Thursday, March 28, 2019

When Awkward Silence Strikes

Whether it’s in your current small group or in a small group that you’ve led in the past, it will inevitably occur…that awkward moment of silence. Individuals in the circle will stare at the ground after taking a quick glance around the group to see if anyone is about to speak up. Extroverted individuals who find silence uncomfortable may even start to shift in their seats in a state of uneasiness. As a leader, I’ve always wondered, how long do I let the silence last? Did I ask a question that was wrong to ask? Should I ask another question to keep the conversation flowing? Or do I hold my ground and let the question stew a bit to see who steps up? Naturally each conversation is different, and each group makeup will vary. Nevertheless, perhaps we can explore a few scenarios:

Is the group-time just getting started?
If the group time is just beginning, silence may be an indication of something going on outside of the group that is causing anxiety to one or more of the group members’ lives. In a scenario like this, it may be beneficial to pause for a moment and ask open-ended questions to see how everyone is doing. I’ve had moments where the night’s scheduled content was placed secondary to the immediate needs of the group. After some time in prayer, the group would eventually come to a point where everyone felt ready to dive into that evening’s study. After all, whether we’re a member of a Bible study or a fellowship-type of group, we’re still life groups, and getting together as a community allows us to share the challenges and joys of life together.

Was the question presented correctly?
Sometimes the brain moves faster than the words coming out (I know I am notorious for this!). After years of leading small groups, I can say there were numerous times when I needed to pause and wonder if what I just said made sense to the group. Sometimes simply asking a question like “I’m not sure if what I said just made sense…” or “Might you know what I mean?” allows you to place yourself in a position of openness as a facilitator of the conversation and allows for group members to ask clarifying questions to what you are proposing.

Is the group going too fast?
There are Spirit-led moments when a group takes a question and runs with it, bouncing off one another and going deeper without the leader’s prompting. However, other times there may be groups where its members are not so eager to be vulnerable. In such groups, gauging the members’ willingness to stay in the deep-end may be beneficial. On tough topics, receiving silence after asking too many deep-cutting questions back-to-back may be an indication that the group has not been able to fully process what was explored beforehand. In cases like this, the group may be telling the leader that they may not be ready yet to venture into another challenging conversation and it may help to lighten the conversation a bit with a more lighthearted topic.

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