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July 25, 2008

Air Traffic Control

Posted by carol
Contributor Jamie Layton weighs in on a certain book club behavior that can affect the entire group...and what to do about it.

Put more than one woman in a room and somebody's gonna cut somebody off.

Our reading group, like many that I read about here on the blog, has been together for awhile. Long enough so we all feel pretty comfortable with each other, have no trouble expressing our opinions and making sure our voices get heard. In fact, sometimes we're down right too comfortable with each other. I'm talking about the biggest turn-OFF for a club, the bad habit that will send a potential new member packing after just one meeting, the rudest , baddest behavior which we've ALL been guilty of... conversation interruptus.

I've been trying to crack down on this at our discussions. I always have a pen in hand so I can jot down tangents, conversation ideas and what-not. For awhile I tried to enforce a rule that if someone was talking, and somebody tried to interject something, I would point the pen at the person who already "had the floor" to remind the interjector that A) someone was already talking, B) I understood they wanted to get a word in edgewise and C) would be sure to give them the next opening. This made me feel a little school marmish, but I think it slowly got the point across and eventually people started remembering on their own.

We once had a regular member who was a very young stay-at-home mother, quite shy, who came to the group with an older, more extroverted, friend. I always worried she was leaving discussions unhappy as she was so quiet you would've thought she had a daily allotment for words that had already been used up. I also was concerned that she was getting lost among our many, stronger personalities. Finally, after a discussion particularly dominated by one or two voices, I thought of a solution I use to this day. It won't necessarily bring an introvert out of their shell, but it allows me to relax and know that everyone's voice had an opportunity to be heard.

At the beginning of each month's discussion, we go around the entire circle and each member has 3 -5 minutes to introduce themselves (if necessary) and take the spotlight. I encourage them to tell us what they thought of the book; did they love it? Hate it? What characters did they really like? What issues did the book bring up for them? During this time, NO ONE is allowed to interrupt and while in the excitement of discussion some of us forget about this rule, I am quick to remind them that everyone will get their chance and I am taking notes for topics we'll come back to. Once we've gone full circle the floor is open and we move on into the discussion.

I really feel this method has been embraced by our group. It seems that when everyone has had this time to use as their own personal forum, it cuts back on the competition for airspace later. We're not perfect by any means, and I still have to rein things in during a heated discussion where all of a sudden four voices are overlapping, but I do think we've become a kinder, gentler book group. And that's all good.

We're getting ready to discuss Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I marked a few passages to bring up either for discussion or my own use later, and I found these comments to be particularly meaningful --- "No matter how creatively I try to look at my habit of interrupting, I can't find another way to see it than this: 'I believe that what I am saying is more important than what you are saying.' And I can't find another way to see that than: 'I believe that I am more important than you.'"

I'm going to try very hard to remind myself of those words at the beginning of any conversation I find myself in this week. And I'm definitely going to bring it up at our next book group.

---Jamie Layton