How Do I Handle Difficult People?

by Roger Barrier

Dear Roger,

What can we do about the person in our small group who talks too much? He has a know it all attitude and tries to dominate every conversation. It is getting to the point where we are talking about how to get him out of the group. Any help?

Sincerely, N


Dear N,

My experience is that people tend to come in three categories. I call them Drainers; Energizers; and Neutrals.


Let’s say a Drainer invites you over to dinner. You really don’t want to go; but, since they are in your small group, you really have to go. You get there at 7:00 pm and after what seems like several hours you look at your watch—7:30 pm! They are sucking you dry!


On the other hand, some people in our lives are what I call Energizers. Let’s say than an Energizer invites you to dinner. You look forward to the evening for several weeks. Finally, Friday night arrives. You ring the doorbell at 7:00 pm. You have been there for what seems like 30 minutes. You look at your watch—11:30 pm! Where did the evening go! You walk down the sidewalk and say to yourself, “What a great evening! I can hardly wait to be with them again.


Finally, there are what I call the Neutrals. You go to their house for dinner at 7:00 pm and about two hours later you look at our watch and it is 9:00. Most of the people we know are Neutrals. We have a nice time with them and if we do or don’t go to dinner with them, it really doesn’t matter. They are just good people to be around.


Now, let me share several observations. First, let’s model our lives after Jesus. Jesus had some of all three types in His discipleship group. Peter, James, John were Energizers. Philip, Matthew, Andrew, Nathaniel were Neutrals. Thomas and Judas were Drainers. If we are not careful we will try to spend all of our time with the Neutrals and Energizers—and avoid the Drainers. But, in following Jesus we must keep a balance. We need some Energizers who are like best friends. Most of the people in our lives will be Neutrals. We might call them friends and acquaintances. Finally, we may not need the Drainers; but, the Drainers might need us.


Also, keep in mind that Drainers for some people might be Energizers for others.


Now, let me be more specific in answering your question. It is not necessary to allow the Drainers in your group to dominate and ruin it. Sometimes in church work we refer to the Drainers as EGRs—Extra Grace Required. They need a little more grace and guidance. Usually, they don’t recognize that they are dominating or “ruining” a group. Set some boundaries. Designate two or three from your group to approach the Drainer and outline for the person his or her offending behaviors. They might well be so offended that they quit the group. Well , that is a shame, but it is their choice. However, many will respond well.


Next, explain to them the offending behavior. You’re not just helping them function better in your group, you are probably helping them in bettering many of their life skills. Then, set up some boundaries. For example, they are not allowed to interrupt one who is already speaking. They may speak in the group setting no more than three minutes at a time. They have to let five people speak before they can have another turn. Then, make up a signal for when they overstep the boundaries: like clearing your throat twice, or snapping your fingers. Make the signal not too obvious, but enough to get their attention.


Be certain that everyone in the group knows the boundaries and the signals so all can help modify the Drainer’s behavior.


There is no reason to let anyone ruin your group. Don’t suffer in silence. Take the “bull by the horns” and address the problem in a kind and loving way.


Well, N, I hope this helps. My advice probably won’t work in all situations; but I hope it works in yours.

Love, Roger

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