19 Sep 2017
Problematic Group Dynamics

5 Problematic Group Dynamics

Many of us know the experience of being in a group of people where some kind of problematic dynamic arises. In some cases it might feel like everyone starts agreeing just to get out of the meeting quickly and other times it feels like the group cannot agree on anything. This might happen in sober living where it feels like there is one clique who agrees about the rules of the house but another group who feels slighted. Regardless of where you are these dynamics bring up problems.

1. Conformity

Imagine you are in a work meeting and someone says that they think you should do the project this way. You go around the table and everyone agrees that this is the right way to do the project. As you sit there you can’t help but think of some flaws with doing the project like this. However, you don’t want to disagree because everyone else at the meeting seems to think it’s a great idea. When it comes time for you to share your opinion, you go along with the group.

This type of problematic group dynamic is called conformity. You felt pressured by the group to agree with an idea even though you didn’t actually think it was the best idea. No one told you that you needed to go along, but you implicitly felt this kind of pressure. There are a few different types of conformity, but what happened here is called normative conformity. Meaning that you went along with the group even though you didn’t think the group was right.

2. Compliance

Let’s imagine another situation. You are in addiction treatment and one of the therapists at the rehab tells you that you really need to go to an AA meeting. Perhaps you don’t like AA very much and you usually go to another recovery program. But you are concerned to go against what this therapist is telling you to do. You might not want to seem like you are being defiant or problematic. So, you go to the AA meeting.

What happened here is compliance. You agreed to something because a person that you perceived to be an authority told you to do it. Research has shown that people are more likely to comply with requests from people who are wearing white lab coats or people who they think have some authority. If you are interested you can read more about compliance here.

3. Group Polarization

Lets take a third example, this time imagine you are in a sober living house. You are having a house meeting about division of chores, but things are starting to go off the rails. It all begins because someone says they feel like they are paying all this money to be in sober living so they shouldn’t have to mop the floors. Someone else chimes in that they don’t want to clean the toilets or mop the floors. The next person continues by saying we really shouldn’t have to do any chores at all.

All of a sudden you have a very extreme group. You went from not wanting to do one or two specific chores to not wanting to do any at all. What you end up with is group polarization. The group now holds more extreme views than some of its members probably hold.


4. Social Loafing

Social LoafingWhat is the first thing you think or feel when you read “group project”? If you are like many people you might be filled with a feeling of dread that you are going to have to do all the work for a bunch of people who never come to work or school. People dislike group projects so much because it is incredibly rare that the devision of labor ends up being equal.

This phenomenon is so ubiquitous that even BuzzFeed has a list of 23 reasons why group projects should be wiped off the face of the earth. Of course this list is meant to be funny but there are a lot of good psychology reasons for hating group projects on it. Number three is: “when you do a group project on your own”. Social loafing is the reason this ends up happening. When people feel like they aren’t being evaluated individually, they often do less work than they would on their own.

5. Intergroup Conflict

Let’s take one last example to illustrate our final problematic group dynamic. Imagine you are at a recovery meeting and there are two groups of people in the room. One group thinks that the recovery text you use should never be changed no matter how outdated. The other group thinks that some of the sexist language should be updated. Each group has a distinct identity. For the sake of this example lets say one is the “Old Timer” group and the other is the “Progressive” group.

Neither group wants to back down because they are both entrenched in their reasons. Each side clings to their identity even when the other side makes a good point. What happens, you keep arguing back and forth and all that comes out of it is more conflict without ever reaching a resolution.

All of these group dynamics pop up in different places and different situations. None of us are immune to these types of problematic dynamics. However, if we stay aware of them and try to be mindful of when they’re happening, we have a better chance of beating them!

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