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“It used to be argued that slavery was abolished simply because it had ceased to be profitable, but all the evidence points the other way: in fact, it was abolished despite the fact that it was still profitable. What we need to understand, then, is a collective change of heart. Like all such great changes, it had small beginnings.”Ferguson, N. Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British Empire and the Lessons for Global Power, quoted in Steffen, A. (2006). Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century. New York: Harry N. Abrams.
All human beings exist, spend time, and behave both individually and in groups. When you’re a student, you spend a great deal of your time in groups. In the working world, whether you’re already in it or not, you spend even more.O’Hair, D. & Wiemann, M.O. (2004). The Essential Guide to Group Communication. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, p. 7.
Of course, many times you have no choice whether you’ll work alone or in a group. You’re just told what to do. Still, you’re best apt to be prepared if you know what to expect of each status.
The mere fact that groups include multiple people leads to at least four consequences. Whether these consequences prove to be advantageous or not depends on the skill level and knowledge of a group’s members.
First, since not everyone in a group can talk at the same time (at least, not if they intend to understand and be understood by each other), members have to seek permission to speak. They need to decide how to take turns. In this respect, a group is inherently more formal than a single individual or a dyad.
Second, members of a group have to share time together. The larger the group, the less average time per person is available and the fewer opportunities each member will likely have to contribute to discussions.
Third, communication in groups is generally less intimate than in interpersonal settings. Because there are so many personalities and levels of relationship to consider, people in groups are less inclined to share personal details or express controversial views.
Finally, group work is more time-consuming than individual or interpersonal effort. Why? For one thing, group members usually try to let everyone share information and views. Also, the more people are involved in a discussion, the more diverse opinions may need to be considered and allowed to compete.
As we’ve noted earlier, groups apply themselves toward reaching aims and accomplishing things. In addition to this task-oriented characteristic, however, they include and depend upon relationships among their members. Although these two elements are usually intertwined rather than discrete and separate, an overview of the pluses and minuses of each can help you make the most of your experience in a group.
The columnist David Brooks interpreted research as indicating that human beings are “wired to cooperate and collaborate, just as much as we are to compete.”Galanes, G., & Adams, K. (2013). Effective Group Discussion: Theory and Practice. New York: McGraw-Hill, p. 5. What’s in it for you in terms of relationships, then, if you work in a group instead of alone? Well, you may have a number of your most important human needs satisfied. Here are some specifics:
In the next chapter we’ll further explore the ideas William Schutz, who theorized about levels of basic human needs and how they may vary from person to person and according to people’s circumstances. We’ll also review Abraham Maslow’s model of human needs.
Despite the advantages it offers, working in groups almost invariably presents challenges and disadvantages in the realm of relationships. These are some of the chief dangers you may encounter as part of a group:
Anthropologists have asserted that a major feature of mainstream culture in the United States is a relentless pressure to do things—to accomplish things. Tom Peters is credited with first calling this cultural feature “a bias for action.” One best-selling business self-help book reinforced this national passion for dynamic behavior. Its title is A Bias for Action: How Effective Managers Harness Their Willpower, Achieve Results, and Stop Wasting Time.Bruch, H., & Ghoshal, S. (2004). A Bias for Action: How Effective Managers Harness Their Willpower, Achieve Results, and Stop Wasting Time. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press. Without doubt, accomplishing tasks constitutes a central purpose of most human behavior in the modern world.
When you’re trying to get something done, working in a group promises many positive possibilities, among them being the following:
Groups aren’t always successful at reaching their goals. You’ve probably experienced many situations in which you became frustrated or angry because a group you were part of seemed to be taking two steps backward for every step forward—or perhaps you felt it was going only backward. Here are some features of group work which distinguish it in a potentially negative way from what you might be able to accomplish by yourself or with a single partner:
To accomplish tasks and relate effectively in a group, it’s important to know the advantages and disadvantages inherent in groups.
Identify two groups of which you’re a member. Describe