Tips on Guided Discussion
Questions for Guided Discussion

The ability to ask questions is an important skill of the facilitator.  The purpose of the questions is to: 

  • increase comprehension
  • monitor and evaluate the group's level of perception;
  • help guide the group, i.e. when the group doesn't understand something, additional questions may cover more territory in areas that require assistance;
  • focus the group's attention on the relevant topic.
Adapted from Prevention of Domestic Violence and Trafficking in Human Beings, Training Manual, Winrock International, Kyiv, Ukraine, 2001. 

How to Work with a Group Using the "Question-Answer" Technique 

It is important to be tolerant and recognize the right of each person to his or her own opinion, even when it is different than that of the rest of the group.  Therefore, no matter what thought or idea is expressed, the facilitator should thank the participant for her remark and note that it is valued as the individual opinion of that person (unless they are violating one of the rules which the group has agreed upon, are not addressing the specific topic being discussed or if they are insulting someone).  The facilitator should stress that there may be many correct answers to a given question.

When someone dominates a discussion, the other participants hold back their ideas.  Team members get bored.  Instead of coming up with solutions that incorporate a wealth of diverse opinions, the team ends up with a mediocre decision.

The following are some suggestions for dealing with participants who dominate discussions:

  • Avoid discouraging the excessive talker.  Instead, encourage the others to participate more. 
  • Go around the group, giving each participant a turn to talk. 
  • Divide the group into pairs for preliminary sharing of ideas.  Then ask each pair to give a summary report of their discussion. 
  • Impose time limits on participants. 
  • Interrupt the person with a question directed to someone else. 
  • Formulate questions that require only a "yes" or "no" answer and don't allow for long discourses.
  • Acknowledge the comment and involve others: "Alex, that was an interesting insight.  Lilia, what are your views on this issue?"
  • Before the meeting or during a break, enlist the help of the excessive talker in encouraging the silent participants to participate. 
  • If one participant talks too frequently and for too long, thank this person for his/her contribution and remind him/her that it is imperative to hear the views of all the participants.  It might be useful to refer to the rule agreed to earlier "Speak briefly and to the point".  That is why the facilitator is asking for the opinion of those who have not yet spoken.

Adapted from Tips for Facilitators, Workshops by Thiagi, Inc.

On the other hand, encouraging the silent participants to talk will help ensure a much more inclusive training process.  Also it will set a model for equal participation from everyone.

The following are some suggestions for dealing with participants who don't participate:

  • Reduce the anxiety level by using an alternative format.  For example, break the large group into pairs for preliminary sharing of ideas.  Then ask each pair to give a summary report of their discussion.
  • Direct questions to the silent participant.  Ask questions related to the silent participant's areas of expertise and interest. 
  • Ask the silent participant to react to someone else's statement. 
  • Ask everyone to take turns to make a 1-minute presentation. 
  • Reinforce comments from the silent participant (without appearing to be patronizing). 
  • Before the meeting or during a break, talk to the silent participant.  Emphasize the importance of her or his participation and collaboratively work out strategies to increasing the level of participation. 

Adapted from Tips for Facilitators, Workshops by Thiagi, Inc.,

If the participant asks the facilitator a question, the latter should thank the participant, mention that the question is important/interesting and pass it on to the group to answer (e.g.  "Thank you.  This is an interesting question.  Who wants to answer it?").  Only after everyone else has presented his or her opinions, the facilitator may then respond.  This approach offers a triple advantage: 1) if the facilitator does not know the answer, someone from the group may provide it; 2) the facilitator gains time to think the question over; and 3) when the facilitator provides the answer as an equal group member, he/she does not suppress other opinions, demonstrates tolerance in practice, and shows respect and attention to different views of the issue.

The facilitators should avoid arguments during guided discussions.  An argument in the group is not advisable unless it is limited in time and guided by the carefully selected questions (or analysis of the given situation).  In case of an argument or heated discussion between two participants, the facilitator should thank them for their contributions and ask the rest of the group to give their opinion on the subject in question. 

Facilitators should avoid answering questions when they are not sure of the answer.  It is wise to redirect such questions to the group and summarize the results of the discussion at the end.  Another option is to let the participants know that the facilitator will find out the answer and will return to the question later in training.  Facilitators should tailor questions to local conditions and needs.