focus group participants, diverse group

Your employee focus group is around the corner and you’re ready: participants have been invited and the discussion guide is set. What could possibly go wrong? Despite all the planning in the world, sometimes participants can throw you off track.

As a moderator, you need to be prepared to juggle multiple responsibilities and deal with the unexpected. Here are five challenging participants you might encounter and how to handle each one without breaking a sweat:

Rambler - AA woman talking to focus group

The rambler
This person begins talking about one idea and then another until the person gets lost—far from his/her original idea.

Here’s what you do:
Refocus the discussion; get other participants involved.

For example:

chat icon “Thanks Sandra, for those thoughts. Would anyone like to add anything on the point Sandra was making about [the original topic]?”

The monopolizer, red-haired woman with glasses talking to focus group

The monopolizer
This person seems to do all the talking and does not give others a chance to contribute.

Here’s what you do:
Acknowledge the speaker’s expertise and then turn back to the group and engage his/her ideas.

For example:

chat icon “Thanks—you obviously have a lot of experience with this topic. Now I’d like to hear from someone else. Who else has some thoughts about this?”

The baffler, asian woman talking to uncertain-looking AA woman

The baffler
This person has good ideas, but cannot seem to phrase them in a way that others can understand easily.

Here’s what you do:
Do not call attention to the problem. Instead, clarify the idea.

For example:

chat icon “I want to make sure I understand what you’re saying. To paraphrase…”

The bystander, young asian woman set off away from rest of focus group leaning on her hand

The bystander
This person may be timid or insecure, and allows others to do the talking.

Here’s what you do:
Gain interest by asking for his/her opinion, but be careful not to put the person on the spot.

For example:

chat icon “Let’s make sure we’re hearing from everyone. Joan, would you give me your thoughts on [this topic]?”

The sidetalker, woman having a side conversation with a man in a focus group with AA male moderator looking at them

The sidetalker
This person tends to have distracting side chatter, regardless of whether it’s related to the topic at hand or personal.

Here’s what you do:
Do not embarrass those engaged in side chatter. Ignore the side talker, but not for long. If it continues, explain that you are having difficulty hearing or focusing on what others are saying.

For example:

chat icon “I want to make sure we capture what everyone is saying. Jim and Sally, can you share your thoughts on [this topic]?”
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