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Bob Kahle on Preventing and Managing Problem Behavior in Groups

I am Bob Kahle, a veteran evaluator and qualitative researcher. I want everyone’s voice to be heard. Group dynamics, whether in a focus group, planning or work group meeting can sometimes be hijacked by one or two people’s counterproductive behavior.

As evaluators, we often find ourselves in the role of moderator. Based on AEA’s Guiding Principles for Evaluators, respect for people and understanding divergent points of view are important values. When bad behavior takes over a meeting, whether it is dominating others, being cynical and argumentative or making a joke of everything, our respectful relationships can be undermined and some voices may be muffled.

In my book Dominators, Cynics and Wallflowers: Practical Strategies for Moderating Meaningful Focus Groups, I define common types of problem behavior and offer strategies and tactics to help be inclusive of divergent opinions.

Hot Tip: Be alert and sensitive to clues participants provide prior to the discussion session that may indicate the moderator needs to proactively prevent problem behavior.

Here are three examples illustrating this tip:

1. Be in close contact with the hands-on recruiters or meeting organizers (not just their supervisor). Recruiters often will encounter the first signs of problem behavior during the recruitment process. They can give you a “heads-up” that Joe just wouldn’t stop talking or that Marcia seemed really angry.

2. Greet and meet all participants in the hallway or waiting area as they arrive. Try to greet each individual personally to break the ice. If Joe tries to bend your ear on an off topic discussion you likely will encounter the same type of behavior in the session itself. If Marcia is carrying a stack of letters and other documentation about the problems she has encountered with your client organization, be ready to manage angry or even hostile behavior in the discussion session itself.

3. Observe very carefully how participants comport and seat themselves upon entering the meeting room. I purposely do not assign seats, as I want the clues provided by how participants choose to organize themselves. While not true in every single case, dominant and cynical participants typically sit directly opposite the moderator. Take the hint.

Hot Tip: If you need or want more information, I will be teaching techniques of preventing and managing problem behavior in an AEA eStudy series scheduled for February18th and 20th. Click here for more information.

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

1 comment

  • Treasure Troves: Models and More | Digital Magpie · March 13, 2014 at 10:32 am

    […] Bob Kahle on Preventing and Managing Problem Behavior in Groups. This post offers good advice for identifying and managing issues that can emerge in focus groups or large group meetings. […]


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