Dominating workshop participants are those who, for a variety of reasons, seek to take control of the workshop by monopolizing conversations or activities, so that their own ideas are at the center of the group’s focus. (This behavior can be deliberate or unintentional, well-meaning or malicious.) Unchecked, the dominating participant’s ideas, opinions, or contributions become the main source of input into a conversation, drowning out valuable differing perspectives and thus limiting the diversity and richness of group discussion.

Why Participants Dominate

Participants dominate in workshop settings for a variety of reasons. They could be defensive or anxious that they will lose control or authority, untrusting of the team or of the facilitator, or may believe that they alone hold knowledge relevant for the discussion. And while some participants may seek to deliberately dominate because they have an exaggerated view of their own importance, expertise, or authority, not every dominator consciously attempts to take control. Some may simply be overpassionate about a project. Others, such as high-ranking stakeholders or managers, may unintentionally hinder contributions from others who are hesitant to appear contrarian to them.

For context, here are 3 common examples of dominating participant types:

  1. The helpful HIPPO: “HIPPO” is a long-standing acronym for “HIghest Paid Person’s Opinion” and is commonly used to refer to the person with the highest title or level of authority in the room. Often — though not always — HIPPOs dominate workshops unintentionally, while trying to be helpful. For example, direct reports or other people who are intimidated by the HIPPO or just simply respect the HIPPO’s opinion may speak up less or withhold contrasting opinions while the HIPPO is in the room. Even an approachable, well-meaning HIPPO’s presence can result in other participants deferring to his or her ideas.
  2. The eager enthusiast: Workshop participants who show up eager and ready to contribute are key to a positive group mindset and atmosphere in workshops. That being said, there can be too much of a good thing. Participants who are disproportionately passionate about a topic can inadvertently dominate group activities due to their own fervor. For example, a participant who advocated for a project for a long time may have a lot of ideas — and see the workshop as a platform for making sure they are heard, without considering contributions from others.
  3. The enlightened expert: Many initiatives have leads and topical experts who are key to the workshop’s success — yet some of these people may believe they alone should be steering the ship. These participants may knowingly or unknowingly exhibit defensive posturing during a workshop if they fear losing their authority or ability to direct the project. They may dominate by oversharing irrelevant background knowledge, repeating already known contexts, or highlighting their special expertise.
3 common types of dominating workshop participants: The Helpful HIPPO, the Eager Enthusiast, and the Enlightened Expert
3 common examples of dominating participant types

How to Identify a Dominating Participant

Dominating behaviors look similar across participants regardless of the participant’s motivations or intentions. Often, dominating participants are characterized by one of the following behaviors:

  • Relentlessly speaking over, cutting off, or interrupting others as they attempt to add to the discussion
  • Circling back to and overemphasizing their own ideas or contributions during group discussions or brainstorming activities
  • Repeating the same thing
  • Attempting to prove their importance or knowledge by monopolizing group discussions
  • Silencing others or altering the group dynamic or group behaviors with their mere presence (e.g., HIPPO)
  • Derailing activities or questioning prompts to serve their own agendas

So, what should you do it you have identified a dominator in the workshop? First and foremost, don’t write off the dominator as a nuisance with no value to add. Assume everyone in the workshop is well-meaning and has the same desired goal — effective workshop outcomes — and that the participant may not be self-aware of the behavior. This attitude helps maintain objectivity and fairness as a facilitator. Secondly, don’t panic. There are several subtle tactics that can maintain positive group dynamics and participation, even with a dominating participant in the room.

How to Navigate Dominating Behaviors in a Workshop

It’s worth acknowledging that in many cases, smart preparation can go a long way in preventing dominating behaviors. Before the workshop takes place, take as many steps as possible to circumvent or soften conditions in which these behaviors might arise. For example:

  • Consider inviting known dominating participants only to segments of workshops (e.g., have participants present or share ideas with HIPPOs, but not brainstorm with them)
  • Plan to break up the workshop participants into small teams with balanced personalities and roles
  • Create ground rules and expectations for respectful interactions and listening
  • Clearly and repeatedly communicate the workshop goals to ensure a mutually understood purpose before the workshop

When groundwork laid ahead of time still fails to prevent dominating behavior, it’s time to intervene — without ostracizing or embarrassing the dominating participant. There are 3 ascending levels of intervention tactics that facilitators can use to navigate dominating behaviors:

  • Redirect: Refocus dominating participants toward shared goals so they contribute to the group purpose more effectively.
  • Balance: Invite and encourage other participants to contribute, balancing the voice of the dominator.
  • Silence: Remove verbal contributions from everybody, equalizing participation and ensuring contributions from the entire group.
 3 techniques for handling dominating workshop participants: Redirect, Balance, and Silence
 3 techniques for handling dominating workshop participants

Tactic #1: Redirect the Contributions

Sometimes dominating participants are distracted by important — yet peripheral —topics or they’re just uncertain about the workshop’s goals. Methods that redirect contributions help dominating participants remember and refocus on shared goals so that they can contribute to the group purpose more effectively.

Method to Try: Group-Purpose Statement

The group purpose is a short statement describing the mutually shared overall goal of the workshop. It should capture what participants are trying to achieve together, and it can be cocreated at the beginning of or prior to the workshop with attendees. (Having participants cocreate the statement is an effective way to build buy-in and acceptance of the purpose.) During the workshop, the group purpose should be highly visible at all times. It could be written on a whiteboard in a physical room, for example, or captured at the top of a Miro board (or any other collaboration platform) where digital activities will take place. When dominating participants make off-topic contributions, the facilitator can point to the group purpose, using it as a tool to redirect conversation and keep participants on track.

Method to Try: Parking Lot

parking lot is a place to capture comments, topics, or questions that are not related to the group purpose. It keeps the focus on the immediate discussion while deferring (i.e., “parking”) other topics for later. The format of the parking lot can be physical (e.g., a large, easel-size sticky note or whiteboard) or digital (e.g., a shared, collaborative document such as Google Docs). When pointing back to the group purpose fails to redirect, off-topic ideas or concerns can be captured in the parking lot. A facilitator might say, “That’s an important point. Let’s capture that item in the parking lot so we can revisit it when we get to that point in our [project, discussion, timeline].” Capturing the item in the parking lot helps participants understand that their contributions have been heard and move on. (Just remember to actually revisit the items in the parking lot, or the tool loses its meaning and purpose.)

Tactic #2: Balance the Contributions

Some participants may not contribute for fear of being cut off or overridden by a dominating participant. Methods that balance contributions are efforts to encourage other, nondominating participants to contribute in structured ways in order to balance the voice of the dominator.

Method to Try: Round Robin

In a round-robin structure, the facilitator invites participants to share their perspectives one by one, around the table. Everyone has a chance to contribute, therefore, everyone’s perspectives are heard. Using a time-limit for each person’s contribution further maintains balance.

Method to Try: Quota

In a quota structure, the facilitator requests and gathers a specific, predetermined number of contributions from each participant. For example, in a design-critique workshop, each participant might share two aspects of the design that seem to meet users’ needs well and one aspect that could be improved. In a brainstorming activity, each participant might generate a set number of ideas within a time limit.

Tactic #3: Silence the Contributions

Some participants may not feel comfortable speaking up in a group setting, even when given a structured space. Methods that silence contributions are efforts to remove the power of verbal contributions (and therefore disproportionately louder voices) in order to equalize participation and ensure contributions are heard from the entire group, not just those who speak the most. This tactic works especially well when there is a Helpful HIPPO around whom others are reluctant to speak up.

Method to Try: Silent Postup

postup is an activity in which participants individually generate content on sticky notes, then post them up on a wall to be shared and discussed. Direct participants to silently write down their reactions to a prompt or problem statement, one per sticky note, and then put all the sticky notes in a place where they are equally visible. The facilitator can then lead the discussion, pointing to various contributions, especially those with contrasting perspectives.

Method to Try: Brainwriting

Brainwriting is an alternative to traditional brainstorming where participants write down ideas during timed rounds rather than sharing them out loud. Each participant is given a sheet of paper sectioned into a grid as shown below. For the first round, each participant writes down her ideas on the first row. When the time is up, every participant passes their sheet to the person on her right. Another round commences, but this time, the participants can read and build upon ideas from others that are already written on the sheet. This pattern continues until the desired number of rounds have taken place.

A template for a common structure for brainwriting is “6x3x6” (6 participants generate 3 ideas per round for 6 rounds).
A common structure for brainwriting is called “6x3x6” (6 participants generate 3 ideas per round for 6 rounds). 
A screenshot of a digital brainwriting activity using Google Sheets
Brainwriting can be easily transitioned to a digital activity. We use this digital template in Google Sheets during collaborative UX Conference activities.


Navigating dominating behaviors in a workshop can feel intimidating; however, often simple intervention methods like the ones described in this article can go a long way in salvaging the group dynamic and maintaining positive momentum.

Remember these tips next time a dominating participant threatens to jeopardize a workshop:

  • Don’t assume the participant is malicious. Some dominating participants are unaware of the result of their behaviors and would appreciate the chance to contribute in a productive and helpful manner.
  • Don’t ostracize or embarrass the participant. When possible, use intervention methods that redirect rather than confront.
  • The role of a facilitator is to hear and capture the consensus of the group — not the perspective of the loudest person. Structure the workshop with activities that allow every participant to be heard and ensure all ideas have equal influence.