Following on from our first blog article outlining two focus group tricky characters to be aware of in groups, here are the remaining three:

# 3 – The Ranter

Angry participants can be keen to attend discussion groups as they have a particular issue they want to air. Their views need to be taken into account, but it is important to manage their behaviour as it can frighten other participants and derail the session. It’s vital that they do not undermine your authority as the facilitator. The best way to deal with them is to:

  • Give them time and space to express it. Sometimes it is worth setting aside a specific session, at the start, for this purpose – this is a technique we often apply when we know there are likely to be strong negative feelings on a subject. We call it ‘the dumping session.’
  • Try to understand the reasons behind their anger e.g. “I can see you have some strong feelings on this. What is it in particular that you find upsetting/you are annoyed about?”
  • Make sure they know you have taken note of the strength of their feelings and then appeal to them to contribute to a more positive solution-seeking discussion.


#4 – The Expert

This participant knows the topic inside out (or thinks they do.) This is helpful in some ways. However, it can result in other participants deferring to them or clamming up to avoid looking foolish. To help manage this type of group member you can:

  • Acknowledge their expertise: “I can see you know a lot about this.”
  • Cast them in the role of co-facilitator – “You and I already know about this don’t we? But let’s listen to what the others here think.”
  • Shut them down if necessary e.g. “It is important to hear what everyone thinks so from now on I’m going to ask the others for their views first and we’ll come to you at the end.”


#5 – The Cynic

The cynical participant isn’t convinced about the research process or the topic in question. They will be looking to test and possibly to undermine the process. The best way to deal with them is to:

  • Seek to understand why they feel the way they do e.g. “What makes you feel like that? Why do you believe that?”
  • Reassure them as far as possible – if their cynicism is about whether their views are truly going to be taken into account, explain how this will be the case and offer to feed back to them afterwards with proof (i.e. by giving them access to the final research report if possible.)
  • Challenge them with opposing views e.g. “Some other people say X – what do you think about this?”
  • In the end you will have to assert your authority e.g. “Thank you, you’ve made your views very clear, but it isn’t helpful to just have criticisms so can we carry on and try to move the conversation forward so we can cover all the points we need to?”


We hope that these provide some useful tips for your next focus group. Do get in touch if Community Research can help you with group facilitation.

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