By April 17, 2009 0 Comments Read More →

The Quiet Ones

Last night, in honor of National Library Week, I led a workshop at a library in a neighboring suburb.  I called it “Pump Pizzazz into Your Book Discussion,” as the idea for the program was to provide ideas for local book groups that feel their discussions are beginning to lack vitality.  One of the concerns that was expressed centered on participants in a group who never seem to have anything to say, even when specifically called upon by the leader.  This caused resentment in the individual who was giving the example; she emphasized that she spent considerable time reading the book, thinking about it, and coming up with ideas to share — and was truly offended when others sat through the discussion without uttering a peep.

A workshop participant (not a member of the original speaker’s book group) commented that some people have difficulty formulating an original observation, especially when called upon to contribute after a number of others have already made their points.  These “quiet ones” don’t want to repeat what was said earlier, and feeling under fire, can’t think of a unique response, so they just look vacant and clam up.

At this juncture, it may seem like an impossible task for the leader to draw them out, but ignoring them doesn’t appear to be a good solution, either.  Perhaps it makes sense to ask them if they agree with any of the comments that were previously made, and if so, why.  In a way, they will be covering the same ground, but at least they will be given another chance to participate.  And the others in the group, who have taken the time to prepare, may not feel quite so frustrated if the leader is successful in getting some sort of a response from the silent parties.

It was pointed out that what works for the leader in a library group may not apply to someone who is leading a group of friends.  The library leader, by virtue of their position and their connection to the setting, may carry an air of implied authority that works in their favor when they are encouraging participation.  One friend putting another on the spot in a neighborhood group may come across as too severe, and that could affect the climate of the discussion and impact the overall quality of the group’s experience.

Since I usually participate in library-sponsored groups and most often am the leader, I’m not fully aware of some of the differences that exist between the two types of groups.  Isn’t it great, though, to learn something new and useful, even if it’s at your own workshop?

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About the Author:

Ted Balcom lives in Arlington Heights, IL and conducts workshops on leading book discussions, about which he has also published a book: Book Discussions for Adults: A Leader’s Guide (American Library Association, 1992).

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