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May 1, 2009 / zanzi

Group Dynamics

How does one engage in a group conversation? There are those who seem to have nothing to say but might just need to be drawn out, there are others who appear to love the sound of their own voice and dominate the proceedings. One way out, of course, is to have a moderator, investing what is after all a hierarchical authority in a person who can handle the balance. But it is eminently possible to have a meaningful, peaceful discussion within a non-hierarchical framework. This requires critical minds in order to be creative, but it is calmness that ensures constructivity.

All too often I seem to find myself in situations where things are being led by strong-willed, overtly-expressive people backed by ya-ya groupies. On the other hand, there are those who might have something different to say but can’t seem to express themselves confidently, being out of line with an emergent consensus. There are tribes that have not lost the ancient wisdom of listening to the spirit of the circle and speaking only when they sense their time to contribute in a worthwhile way to the discussion is at hand. Then again, most corporatised environments today are driven by competition, and those looking to get ahead are more often than not interested in appearances as opposed to the right choice. It serves one’s purpose better to have led on a decision in a purposeful manner, especially one that solves the problem at hand admirably, than to try and steer the group to a more considered choice that may not seem so timely, albeit being the more tenable long-run approach.

This is, as an academic exercise, rather straightforward analysis. However, there is little in the world of practice that is not subject to these dynamics. Who controls what is largely determined by how they control it. Sadly, this how is not everyone’s priority, and it is bent to suit those who would grab control come what may. In a world where talent, skill and dedication come together more infrequently than required, integrity is an ever rarer entity. Opportunities abound for those willing to sidestep ethical constraints that are all too intangible to be captured by rules or regulations.

I submit that this tendency of group dynamics to favour the control-biased rather than quality-ensuring decision is responsible for much of the social injustice that we find in abundance. It is yet another marker of how, despite our brave attempts at making transparency and accountability intrinsic to various processes, we constantly come up against levels at which our own misguidedness, as opposed to deceit, beguiles us into being misled. They say an idle mind is the devil’s workshop, but it is the calm mind that can perceive this and put a stop to it. The active mind, too often excited, walks right into the workshop, picks up the tools, and claims to have worked wonders, little realizing that it is but an instrument in the hands of what it thinks are its instruments.

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