The group is silent. Nobody is talking. How do you handle the silence? Answer this either as a leader or member. What do you do (or not) and why? Try to be as specific as possible.
When doing group work, part of what is expected is that there will be points in the conversation or session where the group may fall silent or specific members will be silent. In the situations where the entire group falls silent, I typically try and relax the situation.
Since most of the group work, I have done is with youth, typically the group will fall silent if the topic gets too serious or something that they find “boring”. During this situation, I stop the conversation or take a few steps back and engage the youth in a different way.
This can look something like, “Hey, is this something we don’t want to talk about?” or “I see you guys are being pretty quiet, what’s going on?”. Taking this step back gives the youth a question that they can respond to depending on their comfort level. Some kids are harder to reach and will just give a “yes” or “no” response.
Some kids who don’t mind being more vulnerable may offer up an answer that sounds something like “I don’t like talking about addiction because my dad deals with it” or “To be honest, I’m really tired and I’m not listening today”.
Something I will almost never do is ask the group to explore something that they explicitly say that they don’t want to talk about in the session or even if I can pick up on some heavy body language that suggests they are uncomfortable with this conversation.
Instead of addressing these concerns in the group session, I will pull aside these individuals after the session or before the next session and have that conversation privately. I always encourage the group members to share, but I make sure that the individual feels comfortable doing so.
In the situations where certain group members are dominating the conversation, I practice paying close attention to which group members are participating and how often, as well as paying attention to which silent group members seem to be expressing body language that suggests they want to speak but don’t feel comfortable doing so.
Similar to how Middleman practices inviting full participation, I too pay attention to how different cultures in the room can change the dynamic of the group.
When the group contains females, I notice that the females will be more silent when the men are speaking. Especially since our program has youth from 13-17, the age of the youth also influences who speaks.
I’ve noticed when groups are conducted with 17-year-old, the 13-year-old will remain silent when the older youth are speaking. Usually addressing these people individually by inviting them to offer their opinion by saying, “Hey (insert name here), what do you think about this?” gives them the opportunity to speak up.
Something that Middleman addresses but does not really go into is helping each group member to feel a part of the action. I practice this in our group sessions often, especially when we are doing creative arts work. In our sessions with creative arts, I generally allow the group members to take control of the projects we are doing and help them implement group sessions that they run almost entirely on their own.
If I notice that a specific group member is having a hard time taking this initiative, I will create additional opportunities to give them more authority in the group.
For example, I’ve invited the silent group members in our creative art groups to start off small with things such as handing out the materials and build up to assigning them with the authority to come in to the following session with the project that we will do. By doing this, silent group members have been able to participate and even sometimes become leaders in group sessions.
However, I do not force people in the group to take on a leadership role if it is something they seem very uncomfortable with, and instead encourage participation in less of a capacity and give them other opportunities to engage