Chapter 8: Resources
This chapter offers some additional resources about how to work with other people in a group and foster a strong community.
A. Community Building
Many groups have the potential to do good work but are limited because the members of the group do not know each other very well or the group is not cohesive enough to function well. Spending some time developing a sense of community may, therefore, constitute very vital and basic change work.
Ideas and Tools
- Spend more time on the kinds of activities suggested for the introductory sessions of a START course.
- Share perspectives on such things as one’s childhood memories, reactions to injustice, feelings of oppression, the origin of your motivation for societal change, etc. It is best to pose the topic with a very specific question such as: What is your most vivid childhood memory involving oppression of yourself or someone else? A good format to use is the “think and listen.”
- Share your visions of community — what would you ideally like?
- Do other things together — co-operative games during meeting breaks; potluck suppers beforehand; outings; celebrations with singing, dancing, and sharing things you have created; shopping? childcare? others? (you might want to brainstorm the possibilities). These activities will expand the levels on which you interact with and know each other.
- Rotate meetings among different people’s houses to get more of a feel for what each other’s lives are like.
- Spend time regularly appreciating each other. For example, each person might tell the group something they particularly like about the person sitting on their left. Most of us find this awkward to do because it is embarrassing and because we are so conditioned to look for faults in ourselves and everybody else. As a result, lots of things we really like about people go unsaid and everybody’s sense of confidence and self-worth is needlessly diminished. It’s exciting to see the dynamic reversed when people begin building on the positive.
- When conflicts arise in the group, approach them as a challenge and an opportunity for growth — “Oh boy, we get to practice our conflict resolution skills and learn to struggle more effectively with people we love.”
- Do group problem solving. For example, each week tackle a practical problem that is hindering a member of your group. Apply your accumulated wisdom by using an empowerment exercise.
- Take some time at the end of each meeting for each person to share her/his personal goals for the coming week. Then at the beginning of the next meeting, have each person report back on how she/he is doing in accomplishing those goals.
- Think of things you would like to be able to do personally, but can’t for lack of support — see if others can help.
- Do a self-estimation exercise. This is a way of getting thoughtful feedback on the relationship between individuals and the group. It works best in on-going groups where the trust level is already fairly high. Each person takes some time to tell what they see as their strengths in that group and ways in which they would like to grow. Others then have the opportunity to respond, using the same format. Careful phrasing of the second part (“A way that I would wish for you to grow…”) is particularly important if people are to really hear criticism. It is also helpful to allow some quiet time at the beginning of each self-estimation so that people can think out what they want to say.
Resource Manual for al Living Revolution, Virginia Coover, et al., New Society Publishers, Reprint edition, 1985. 330 pages of resources and tools for trainers/ organizers in nonviolent change. Good sections on community building, values clarification, and conflict resolution. Building Social Change Communities, Training/Action Affinity Group, New Society Publishers. Sections on forming communities, meeting facilitation, consensus decision-making, creative conflict resolution, networks and more!
A Manual on Nonviolence and Children, Stephanie Judson. et al., Library Company of Philadelphia, Reissue edition,1984. Includes a full section called “For the Fun of It: Selected Cooperative Games for Children and Adults” of great use. Also good thinking about how people learn in group situations.
Values Clarification, Sidney B. Simon, et al., Warner Books; Revised edition, 1995. A lot of specific exercises to help individuals and groups understand where their basic values lie. Clearness: Process for Supporting Individuals and Groups in Decision Making, Peter Woodrow, New Society Publishers, 1984. Helps break down individual isolation in making important decisions about one’s life, work, family, community.
A Manual for Group Facilitators, Brian Auvine et al., by Wis.) Center for Conflict Resolution, Fellowship for Intentional Community; 4th Rep edition, 2003. Helps individuals think well about groups and communities they are starting, training, aiding.
Leadership for Change, Lakey & Kokopeli, New Society Publishers. Feminist view of leadership helps people think about specific task and morale leadership functions, which must be performed in any group for it to succeed.
B. Group Process
Learning about group process is important for a group that is having trouble functioning effectively, wants to develop further its members’ skills in group process, or wants to think about how to apply what its members know about groups to other groups of which they are a part. Some common problems are: interrupting; people not listening when others are talking but rather thinking of what they want to say next; no space between comments so that people don’t have time to think and have to compete to get a word in edgewise; unequal participation (some people — often men in this culture — talking a lot and others hardly saying anything); authoritarian facilitation; lethargy; unfocused discussion. Probably every group faces some of these problems at one time or another. What is important is to realize that they do not have to be allowed to continue and that there are things that can be done to deal with them and improve the overall functioning of the group.
Ideas and Tools
1. Sometimes the exact problem in a group is not clear and the first task is to identify the problem(s). One possible way to go about this is to:
- Have each person share 1) ways in which they feel good about the group, 2) problems they see, and if possible, 3) suggestions for improvement. List them in three columns on a big sheet of newsprint. Be as specific as possible about where the problems lie.
- Brainstorm additional possible solutions and list them on column 3.
- Examine the possible solutions and decide which ones to implement. Make specific plans for when and how to do it and who will take responsibility. (This is not unlike the Social Problem-Solution-Action Brainstorm suggested for relating the START course readings to social change action.) A good general principle to keep in mind in dealing with group process problems — and lots of other problems too — is to build on the positive things about the group. (That’s why in the process described above we suggest that each person start by saying good things.) There are two reasons for this:
- Our society tends to look at things negatively, to be quick to criticize and hesitant to praise, and if we are going to build a more positive society, we need to begin now to recognize, state, and reinforce positive things. We’re not accustomed to looking for these things and stating them, so it may feel awkward at first, but it can rapidly become a natural and joyous way of responding to the world around us.
- It works! A session that is focused on negatives quickly becomes depressing and discouraging, and leaves people feeling helpless about finding solutions. It may also give a false picture of the situation, making it look totally bad when, in reality, there are many positives that can be built on and specific areas that need improvement. Beginning with good things helps to put the problems that exist in their proper perspective within the overall functioning of the group and to build a positive tone where people will feel empowered to find solutions to the problems. (A good discipline in discussion in general might be always to say something positive about an idea before criticizing it.)
A group which continues to have difficulty after trying to work out their problems may want to have an outside observer attend one or more meetings to give the group feedback and participate in a problem solving session. A “group process expert” is not necessary. Any thoughtful and observant person with a fresh perspective and some knowledge of how groups function can be immensely helpful.
Regular, full use of the evaluation process can help in dealing with problems before they become major, and in checking on changes a group has agreed on to see if they are having the desired result.
2. Here are some more specific suggestions for dealing with some of the above-mentioned problems:
- Listening exercises can help people focus on what has just been said. Before responding to a person, you echo back what you heard that person say; e.g., “I heard you say that…” You do not go on to make your own point until the previous speaker is satisfied that she/he has been accurately heard.
- Unequal participation is often blamed on the people in a group who are quiet when often, in fact, the problem is that a few people are talking so often and long that there is no space for those who are less aggressive or quick thinking. An effective method of raising consciousness about how often people speak is to give everyone an equal number of matches (or whatever) and have people throw one into the center of the room each time they speak. When a person runs out of matches, she/he can no longer talk. If length of talking is a problem, try having people light the match as they start talking. When they can no longer hold it, time is up! Exercises like this seem awkward, and some are not meant to be used on a long-term basis, but they can be very helpful for raising awareness about participation in the group.
- Another method which can be used on many occasions for equalizing participation and eliminating the problem of people thinking of what they want to say next instead of listening is to take a minute or two for everyone to collect their thoughts on the subject, then go around the room, giving each person an equal amount of time to share their thinking. If people really don’t have anything to contribute, they should be given the option of passing. But time and again those who have been defined as not having much to say have valuable contributions to make if they do not have to compete to get a word in edgewise.
- A method which has been useful during brainstorming when a few people seem to be dominating is to have those who are contributing a lot to the brainstorm wait 10 seconds after the last speaker while people who are contributing less wait 5 seconds. This method does not work as well in a general discussion since it often becomes very draggy, but trying to be conscious of slowing down the pace of a discussion can be helpful in providing people space to speak and cutting down on interrupting.
3. Groups may want to use roleplays to examine the problems they are having. Doing the roleplay first portraying the problem that exists, and then re-running it one or more times incorporating possible solutions can be helpful. However, it is essential that it not make an example of particular people whose functioning in the group may be presenting problems. Roleplays can also be a good way of practicing and sharpening new skills, and of thinking about how to use group skills in other settings.
Resource Manual for al Living Revolution, Virginia Coover, et al., New Society Publishers, Reprint edition, 1985. 330 pages of resources and tools for trainers/ organizers in nonviolent social change. Has a very useful section on group dynamics.
Dynamics of Groups at Work, Herbert Thelan, University of Chicago Press, 1954. The first half is a case study of a group of people in group process training. The second half is an analysis of issues of group dynamics with suggestions of what people can do to help.
C. Personal Growth
There are a variety of training approaches that can help people overcome their personal limitations and grow. Below are four methods that are consistent with START principles and that activists have found useful.
Teaches people how to clearly express themselves to others, how to persistently pursue their goals when confronted with opposition, and how to appropriately stand up for themselves when faced with conflict or criticism. A very large number of books and training classes are available.
“Reduce Stress With Increased Assertiveness” by Elizabeth Scott, M.S., About.com Guide, updated February 22, 2012. http://stress.about.com/od/relationships/p/profileassertiv.htm
“Learn Assertive Communication In Five Simple Steps” by Elizabeth Scott, M.S., About.com Guide, updated October 28, 2011. http://stress.about.com/od/relationships/ht/howtoassert.htm
Leadership Effectiveness Training (LET)
Teaches tools for effectively listening to and working with others including Active Listening, No-Lose Conflict Resolution, and I-Messages.
Leadership Effectiveness Training: http://www.gordontraining.com
Teaches techniques of compassionate communication.
Nonviolent Communication: http://www.cnvc.org
Re-Evaluation Counseling (RC)
Re-evaluation Counseling (also known as co-counseling) is a non-professional, peer counseling technique based on the assumption that all human beings are naturally creative, intelligent, zestful, loving, and powerful, and that the only thing which prevents us from acting this way all the time is the accumulation of distressing experiences which have happened to us. Human beings are equipped with methods for healing distress (laughing and crying, for example) but those healing processes are often blocked. Re-evaluation Counseling is essentially a tool for recovering these methods of healing through listening partnerships, and reclaiming the love, creativity, and power that is our birthright.
Re-Evaluation Counseling: http://www.rc.org