Different Personalities & Group Dynamics



Being a good facilitator is all about being flexible. In every group, you’ll encounter people with different personalities and different ways of learning. This is not something you can easily prepare for unless you have worked with a group before, so in most cases, you’ll have to just adjust your facilitation style throughout the workshop as you get to know the group. We have listed some ideas below on how to work with personality types that commonly come up in groups.


Dominant people: let them be in charge of a small task. For example, ask them to write ideas down on the flip chart while you facilitate. This will make them feel valued and responsible at the same time as giving space for other people to speak up.

Drifters: are people who have a lot of ideas that, as wonderful as they may be, simply cannot be accommodated given the time-frame. Create a “parking lot” for their ideas–a list of ideas that you keep visible so that if there is time, the group can come back to them later.

Shy people: do a sharing circle to ensure that they do not feel as though they HAVE to speak, but that they have been given the opportunity to do so when they normally wouldn’t have spoken up. Also, talk to them during breaks about their comfort level with the training and ask them for any feedback.

Disruptive/disrespectful people: remind them of the ground rules, talk to them during breaks, and have them positioned close to you (away from people they might be disruptive with) on your non-dominate side (i.e. if you are right-handed, have them on your left so that your back isn’t to them). Don’t let their behaviour go unchecked! Let them know if you feel disrespected and refer back to the Community Agreement if necessary.



The Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision Making has the following tips about allowing everyone in the group the time and space to participate in a workshop:

  1. Warming up a newly formed group. New groups usually need a more structured activity because the safety level is low. IMG_5253
  2. Structuring a complex discussion. During open discussion, there are often several sub conversations going on simultaneously. A sharing circle acknowledges this fact, and allows each person’s pet topic to become the focus of group attention for a brief period of time.
  3. Making room for quiet members. A go-around supports those who have trouble breaking into conversations.
  4. Gathering diverse perspectives when the membership consists of varied interest groups. Go-arounds restrain members from arguing about the validity of each other’s frames of reference.
  5. Giving initial reactions to a controversial topic. When a topic provokes anxiety, many people turn inward; they rehearse thoughts to themselves to try to find the “right way” to say something risky. Meanwhile, the few who do speak up take all the heat. A go-around gives everyone time to collect their thoughts so they can share the risk.
  6. Returning from a break after a heated disagreement. After any disturbing episode, a break followed by a go-around is an ideal method for allowing everyone to voice reactions to what occurred before the break.
  7. Closing a meeting. This gives each member a finale chance to express thoughts and feelings that might otherwise not be spoken—at least, not in front of everyone.

The above excerpt was adapted from Community at Work © 1996

Adjusting to the needs of your group will help everyone get the most out of the training. Here are some suggestions:

For younger groups: use more games and interaction. Also, be wary of your language and make sure you are carefully explaining all points.

For groups that don’t know each other: try a few team building exercises to boost their comfort level with each other.

For groups with adults/supervisors present: try giving the adult a specific task or responsibility, or make it clear what YOUR role is. Try your best not to let them undermine you.

For more advanced groups:  go into material at greater depths, ask more questions, and challenge them to keep them engaged.