Skill Training | How To Stimulate Better Discussions

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Reminder: Two of my core assumptions are (1) if I want to make it possible for everyone to be part of a group, I need to lower the bar for leaders (and raise the bar for coaches and coaching) and (2) part of lowering the bar for leaders is that I need to provide material that almost leads itself.  That said, here is how I train leaders to stimulate better discussions.

Five Keys to Stimulating Better Discussions

First, think ahead of time about where your members need to go…  You don’t need to spend a lot of time on this, but it does help to think about the individual needs of your members as you’re looking over the upcoming session.  Although this is a challenge in a newer group, it gets easier the longer a group has been together and the more you know about your members.  One way you can speed up the process is to have each of your members take the Purpose Driven Health Assessment and develop a Health Plan.

…and tailor the standard-issue questions in your upcoming session to fit the needs of your group.  Not as hard to do as it might seem.  Often it’s simply a matter of being aware of the needs of your members.

Second, learn to use guiding statements to keep the session headed in the right direction.  Guiding statements are simple modifications that can be dropped in right after the question.  For example:

  • “Let’s each take 30 seconds to respond to this question.”
  • “What one word summarizes your feelings.”
  • “What does this verse say to you?  Boil your response down to one sentence.”
  • “This is a good warm-up question.  How about 2 of you giving us your answer.”

Third, rephrase the question and ask it again.  If the discussion drifts off topic, it can be redirected by rephrasing and taking a second pass.

Fourth, use redirecting statements as necessary.  You may feel a little awkward, but your members will appreciate your help keeping things on topic.  For example:

  • “That sounds like something we should discuss another time.”
  • “Let’s keep working on this question.  We may have time for that one later.”

Fifth, recognize and celebrate each baby step along the way.  Affirm your members when they take a risk or make progress on the steps they need to take.  For example:

  • “That’s great!  Thank you for sharing that.”
  • “That is a really important step to share your feelings with the group!”
  • “We’ve taken some steps as a group tonight.  I think all of us have acknowledged that we need to have a regular quiet time and we’re ready to give it a try.”
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  1. Josh on December 3, 2009 at 8:53 am

    Great article. if anyone is interested, I have some lessons that might help with this: Good Questions have Groups Talking.

  2. Sam O'Neal on December 3, 2009 at 9:20 am

    I think this is excellent, Mark. A very helpful article for group leaders.

    On your first Key, I would add that group leaders need to evaluate the study material they are using and pre-select the questions/activities that are going to be most helpful for their group members. And skip the questions that you don’t feel will be helpful.

    Many leaders feel pressure to cover all the questions, which usually leads to superficial discussion. Much better to spend the majority of your group’s time on the key issues.

  3. Mark Howell on December 3, 2009 at 9:26 am

    Thanks Sam! Great point! Will add that in a future skill training post.