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Interpersonal Needs and The Human Spectrum

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While the praise I am heaping on these reactive members is deserved, it is also important to note that the reactive member can also create problems in their group. As someone who is participating in this group, their own sharing is critical. We often find that the reactive member of a group ends up feeling abused or ignored. While they will not willingly share their own feelings and observations, they do often expect that someone else in the group will ask them for their perspectives and observations: “thank you for asking, here is what I have observed/what I am feeling.” The output can be quite voluminous and often quite insightful – if perhaps a little late in the life of the group and sometimes offered with a bit of spite.

There is also the matter of group members with a low need for openness. These members will often not only be closed about their own feelings and perspectives, but also uncomfortable about anyone else doing much sharing. On the airplane, they are likely to request a change in seats – or certainly put on their headphones or pretend to fall asleep. As a team member, they often will consider any open sharing of feelings or offering of observations about group functioning to be disruptive of the group’s work on the task: “What’s going on here, we’re not one of those damnable therapy groups. Keep your feelings to yourself—or take them home with one and share them with your [spouse] not with us!” The role played by these closed members of the group often creates a barrier to the transition of the group to team. One of the widely accepted guidelines for group process consultants is that the level of overall trust and openness in a group is no greater than that of the group member who is least trustful and least open. As this person goes, so goes the group.

It is quite a challenge to bring this closed member of the group to a point where they are sufficiently trusting of the intentions and interpersonal competencies of other group members to become a bit more open. It will get even worse, if they are coerced to be more open (by being repeatedly called on to share their feelings or observations), or are manipulated in an effort by group members to encourage openness (by effusively praising the closed member for sharing a bit of themselves). The best approach is usually to take a disciplined appreciate approach in working with this member of the group. When they do voluntarily offer some observations (usually task-related), one or more members of the group can not only thank them for their observations but also briefly comment on how this observation has actually contributed to group functioning and to movement toward successful completion of the task. Not too much attention and not too little attention. A bit of Goldilocks again.

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