Group Dynamics

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Group Dynamics

Many people have never worked in a non-hierarchical group before, and many people have so many years of organizing experience that they have learned to pay lip-service to their principles while manipulating people to get their way.

There is an amazing correlation between organizing and playing music; a good political discussion and a good jam session have similar dynamics. Here are some categories of do's and dont's apply to meetings or rehearsals. When you see "talk", substitute "play." Probably 90% of the following can be summed up in one word: listen.


Hog the show/ filibuster. Talk too much, too long, too loud. (But, have patience with new people who ramble and get off the subject.) 

Play wallflowers. Hide in the corner even when you have something important to say. 

Speak in capital letters. Give one's own solutions or opinions as the final word on the subject, often aggravated by tone of voice and body posture. 

Defensiveness. Respond to every contrary opinion as though it were a personal attack. 

Nitpick. Pick out minor flaws in statements of others and state the exception to every generality. 

Focus transfer. Transfer the focus of the discussion to one's own pet issues in order to give one's own pet raps. 

Restate. Especially what a woman or person of color has just said perfectly clearly. 

Interrupt. Cut people off, jump in while people are taking a breath. 

Conclude. Formulate a response after the first few sentences, not listening to anything from that point on, and leaping in at the first pause. 

George Custerism. Intransigence and dogmatism; take a last stand for one's position on even minor items. 

Be "on the make." Sexual harassment; slobber on your friends to the point where you drive them from the group; Use sexuality to manipulate someone. 

Run the show. Continually take charge of tasks before others have the chance to volunteer. 

Graduate studentitis. Protectively store key group information for one's own use and benefit. Manipulate through superior discourse. 

Flake. Commit to responsibilities you know you won't fulfill. 

Stereotype. "Give shakers to girls." "All Black people like playing drums." "You can't play drums in a wheelchair." 

Bureaucratize. Keep people from getting things done through paper work or parliamentary procedure. 

Perpetual crisis. Avoid criticism and process discussions by creating a crisis of the moment. 

Process fetishism. An over-indulgence in the form of a group instead of its content and actions. Take these guidelines so seriously that you don't get anything done. 

Many of these categories are extremes which can be balanced through the dialectic of praxis; an analysis leads to an action, and the action gives you something concrete to analyze for the next action.


Criticism/Self-Criticism/ Praise 


Getting: Look at constructive criticisms as gifts that show how much people care about you. If they really hated you they would just ignore you, and let you keep making the same mistakes. Giving: Don't shirk from helping your friends be better musicians or people. Especially, don't tolerate oppressive behavior. It is no act of friendship to allow friends to continue dominating those around them. But check your own motivations before you attack or "one-up" another: "Why am I doing this? How do I feel towards the other person? Is now the right time?" 


Avoid being criticized altogether by constantly evaluating your own part and how it fits into the group. Check to see your not louder or softer or faster or slower or playing with a different feel than everyone else, and make changes constantly and smoothly. Don't be afraid to stop, and say "I'm sorry. I fucked up." Recover, and play without guilt. 


You won't have to resort to criticisms as much, when you get in the habit of using the carrot, the velvet glove, the good cop, positive reinforcement, esteem building, etc. 

Be responsible

Do what you say you're going to do. Ask for help with what you can't do. Be on time. 

Question all stereotypes

Throw away your assumptions and treat people as individuals. 

Strive for consensus

Nothing beats a show of hands for efficient decision making, but put a little extra effort into balancing conflicting positions, and making unanimous decisions. 


The group will do fine without your anxiety attacks. 

Become a good listener

Good listening is as important as good speaking. It's important not to withdraw when not speaking; good listening is active participation. Listen to yourself and others. 

More dynamics at Rhytms of Resistance

  • Material re-adapted from an article by Bill Moyers, from the Handbook for Nonviolent Action
  • Criticism/Self-Criticism/ Praise and Consensus from the Groundwork Red Documents.