Difficult Group Behaviours
There are several distinct types of 'difficult behaviour' which can occur in group situations. This page examines some of the most common: Conflict, Non-Participation or Withdrawal, Monopolising and Scapegoating.
The level of success of a group will, ultimately, depend on the level of cohesiveness within the group - how well the group members interact and get along with each other.
By recognising, understanding and minimising disruptive group behaviours group work becomes more effective and productive.
Disagreements within groups are common and often a healthy way of building cohesiveness, this is because if people disagree on a particular point they will have the opportunity to explain why and perhaps offer alternative solutions to the problems of the group.
Conflict and further discussion can be a good way of reflecting and clarifying the aims and objectives of the group and can enhance understanding by taking in the viewpoints of all group members. Conflict only becomes a problem when comments become personal, towards an individual or sub-group of individuals, or discussion takes up too much time to the detriment of the group’s purpose.
Strong group leadership and cohesiveness will enable disagreements to become positive for the group and the individuals within it. The following example describes how to prevent disagreement leading to more serious problems which may be disruptive to the group.
An individual in a group may challenge what is being said by the leader or by other group members. This can lead to disruption within the group, affecting the progress and overall emotional state of the other members. Any sort of challenge or disagreement needs to be discussed openly, especially if there seems to be a valid reason for it. The person in disagreement should be encouraged to express their views in a positive way with the rest of the group. If the situation cannot be resolved in the group setting, the leader or facilitator may wish to discuss the issues which concern the individual away from the rest of the group. Alternatively, the disagreement could be dealt with at a specific time and discussed by the group, so that the group as a whole negotiates some form of resolution.
Conflict resolution in groups will depend, in part, on the leadership style and team roles of the group members.
See our pages: Conflict Resolution, Leadership Styles and Roles in Groups for more information.
Non-Participation or Withdrawal
Everyone has the right not to participate within the group, although it is usually preferable for all members to contribute.
Some members will prefer to observe rather than to participate vocally and others may wish to contribute but feel too shy, fear self-disclosure or lack confidence. To overcome lack of self-confidence, where members wish to contribute but fear to do so, their non-participation needs an encouraging, positive approach, however, they should not be embarrassed or pressured to participate.
Some group members who are withdrawn may just take longer to warm to the group situation and to open up. Over time, group members who were initially quite extrovert may listen more and say less, whilst those who said little initially may begin to say more, which will lead to more balanced contributions.
See our page: Group Life Cycles for more information.
There may be times when one person in the group has a lot more to say than others.
This may be the case, for example, if one member has a focused area of expertise which needs to be shared with others. Monopolising, however, refers to one or two members dominating the group at the expense of other members' contributions.
Monopolising can lead to resentment from others in the group, feeling that they do not have the opportunity to make their points.
The leader or facilitator may reduce this problem by first acknowledging what the person has to contribute and then diverting the discussion to other people, asking their opinions and moving on. In situations that cannot be resolved in a group situation, the best strategy may be to discuss the problem with the individual concerned, in a way that is sensitive and positive and does not dampen their spirits and future contributions altogether.
See our page, Facilitation Skills for more on effective group facilitation.
When things go wrong in a group situation it is sometimes easy to direct blame at one or more individuals within the group, this is known as 'scapegoating' and can be very damaging for the individual concerned and also for the group as a whole.
The person may be rejected by the group and become a target for anger, frustration and ridicule by other members. Such behaviour may lead that member to withdraw, especially if they are unwilling or unable to defend themselves. Everybody makes mistakes and we all fail sometimes; scapegoating can be comparable to bullying and most detrimental to the self-confidence of the victim.
If the group has failed because of one person then a more appropriate way of handling the situation would be for the person concerned to have a private discussion with the group leader. Often the point of a group is to pull together and support each other – the whole group may be to blame for assigning inappropriate tasks to an individual or not providing adequate support.
In cases of scapegoating, the group leader or facilitator could restructure the group into sub-groups for a period, to reduce the effect of the whole group scapegoating one individual. Interpersonal interactions may be structured differently in a smaller unit and may help to rebuild the confidence of members. Restructuring may also alter the dynamics within the group as a whole once it has been fully reformed at a future time.
Additional Problem Areas
Many other issues may arise within groups, ranging from a general negativity to specific problems such as irregular attendance, aggressive behaviour or arguments.
The coping strategies of the facilitator or leader will depend largely on the composition of the characteristics of the group e.g. their age, abilities, motivation and emotional state. Problems can often be resolved by:
Clear guidelines as to the 'rules' or ‘norms’ of the group. Many formal groups will negotiate and agree on these rules at an early stage.
Positive feedback being given to individual contributions, both from the group leader and other group members.
Where problems do arise, their cause needs to be clearly understood.
Overcoming problems within a group can improve the group's overall cohesiveness and mutual trust.