Responding to Unrelated Answers Copy

Audio file after “Here is an example”

In some cases, when asked a question, a participant may respond in a way that is unrelated to what was said. They may have been distracted by something, they may be answering something that was asked in a previous moment, or they might just be disconnected from the moment. When this happens, there are a few strategies to try:

  • You can acknowledge what they have said and then repeat yourself and try to redirect or reorient the participant.
  • You can ask another question to clarify what they are thinking about or to gently guide or lead them back into the conversation – acting as a bridge to get them back on track
  • You can leave space for them to express themselves and validate their contribution

Depending on the person, a combination or sequential use of these strategies can be appropriate. One of our goals in the program is to instill a sense of value and self-esteem in the participants. They want to feel a sense of belonging, and by sharing something with the group, that feeling is accomplished. You show respect and inclusion by hearing them, by helping them to respond, by taking the time to try to understand and guide them closer to the topic of discussion. For a participant where answering in the way you expect is too difficult in the moment, simply listening and encouraging them shows respect too.

Here is an example:

When showing a painting of a large waterfall, the facilitator asks: “Have you seen a waterfall as large as this one?”

To which the participant, Joe replies: “I used to go fishing with my brother. He was trouble, that little one. Always trouble (smiling).”

Facilitator: “Joe, you mentioned fishing. Does this waterfall remind you of fishing as a boy?”

Participant: “So much trouble (laughing). Never stopped, that one.”

Facilitator: “Joe, it sounds like you’ve had some adventures with your brother. This scene, with so much water, helps us think of other places with water. Such a lovely waterfall. Mary, have you seen a waterfall as large as this one?”

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