often, and it looks like it affects people here. Let’s talk about this.”

Lack of structure. Some members may be aware of their noncompliance, but not have the internal wherewithal to modify their behavior. For example, a codependent woman may constantly come in late because she can’t separate from her husband’s and kids’ problems or work crises. The group can help provide the structure she needs to internalize and be strengthened. They can:

• Help her deal with her fear of saying no

• Pray for her for strength and support

• Be a place where she can practice saying no to members safely

• Hold her accountable to come to group on time and deal with the anxiety

• Have her call members during the week when she is tempted to cave in

• Not allow her in after starting time and have her sit outside

Cloud, H., & Townsend, J. (2010). Making small groups work: what every small group leader needs to know. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.