Managing In-Group Dynamics

What do we do with the dominant respondent? This is the person with a lot to say and either by attitude or sheer volume of comments, the one who overshadows other participants. We have all encountered these folks! By using well planned opinion anchors, team assignments, and in-group games, their impact can be greatly diminished. A few examples…

Opinion Anchors

Suppose the goal is to understand consumer perceptions of a new product relative to an array of several other items in the category. Rather than simply ask, “Which of these do you prefer (show of hands) and why?” we are far more likely to ask participants to jot down which of the options they most prefer – and why. This effectively anchored their opinions in writing! After a quick accumulation of top answers, participants defend their written positions. Net, they’re a lot less likely to be influenced by a strong respondent.

Instant Visual Response

We often hear assumed value judgments in the course of group discussions. At PAR, we try to become sensitive to underlying issues before your sessions and when those assumed value statements surface, your moderator might just say “Freeze!” – and ask respondents to put one hand on the table. Then we prompt a visual hand scale (hand on the table is “completely disagree” and a hand held two feet higher means “completely agree” – or of course they could mark their agreement anywhere between the two extremes)…then on the count of three (one…two…three!) the visual record of their agreement appears. A quick instruction to “hold it right there” allows our moderator to verbally announce their level of agreement – and to probe reasons why they reacted as they did.

In-Group Games

Preliminary discussions might suggest there are a dozen important considerations respondents weigh when making a certain buying decision. How can we minimize the “me too” effect of very positive or negative discussion of first factors voiced in a group? We sometimes manage that dynamic with a chip allocation game. Everyone gets a certain number of pennies (chips) and after the question to be considered is introduced (and the broad question answers read), participants are instructed to (on cue), allocate their “votes” across the various answer options in whatever way seems appropriate – but without discussion. A quick tally provides a great springboard for discussion – essentially, “Why did this get so few votes?” or “Why did this score so well?”

…One more note about dominant respondents: Not all dominant respondents need to be removed from a group! A good moderator can often balance the level of their contribution with body language, hand signals, eye cues and a host of other non-verbal signals. Though the dominant player sometimes needs to leave, he or she can often provide valuable input – and can even be used by a skilled moderator for “good cop” / “bad cop” interaction!

For more discussion on any of these points, call or drop us a note! We’d love to hear your experiences…and even share some of our own!