When Discussion Gets Off-Topic

Discussions and conversations rarely remain focused on a single topic headed in a straight direction. We want to be flexible and let conversations flow naturally, allowing God to lead us where He wants us to go.  Yet sometimes our discussions seem to constantly veer off-topic, running down entertaining (but not always purposeful) rabbit trails.  Here are some ways we can help our discussions remain focused:

  • Make a game plan. Be realistic as you prepare for your meetings.  As you look over the discussion guide provided, be mindful of the length of your meeting and plan each aspect of the meeting accordingly. For weeks where a lot of questions are provided, choose the top 2 or 3 you know would be best for your group to discuss, and plan to start with those.

  • Communicate a goal.  We are all here to “Apply the Bible to our lives”.  That’s what group discussion time is all about.  Is there another key application or goal for the group discussion this week? if yes, consider communicating it at the beginning of the meeting in a casual way.  Something as simple as "We've got some great questions for us to talk through tonight about [main topic]"sets the direction for the discussion on the front end.

  • Identify patterns. Do you add commentary to the questions from the discussion guide that complicate the questions?  Is there a specific person who repeatedly leads the discussion off topic? Does the discussion tend to go sideways at the same time each meeting? Is there a common interest or shared situation between two group members that seems to surface in every group discussion?  Look for patterns that trigger the rabbit trails.

  • Reel it in. Wait for a pause in the conversation, then graciously bring the topic back around. If you can relate the rabbit trail topic to the intended discussion topic, that's a bonus.

  • Request backup. Consider asking one or two seasoned group members to help you keep discussions better on track.  Someone gently asking "What was the question again?" can help regain focus. Better yet. Ask the person who repeatedly leads the discussion off topic to help direct the conversation where it needs to go.  Enlist them as part of the solution.  

  • Talk to your Coach.  If you've tried the suggestions above and you find your group still veers chronically off topic, invite your Coach to visit your group and look for the ingredient that might be steering your discussions sideways. If they know rabbit trails are an issue ahead of time, invite them to jump in to help model good segues back toward the topic.