SMALL GROUP INSTRUCTOR TRAINING COURSE
STUDENT REFERENCE FOR
TYPES OF PROCESS INTERVENTIONS12
As small group instructors, how, how often, and when do we intervene in our groups? What kinds of interventions do we make? How can we be sure that we will intervene at just the right point when a process intervention will be most effective? The appropriate moment for a particular intervention might easily come and go without realizing it.
Although we can call all interventions merely "process interventions," we can put them into three distinct and separate classes: conceptual-input, coaching, and process-observation interventions. Consider each type in terms of (a) the objective that it can facilitate; (b) what it might look or sound like when we make it; (c) when we can make it; and (d) the form or style it might take.
A conceptual-input type of process intervention provides group members with an organizing principle that has the power to help them clearly see distinctions between typical (but not optimal) behavior and less traditional (but more effective) behavior. Group members tend to remember conceptual inputs easily. Therefore, we can refer to them in the future. When an instructor intervenes in this way, he or she is providing the group members with a new, explicit vocabulary and conceptual system understood by all group members. Thus, we minimize confusion and misunderstandings since group members are more likely to remember, understand, and make use of the kinds of behaviors to which the new language refers.
We can use the conceptual-input type of intervention at any time. For maximum effectiveness and impact, the intervention should come immediately after a transaction between or among members that clearly illustrates the undesirable consequences of their nonproductive behavior. This is the point at which the intervention will make immediate sense to the group members. When an intervention makes sense, people are most likely to make use of it.
Form or Style
A conceptual-input is brief and succinct. Use words and phrases that are understandable to the group members. It does not help to make the appropriate intervention at the right time if the instructor uses complex terms the group members do not understand. Such a style could result in the group members regarding the instructor as an irrelevant, ivory-tower type and, therefore, not accept the intervention.
Coaching interventions should assist members of a group to get in the habit of using new experimental behaviors that they have said they want to practice. They should help group members acquire desirable, functional habits of interacting.
We can most effectively make coaching interventions either (a) during the early, standard-setting phases of the group process (to shape the kinds and sequence of interpersonal communications at an early point) or (b) just after a conceptual-input has been made that provides a justifiable theoretical framework for the coaching efforts. In either instance, we should discontinue coaching interventions as soon as the group members demonstrate that they can employ the new behaviors without assistance or when some members begin systematically to perform the coaching function for other members.
Form or Style
Coaching interventions should use up very little of the group's "air time." They should be suggestions rather than demands or reprimands, and they should be precise and understandable. No one should have to guess what the group leader is aiming at.
A process-observation intervention may have numerous objectives including:
1. Heightening the group members' awareness of the distinction between the content and process dimensions of activities occurring within a group.
2. Heightening the group's awareness of the implications and consequences of its membersí actions. For example, an individual's behavior may contribute to the creation or continuation of norms (both functional and nonfunctional) governing group members' behavior. One member's topic jump might create a group norm that is acceptable in a particular group. When another member does the same thing, it legitimizes and continues the norm. We can also use a process-observation to highlight implications and consequences by pointing out what happens to the group when it is not performing necessary task and maintenance functions or what happens when it employs different group decision-making procedures.
3. Providing an observable model of functional behavior that demonstrates in a tangible manner how a group's movement in the direction of its objectives can be facilitated.
A process-observation intervention is likely to be most effective during the early phase of the group process. When the group leader has modeled any process-observation, he or she should refrain from making further such interventions. This gives group members more opportunities to experiment with and to practice performing these facilitative functions. To the extent that they do this, they acquire increased self-sufficiency. This tends to preclude their becoming dependent on the group leader, the expert, to perform such functions.
If the group members do not assume responsibility for performing these functions after the leader has modeled them once or twice, the leader might keep track of the implications and consequences of this failure. Then, during a stop action or some other designed process session, these data could be fed back to the group along with a question: "What, if anything, do we want to do about this situation?" This explicitly invites the group to negotiate a contract among themselves (a) to ensure that needed functions are used when they would be most relevant and (b) to avoid the unnecessary, undesired consequences that have been observed to follow nonperformance of the functions.
Form or Style
In style, process-observations should be personalized and not punitive. But, almost by definition, this class of intervention usually takes a bit longer than others. The instructor is attempting to draw a verbal portrait of dynamic, constantly shifting group processes in order to help the group members see what is happening right now and also to model behavior that the members themselves might attempt at some future time. To get this double message across adequately, sufficient care and time must be taken.
Saul Alinsky's "iron rule" - "Don't ever do anything for people that they can do for themselves" - comes to mind. If one or more group members have the skills and knowledge to act in a functional and objective manner, the instructor should let them do it. If they do not possess such resources, they may require assistance in acquiring them. However, excessive assistance on the part of the instructor - whether process, theory, structured skill-practice exercises, or simulations - leads to stultification, dependency, and indifference or apathy. In order to be as effective as possible, the group leader must learn the line between not enough help and too much help.
1. To provide guidance.
a. Group feedback can note observations regarding:
- Balance of participation.
- Signs of active and inactive listening.
- Balance between task performance and group maintenance behaviors.
- Presence/absence of appropriate task and maintenance behaviors.
- Presence/absence of nonproductive behaviors.
- Possible inferences concerning risk-taking and freedom of expression.
- Signs of frustration and disinterest.
- Ways in which the group appears to be changing over a period of a few sessions.
b. Guidance can range from least directive, (1) below, to most directive, (5) below:
(1) Give only raw data.
Example: Tell group that during the past 30 minutes you observed the following behaviors:
- 54 information giving.
- No evaluating.
- 3 people were silent.
- Several signs of inactive listening.
(2) Give raw data and suggest there might be a problem.
(3) Suggest possible problems that might be inferred from the raw data.
Example: Using the data in (1) above, possible problems/causes might be:
- Avoidance of conflict.
- Group unwilling or unable to share leadership functions.
- Some people preoccupied with their own problems.
- Disinterest in topic/task.
(4) Suggest possible solutions to problem the group appears to have.
(5) Impose a specific solution to solve a problem.
NOTE: Consider the phase of the group's development as well as the specific situation at hand when deciding how directive to be.
2. Intervene to provide positive reinforcement. Examples:
- When several students begin to share leadership behaviors.
- When students begin giving honest feedback in a helpful, constructive way.
- When students begin diagnosing their effectiveness as a group.
3. Intervene to protect an individual student. Examples:
- Someone "volunteers" another person to do something.
- Feedback is unfair or hurtful to a particular student.
- Conflict is out of hand; disagreement is violent.
1. Intervening too often - this limits freedom and can lock the group into Phase 1.
2. Intervening too infrequently - this prevents students from developing the skills to be self-directive.
3. Interventions are too lengthy - stifles group development by creating dependency on group leader.
4. Presenting only negative feedback - creates more frustration than necessary.
In this section we identify some behavioral patterns that group members occasionally manifest which cause difficulty for group leaders. We have labeled these patterns to help you identify them. In doing so, we provide clues and examples which will help you recognize people who may be difficult to deal with. Finally, we provide some suggestions about ways you might respond to minimize negative behavior. Some of the suggestions are more direct than others. We encourage you to choose the one that seems most comfortable to you. Even better, develop your own responses that will help reduce the negative behavior.
Keep in mind that we are describing patterns of behavior. One or two exhibitions of negative behavior do not constitute a pattern. In other words, it is not necessary or appropriate to intervene each time a group member manifests a disruptive behavior. Only when this behavior becomes repetitive, has a negative effect on the group, or becomes irritating to you does it become a pattern. At that point it is desirable to intervene to eliminate the behavior. Also, remember that people can and do change. If you must label someone's behavior, remember that the behavior is not the person. It is only one aspect of the person. When an individual is primarily showing a negative side, it is difficult to see the positive. You, as a leader, need to reinforce any positive behaviors and attempt to minimize the negative ones.
People who exhibit this behavior tend to "make nice." They apologize, defend, interpret for others, and explain away their own and other people's feelings. They tend to get frustrated or frightened by conflict, and they protect others as a way of avoiding the conflict situation. They are easy to recognize because they preface statements with phrases like, "I think what she really meant was..." or "You shouldn't feel that way because..." or "You shouldn't say that to Sam because he may take it the wrong way."
Intervention Strategies: The Rescuer
- When the rescuer is attempting to interpret for someone else, say, "I'm aware that you are speaking for Alice. What I suggest is that you let Alice speak for herself," or "I would prefer that people speak for themselves. Communication breaks down when people interpret for others."
- When the rescuer is trying to avoid conflict, you can say, "You seemed uncomfortable when Joe got angry. Is it true?"
The projector attributes his or her own thoughts and feelings to other people. Often projectors are unaware that it is they who are experiencing the feeling, probably because it is so uncomfortable for them. Different feelings can be unpleasant for different individuals. Some people are afraid of anger, others are afraid of sadness, and still others are afraid of fear. The feelings we tend to project onto others are the ones with which we are most uncomfortable. Projectors, although they appear to be speaking for other people, are actually speaking for themselves. You can recognize them because they either talk in generalities or talk about other people. They rarely make statements for themselves.
Intervention Strategies: The Projector
- "You've just made a statement for the group. Is that statement true for you?"
- "I'm wondering if that is really the way you feel. Let's check out whether other people are really experiencing the feelings you are attributing to them.
The Passive Aggressor
This kind of behavior can be difficult to notice at first, as it is indirect rather than direct. Passive-aggressive people are hostile or angry, but they express their hostility in subtle and indirect ways. Often they attempt to mobilize group members to express the negative feelings they are experiencing. What usually occurs is that everyone begins to feel uncomfortable. Generally, passive-aggressive people project their anger or uncertainty onto the leader, and the leader may begin to feel defensive. Participants exhibiting passive-aggressive behavior tend to do the following: come a little late to meetings and be mildly disruptive when they arrive; initiate occasional side conversations when someone else (generally the leader) is speaking; and maintain a somewhat unpleasant or disinterested facial expression. They often make mildly hurtful statements to people in the group, particularly the leader. If someone confronts them about their intentions, they retreat and claim they did not mean anything negative by their remarks. They seem to have a knack for sensing the leader's "Achilles heel." A group leader often feels defensive around passive-aggressive people. These people tend to bait the leader, but they back off, act naive, and play victim when the leader attempts to deal with them directly. The leader is often left feeling foolish, and the behavior gets reinstated at a later point. In attempting to eliminate this kind of behavior, it is important that the leader does not get into an argument with the passive-aggressive person and does not make an attempt to confront the behavior directly.
Intervention Strategies: The Passive Aggressor
- Take time for general evaluation. You can say, "Let's take a minute to see how people are feeling about the class now. If the passive aggressor responds negatively, thank him or her for the feedback. If he or she responds positively or says nothing, say, "I'm glad you seem to be responding well to the class so far."
- If the individual makes a negative statement about the group and seems to be speaking for others, re-phrase the statement so that it pertains only to the speaker. If John says, "That last exercise was a waste of time," say, "You feel, John, that the last exercise was a waste of time."
- If you feel a need to confront the person directly about his/her anger, and he/she is able to express it, then you have succeeded in cutting off the indirect passive-aggressive behavior. If the individual denies any angry or negative feelings, then simply say, "I'm sorry. I must have misread you. I'm glad everything is fine."
Apologizers tend to preface their questions or statements with an apology. They often begin with the words, "Maybe I should not say this but..." or "Maybe you have already answered this question but..." or "I'm sorry for taking up so much time but..."Apologizers are not negative or unpleasant people. They can be draining, however, and they generally use up a lot of airtime in a group. Although they tend to speak a good deal, their apologies often reflect deep levels of insecurity.
Intervention Strategies: The Apologizer
- It is best to be direct with apologizers. You can say, "I feel badly that you apologize each time you speak. Your concerns are legitimate. There is no need to apologize for yourself."
- "You have made some interesting points. You do not need to apologize for speaking."
- "Would you please ask your question again? This time experiment with omitting the apology."
Fighters are people who exhibit fighting behavior in a group, arguing or disagreeing with most things that are said. They give the impression they want to pick a fight by asking questions or making comments in a provocative way. Their questions are really statements. They often begin by saying, "Don't you think that...." They are easy to recognize as their tone of voice is often belligerent. They seem to be continually looking for an argument. Usually fighters are struggling for power or control. Their questions or disagreements with the leader are the means by which they attempt to assume control.
Intervention Strategies: The Fighter
- If the fighter continually picks apart your statements or finds fault with the material, say, "It sounds like you have some interesting ideas. I'd really like to hear you elaborate on them."
- If the fighter says, "Don't you think that...," say, "It sounds like you have a statement to make. You are not really asking a question."
- You can confront the negativity by saying, "You sound irritated to me. Is there something bothering you?" If the fighter expresses some negative feelings, it is important to thank him or her for telling you and not argue about what was said.
This person seems to be in another world. He or she often "tunes out," misses directions, or just does not seem to grasp the material. Often flighters play dumb, rather than admit their attention is elsewhere. They are annoying in groups because they ask leaders to repeat directions or points everyone else understood. Their investment in the group seems low. When asked for an opinion, they often respond by saying, "I don't care" or "Whatever you want" or "It makes no difference to me." During the class, they often have blank expressions on their faces.
Intervention Strategies: The Flighter
- If a flighter asks you to repeat material that you believe was quite clear, ask him or her to repeat first what he or she did hear. You can then ask other group members to fill in the rest.
- If you notice the flighter getting distracted, you can say, "You seem to be distracted right now. Is there something on your mind?"
- If flighters seem reluctant to give their opinion or to make a choice, force them to make a choose. Say, "Even though you don't have much of a preference, please make a choice anyway."
The questioner can cause you difficulty because he or she is repeatedly stopping the flow of your presentation by asking questions. These questions may be about the content, the procedure, or about your style of leading the group. Questioners often ask a lot of "why" questions that you may begin to find difficult to answer and which can make you feel defensive. You will probably feel irritated by these persistent interruptions. Often questioners have trouble thinking by themselves. Rather than finding their own answer to a thought or question, they will ask you to figure out the answer for them.
Intervention Strategies: The Questioner
- "I appreciate your interest in the material. I think it would be helpful for you to experiment with answering that question yourself."
- "Take a guess as to what I meant by that statement."
- "We only have a limited amount of time. Would you please save your question? We may address it later on."
- "Instead of answering that now, why don't you see me during the break if your question has not been answered by then?"
- "What do you think the answer to that question is?" If the questioner responds by saying he or she does not know, say "Take your time. When you get an idea, let us know."
The withdrawer sits quietly in the group but looks miserable. He or she calls attention to himself or herself by looking pained, blank, or even disgusted. The group is generally aware of this person's feelings even though he or she is quiet. The withdrawer's facial expression clearly communicates displeasure, but the rest of the body gestures are quite still and withdrawn. Other members of the group generally feel awkward when they notice this person's quiet, but obvious discomfort.
Intervention Strategies: The Withdrawer
- "Is there something about what we are doing that is not of interest to you?"
- "Susan, why don't you take this opportunity, while we are evaluating this segment of the class, to express your feelings and thoughts; you seem to be displeased."
- "I encourage you to express your point of view. Perhaps you can influence what we are currently doing."
The monopolizer takes up a great amount of air time in a class. As a result, sometimes other group members begin to withdraw rather than fight for the right to speak. The monopolizer is generally a poor listener who usually manages to turn the conversation back to himself or herself. People exhibiting this behavior are often long-winded and tend to interrupt others to state a personal opinion or relate an experience. This person seems unaware that there are other people who might want to speak. Almost always when there is a pause in the conversation, he or she jumps right in, attempting to relate personally to the topic.
Intervention Strategies: The Monopolizer
- "We have been hearing primarily from one or two people. I'm interested in hearing from the rest of you."
- "It might be helpful for those of you who have been doing a lot of talking to listen more and for those of you who have been doing a lot of listening to try speaking up more often."
- "Notice your style of participation. Have you been primarily a listener or a talker in this class? Practice exhibiting the opposite behavior, and see what new things you can learn."
- "You have made some interesting comments. Now I would like you to give some other people an opportunity to speak."
The know-it-all is the person who is the expert on everything. Regardless of what you say, he or she either adds something or corrects what you have said. Know-it-alls have ideas about almost everything and are very quick to offer their opinions, whether someone solicits them or not. They want to feel important and show they are knowledgeable. Therefore, know-it-alls attempt to get recognition and power by taking the role of the resident expert.
Intervention Strategies: The Know-It-All
- "It seems that you have opinions on many subjects that are very different from mine. Would you like to come up to the front of the room and present an opposing point of view?"
- "You seem to know a lot about the subject. I'm wondering why you took this class."
- "Perhaps you would like to prepare a presentation and give it this afternoon since you seem to have so many opinions on the subject."
- "Thank you for the information" or "Thank you for your point of view."
- "You and I see the situation very differently. Although you certainly don't have to change your mind, I suggest that you let yourself be open to these new ideas. Let me know at the end of the class how you feel."
The complainer continually finds fault with all aspects of the class. His or her criticism can include everything from dissatisfaction with the environment to dissatisfaction with the material being presented or with the structure. Therefore, you are likely to hear complaints like the following, "this workshop is not what I expected" or "the seats are uncomfortable" or "I hate role-playing." Complainers begrudgingly participate while letting you and everyone else know how they feel. They do not always express their feelings orally; rather they tend to moan and groan and make grimaces.
Intervention Strategies: The Complainer
- "You seem quite dissatisfied with most of the material being presented. What I hope is you will let yourself be open to it and reserve judgment until the end of the class. Then I would appreciate your feedback."
- "Even though I know you are not getting what you want right now, would you be willing to be receptive to what we are offering, and then decide later on how useful the material is to you?"
- "If nothing pleases you, perhaps you really do not want to be here now."
The distractor often asks questions or makes comments that have nothing to do with the material currently being discussed. Distractors change the topic by bringing up extraneous material, but they are usually unaware they are doing so. Their questions and comments divert attention from what is being discussed. These irrelevant comments often cause discomfort as well as annoyance to the leader and to the group members. Responding to the comments and questions means getting sidetracked. It is difficult not to respond, however, because distractors are usually enthusiastic participants who do not consciously intend to cause trouble.
Intervention Strategies: The Distractor
- "That question does not seem to fit what we are discussing right now. If it continues to seem important to you, why don't you talk to me during the break?"
- "You seem to be asking a lot of questions that are only slightly related to the topic we are discussing. Are you having difficulty understanding the material?"
- If people are raising their hands before speaking, you can avoid calling on the distractors. If, however, participants are speaking without raising their hands, you can say, "Gee, Joe, we have heard from you a lot; let's hear from some other points of view now."
A Pollyanna can initially be a delight to have in a group. The individual is always smiling, and his or her attitude is that everything is always wonderful and satisfying. Pollyannas rarely, if ever, express a preference or make a critical comment. They almost always go along with what someone says or what the majority of the group wants. Nothing is ever a problem for them. A Pollyanna will avoid conflict or disharmony at any cost. He or she refuses to engage in any activity that might cause discomfort.
Intervention Strategies: The Pollyanna
- If you are waiting for the Pollyanna to state a preference, and he or she is avoiding responsibility, you can say, "Choose. Make a decision, any decision, as long as you decide."
- In an evaluation, encourage him or her to give corrective feedback as well as positive feedback. Say, "I really appreciate all your positive comments though I am sure the course is not 100% excellent. Find something you would like to see improved. It is important to give corrective as well as positive feedback."
- "It is really nice to hear you give both positive and corrective feedback."
Intellectualizers tend to be quite verbose and provide a lot of explanations for why they think or feel a certain way. An intellectualizer attempts to make sense out of everything. When speaking, he or she uses many rationalizations and justifications for his or her beliefs. This person often becomes lost in his or her own theory. One way to recognize intellectualizers is by the way they often translate a very simple thought or idea into a complex theory. The more the intellectualizers talk, the more complicated the simple thought becomes.
Intervention Strategies: The Intellectualizer
- "Try expressing that idea in one sentence."
- "I am glad you are interested in that idea, but I am getting confused with how you are developing it."
- "I am getting lost in all your words; see if you can say what you mean more concisely."
- "It appears to me you are making what has just been said more complicated than is necessary."
12 "Types of Process Interventions," adapted from Jones and Pfieffer, Editors, The 1978 Annual Handbook for Group Facilitators, San Diego, CA: Pfieffer and Co., 1978.
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