New Beginnings Toolkit: Troubleshooting Group Problems

Key points

  • Problems and surprises can happen when facilitating New Beginnings discussion groups.
  • Participants may like to talk a lot or may be quiet but have much to offer.
  • Find info to help you with some of the most common problems when leading a group discussion.
A younger woman comforting an older woman in a group setting

There aren't any conference rooms for meetings

You don't need one. Someone's living room, a local classroom, or anywhere that people can sit and feel comfortable will work. See the Connecting Thread: Facilitating New Beginnings Online for ideas for leading a virtual session when you can't bring your group together in person.

If you plan to show a video or play an audio, you'll need the right equipment. You can also ask people to watch or listen to materials at home before the session by giving them the links.

If you can't show a video, ask for a few volunteers to role-play the scene. It doesn't matter if they don't get it exactly right. Their role-playing will show what they think is important about the scene and how they might handle the situation.

Someone in the group has started crying

This may be a good sign if those tears needed to come out. The rest of the group may be uncomfortable, so here are some things you can say that may help:

  • “Tears are important. Diabetes is a hard condition to deal with, and we are talking about big emotional issues."
  • "We are all among friends here, so don’t be afraid to cry."
  • "Crying is part of the healing process."

Ask the person if they want to talk about what they are feeling. Tears could be their way of trying to open up about coping with diabetes.

Someone in the group has become angry

A person may be frustrated, tired, or stressed, and anger can be a way to express those emotions. Let the person know that it's okay to feel angry and that it's a part of the healing process. Encourage them to figure out the cause of the anger and find solutions (see Module 5).

People may lash out at others when they don't want to deal with their feelings or their situation. Stay calm and do not take it personally. If you react with anger, it changes the focus of the discussion to the conflict. Instead, focus on the emotions the person is struggling to cope with.

Anger is a problem when it's misdirected or leads to harmful behavior. If someone is being aggressive or upsetting others in the group, ask them to take a moment to calm down. Remind them that everyone is here to try to help each other. You may have to ask the person to leave the group if their behavior continues to be a problem.

People don't want to share personal information

It's natural to feel uncomfortable sharing personal information, especially with new people. It's important that you establish trust in the group from the first session. Explain to participants that anything shared in the group is private and should not be shared outside the group.

Participants should respect all ground rules set by the group, including not sharing who else is participating. The group leader should find out how participants would prefer to be contacted. For example, they may not want you to leave messages about the group on their home phone or with family members.

Don't pressure participants to talk about emotions or experiences they're not ready to share. You can focus on the goals or actions without asking them to share anything that might be too personal. Don't allow participants to criticize each other's feelings or reactions. These efforts will help create a safe space without judgment.

People are bringing their children, and the noise is disturbing the group

Prepare ahead of time for this possibility. Even if you've told people not to bring children, it happens sometimes. If possible, arrange to have games, toys, art projects, TV or movies available. Older children or teenagers can be invited to participate in the session.

People expect food at group sessions, or they're bringing options that aren't healthy

Food helps people feel more relaxed. You want a comfortable setting where people can open up. If this is a single session, provide water or sugarless drinks and a healthy snack option. Some examples include fruit, vegetables, baked chips, or crackers with healthy dips like hummus.

If you're meeting regularly, discuss food with the group at the first session and ask that people only bring healthy snacks.

One person is doing all the talking

There are a few ways to deal with this. Sometimes, the person who is talking a lot is bringing out good points, and you don't want them to stop. But you do want everyone to have a chance to speak. One approach is to go around the room and ask others if they have anything to say.

You might also set a rule that people can speak for only 2 minutes at a time. This should be enough time to share opinions or personal stories, but avoid one person taking over the discussion. If a person continues to disrupt the group, call a break in the session, and speak to the person privately.

If you think the person has good intentions but is having trouble with self-control, ask them to help with the group. You can ask them to take notes, pass out handouts, or perform other duties. Use the person's energy and goodwill to help you.

People are arguing

Remind the group that you're dealing with emotions. There is no right or wrong when it comes to how someone feels. Encourage participants to respect each other's feelings.

The point of discussions is to bring out many emotions about diabetes and explore how to turn them into positive actions. Ask the group, “Can we turn all the powerful energy we are feeling during this discussion into something positive?”

Someone asks a question about personal health

Encourage participants to direct questions about personal symptoms to their health care provider. Do not give health information unless you are qualified to do so. Giving clinical advice is not the purpose of these sessions. Refer the person to a health care provider for medical questions.

Someone asks a question you don't know the answer to

Tell the group that you don't know the answer but will help them find one. It's strongly encouraged to invite a health care provider or certified diabetes care and education specialist to a session.

The focus of the modules in the New Beginnings discussion guide is on emotions and behavior. But you also want people to learn how to find answers to questions about their health. You can help the group find information online through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For individual medical questions, participants should always speak with their health care provider.