That Problem Participant

Can we be honest? Ninety-nine and nine-tenths percent of all the challenges that we encounter in group facilitation stem from one problem reader who manages to burrow into each and every group and suck the energy out of everybody else. The behaviors of these misfits vary–Loutish MacDrunk, Angry Lady, Professor Know-It-All, He-Who-Hears-Voices, Mary-Mary Quite Contrary, and That-Reminds-Me-of-an-Unrelated-Personal-Story Johnson–but whatever creative way your group’s parasite finds to kill the buzz, the rest of us bear the burden  in misguided tolerance, secretly hoping that next month, the meeting might actually be uplifting, inspirational, or fun if we could just dump the loser. 

It’s time to quit waiting for a well-aimed city bus or other act of God. In the spirit of frankness, I’m taking off the kid gloves. Here are eight great creative ways to ditch that problem participant:

1) CHANGE THE MEETING NIGHT AND DON”T TELL THE TROUBLEMAKER

Most groups start with this tried-and-true, passive-aggressive classic. It never works in the long run, but for the few weeks that the ruse holds, it has the side benefit of making you feel like you’re in junior high school all over again. Your problem child will catch up a few meetings later, but the fact that he or she keeps coming after such obvious rejection is good proof of what a crud he or she really is.

2) TELL THE TWIT YOU’RE READING PROUST… IN THE ORIGINAL FRENCH

Should you try this, add a beret, a well aimed billow of tobacco smoke, and a few disdainful interjections of  “Merde!” to capture the perfect existential disdain. While sometimes effective, this Dismembering of Things Pest approach can backfire. Many book group pariahs will read the Proust, incorporating frequent references to it into their logorrhea ever after. 

3) SAVE THE BOOB A SPECIAL CHAIR

A bit of physical humor might be the perfect solution to a persistent pain. If the spazz is heavy or tall, leave them in a little tiny chair and interrupt them with remarks like “I hate to bring you up short…” or “That comment is low, even for you.” If they are small, save a great big chair that will leave their feet of the floor and try “There you go, reaching again for ideas that aren’t in the text” or “What a cliffhanger, that ending really left you dangling, didn’t it?”

4) MAKE CHILDISH NOISES EVERY TIME THE SCHMUCK STARTS TO TALK

C’mon, you know you want to! If you’re too delicate for a well timed razz-berry or simulated fart, then hysterical laughter, a string of “blah blah blah,” or “I know you are, but what am I” will do. Or you could all speak in gibberish for the evening…It can’t be any worse than that nonsense you were spouting last month!

5) TWO WORDS: MUSICAL CHAIRS!

If your group’s pimple is too fast to catch without the chair, then just one word: DOGPILE!

6) TELL THE TUCHUS YOU’RE READING A DIFFERENT BOOK

For this to work, you must deny vehemently and ferociously that the faux title was ever mentioned. If you can’t work up enough righteous anger about problem child’s “mistake,” he or she may not even notice that the rest of the group read a different title.

7) REACT POSITIVELY AND SUPPORTIVELY TO EVERY BIT OF DRIVEL THAT FALLS FROM THE PRAT’S MOUTH

Hey, I don’t think it will work either, but when you’re desperate, even this kind of Pollyanna reverse psychology becomes tempting.

8  ) POISON!

Pair this with an Agatha Christie classic and make it a theme night! You can put the poison in that smelly hummus that nobody else will eat or on the page corners if she licks her fingers before she turns the pages. If your group is squeamish or can’t concoct a foolproof way to dispose of the body, you don’t have to go all the way. An extended bout of diarrhea will probably keep him or her away for a while too.

Of course, should you succeed in removing the unsightly stain from your group’s lapel, it will only be a few months before a new fungus sprouts to ruin the meetings. One of your other members will probably just degenerate to new levels of idiocy. It might even be you… or maybe it already was you!

Enjoy the rest of April…

What other bookish April Fools’ jokes did you encounter? Here’s one of my favorites, from my hilarious friend David Wright, a “Seattle-area” librarian: http://shelftalk.spl.org/2010/04/01/great-writers-born-in-2010-so-far/

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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).

1 Comment on "That Problem Participant"

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  1. dwright333@yahoo.com' David says:

    Thank you so much! I think you’ve finally solved all our problems.

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