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Help! My Small Group Has Been Hijacked!

Help! My Small Group Has Been Hijacked!

Four common hijackers and ways to respond

Margaret Feinberg  |  posted 7/16/2012

Note: This article has been excerpted from Leading 101.

Have you ever led a small-group meeting that got out of control? Your material was received well, group members were engaged, and then one person started dominating the group. No matter how hard you tried, you couldn't stop this person from controlling the group. Before you knew it, your small group had been hijacked. Small-group hijackers can do a great deal of harm. Here are four different hijacker personalities and how to deal with them:

The Talking Hijacker

This is the person who answers every question before anyone else can respond. While most of the participants are still pondering the question, the talking hijacker is spurting out a response. Though you may be grateful for the liveliness and contributions, the talking hijacker leaves the group with a sense that no one else has a chance to respond. Instead of drawing other people out, the talking hijacker makes people want to withdraw. What needs to be said after it feels like everything has already been said?

Taking Control from the Talking Hijacker

First, try to pull to the person aside one-on-one. Thank the person for their gracious contributions, but be honest about the need for others to contribute. Encourage the person to only to respond to every other or every third question and keep responses short. Or, encourage the person to allow two or three other people to share before sharing. You may even want to solicit the talking hijacker's help in getting other people to talk in the group by asking questions, but be careful because this can backfire.

If the talking hijackers still can't help themselves, you may need to highly structure your discussion time for a while. Set up this ground rule for the next lesson: you'll be calling on specific people to respond to questions. This will encourage the quieter person while deterring the talkative one. If you still can't resolve the issue, another creative idea is to cut out small squares of paper. If you have ten questions you want to discuss and five people in your small group, cut out 15 squares so every group member receives three. Each time a member speaks they are required to turn in one piece of paper. When they are out of squares, they're no longer allowed to speak until everybody else uses up theirs. You might also require people to raise a hand to be called on so it becomes physically apparent to the talking hijacker just how much they're talking.

The Emotional Hijacker

This small-group member shows up every week with an emotional crisis. Before you know it, the majority of the meeting is spent trying to unravel the problem and soothe the person's emotional needs. Instead of focusing on Scripture or prayer, the majority of time and energy is spent on the Emotional Hijacker.

Taking Control from the Emotional Hijacker

One way to deal with an Emotional Hijacker is to take the person out to coffee or lunch. Once this person has space to share everything going on in life, he or she may not need as much of the small group's time to share. Spending more one-on-one time may also allow you to better understand the person's needs. Depending on the situation, you may be able to suggest a spiritual mentor or Christian counselor. At the next gathering, if the person tries to hijack the group with another crisis, inform the small group that the purpose of the meeting needs to focus on the study at hand and prayer requests will be taken at the end of the meeting. This will allow you to get through the material and still allow the person to share within a more limited time constraint.

Topics:Conflict, Confrontation, Difficult people, Group dynamics, Interpersonal skills, Problems
Date Added:July 16, 2012

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February 13, 2014  5:27pm

The "Leader" hijacker will also hijack the meeting schedule! (if you allow them to) They complain when "life happens" and the REAL leader must cancel or postpone a meeting. They may offer to host the meeting which creates "leadership ambiguity" or they may simply express their frustration to the other members. However, when "life happens" to them and THEY need to cancel (or miss a meeting) it is always due to a monumental crisis or "once in a lifetime" occasion. Another trick of the "Leader" hijacker is "ignoring" a notice that a meeting has been changed or postponed then acting as if the REAL leader did not communicate the fact effectively. As stated in the article, deal with these one-on-one firmly but lovingly and ensure the "Leader" hijacker understands they are not in charge of scheduling!

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Julianne White

July 21, 2012  8:12pm

There are a lot of great books about group dynamics that will apply to small groups just as well.

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Julianne White

July 21, 2012  8:05pm

Firstly, pray for her, and for your group. She may have thought of it as a support group - and need gentle clarification of the aims. Have an agreement/contract that everyone devises together and, as one of your contributions, state that you as a group will stay on topic in order to get the most out of the learning time. Use a conch shell for taking turns, going in a circle around the group. A review at the end of the session will help you all see whether or not you stuck to the plan.

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July 18, 2012  12:08pm

Timely article! We do have a person in our Bible study who is not only always late, but always in the midst of some crisis or other as well, and invariably takes up at least half the time intended for study with the latest "news" on her present situation - in fact she seems to thrive on it. No matter what subject the study is about, somehow it always pertains to her present crisis and is used as springboard to turn the conversation back to her. This has been going on for 2 years now and while we were sympathetic at first, it has become clear that this is a bid for attention. We tried having 1/2 hour before the study for people who want to come early to catch up with each other's lives, but that doesn't seem to work because if one person does not attend the "early" 1/2 hour she simply "fills them in" when they arrive (when it's time to begin) or manages to turn every question back to herself during the study. Any other suggestions from those who've dealt with this sucessfully?

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