8 Reasons People Don’t Share
If you lead small groups, you know that sometimes group members need to be drawn out. Getting members to talk early in the group can ease the tension of the group and start to build trust.
Marriage smalls groups can provide a safe place to share your struggles. Participants hear others are asking the same questions and struggling with the same issues. It provides a place to process your thoughts and emotions by hearing what others are saying and knowing they can empathize with you.
Getting members to go deeper can be very helpful. People usually gain more when they are able to go beyond the surface and explore deeper emotions.
Why are people silent? Here are eight possible reasons (Jacobs et al., 2016):
- Fear / Anxiety – Someone may be afraid of what others may think. They fear being judged or rejected. Building safety in the group prior to attempting to draw this person out is important. Do that by thanking people for sharing something and let them know that it is OK.
- Thinking or Processing – They may be actively thinking about what is being discussed. Sometimes, you can look at this person and say, “You seem to be thinking about something.”
- Quiet by Nature – Some people are quiet people. They tend not to talk aloud. The leader needs to be sensitive to this in order to not make them feel uncomfortable, but you can draw them out.
- Not Mentally Present – They are thinking about something that is outside of the group. Sometimes allowing these people to comment on what is on their minds may help them engage in the group.
- Not Prepared – If you are asking about any out of group assignments that they haven’t completed, they will probably not have anything to add.
- Confusion – Some people may be confused about something and they may not talk because they aren’t sure about what is going on. A leader can ask, “I notice that you are quiet. Are there things you’re not sure about?”
- Lack of Trust – Trust comes because the leader has provided a safe place to speak. The leader will set a tone that creates a safe environment.
- Intimidation – This could be by the leader or by a dominant member. If someone has been dominating the group, this can easily shut down members. The leader needs to be sure to ask that person to hold back. At times, the leader needs to be sure they aren’t dominating the conversation.
So what techniques can a leader use to help to draw people out?
I am always sensitive to the person that doesn’t want to speak. Sometimes, you aren’t sure exactly why don’t want to contribute. I don’t want to put someone on the spot and force them to speak, yet I want to encourage them.
I might say something like, “Mary, I noticed that you have been silent. I’m not sure if you want to comment or not, but I’d love to hear from you if you are comfortable.”
Another technique if there have been several quiet members is to ask more than one person. “We haven’t heard from Mary, Joe or William. Do any of you have something to share?” Then, briefly make eye contact with each of them.
Use a Round
We use often use rounds in groups to have members share. You start out with a simple question or ask for a comment and go around to each person. This forces everyone to share something. Often, I will start with someone that is more outspoken and it gives the quieter people time to think about an answer.
The question that you use can be as simple as a simple number. For example, you can say, “On a scale of one to ten where ten is the most comfortable, how comfortable are you feeling in this group?”
You can also use one word or a simple phrase. “In a word or a phrase, how would you describe your reaction to this concept?”
Place the person that you want to draw out as the last person in a round. When they are finished, you can ask follow up questions.
The downside to using a round is that they can take a long time if you ask a question that requires an involved answer. This can become tedious and boring to the other group members.
Break into Twos
When you sense that people are not comfortable in the group, you can break the group down into groups of two. This helps the quiet ones to feel a little more safe with only one other person. It can also help to build trust with one person first.
When you return, you can ask people to share what you talked about.
Tips for Marriage Mentors:
- Be gracious – For some people, talking in a group is a very uncomfortable experience. I have a rule that no one has to share and is free to say, “Pass.” Yet, I also explain that I may invite them to share their thoughts and feelings.
- Be aware of group reactions – If someone shares something that they seem embarrassed by or perhaps ashamed of, I may ask the group how it felt to have that person share. “Do the rest of you feel closer or further away from Mary right now?”
- Some people may never share much – I have had groups where someone never shares very much. Although, I may have tried to draw them out, they don’t talk. That does not mean they haven’t gotten a great deal out of the group.
Jacobs, Ed E., Schimmel, C., Masson, R., Harvill, R. (2016). Group counseling: Strategies and skills. 8th Ed. Boston: Cengage Learning.