Battling Buttinskys: 12 Steps for Coping with Interruptions, Pt. 1

Interruptions are the bane of many book groups, a chronic problem that can destroy the flow of discussion, create ill will between readers, and distract the group from its most important points. This week I’ll provide the first half of hints for dealing with interruptions. I’ll start with suggestions that should cure a minor interruption problem and slowly raise the response level. Let’s hope you don’t have to resort to step twelve, but one of the items in this list should do the trick for beating even the most unbearable buttinsky.

1) GO WITH THE FLOW

If your group is still going home happy, try not to get too worked up by interruptions. Some degree of ebb and flow is unavoidable and often even desirable. Without it conversation can become too stiff and formal.

2) CLARIFY YOUR MAIN INTERESTS IN ADVANCE

After a short introduction of the book or theme, go around the circle and ask each reader to identify one question or topic which they would like the group to address. A discussion leader or gatekeeper can jot these ideas down and make sure they are addressed over the course of the evening.

3) DISCOVER THE PLEASURES OF LISTENING

Change your own behavior in the group and stop trying to squeeze your own comments in to the discussion. Instead, listen to what other readers say. Laugh when they are funny. Acknowledge their insights. Ask follow up questions. You may find that it’s fun for you, socially rewarding, and soon becomes contagious in your group.

4) TAKE A LOOK AT YOUR BOOK SELECTION, DISCUSSION QUESTIONS, OR FORMAT

If the group is frequently trying to pull in different directions, it could be that they are expressing some kind of collective dissatisfaction with the books that are being selected, the kinds of discussions that typically occur, or the format of the group. If you can identify common themes to the interrupting comments, consider making those themes a focus of some upcoming meetings. If your group seems to like an approach that looks at a breadth of topics instead of depth of discussion on one book, consider changing to discussion themes where each participant introduces a book of his or her choice.

5) BUILD IN MORE SOCIAL TIME

Perhaps your group isn’t getting socializing out of its system enough to fully appreciate the books. Try serving refreshments and chatting for fifteen minutes at the start of the meeting, taking a formal break during the meeting, or offering an optional trip for late drinks, dinner, or desserts after the meeting.

6) LEARN TO SIGNPOST

As a discussion leader, get better at subtly declaring certain topics open and closed. Consider dividing discussion into major categories of literary analysis like characters, plot, major themes, pacing, setting, style, and so on. Or simply follow up the first comment on a new subject by saying “X has introduced an interesting topic. Let’s explore that.” Later signal an end to the topic by asking “Does anyone have anything else to say on the subject of Y?”

Hopefully these first six steps will reduce your interruption problems to more bearable levels. If they don’t, come back to Book Group Buzz next week for six more drastic steps for solving the problem.

Comments

comments

About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

2 Comments on "Battling Buttinskys: 12 Steps for Coping with Interruptions, Pt. 1"

Trackback | Comments RSS Feed

Post a Comment