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This examines Power & Influence in Organizations for a graduate class on organizational behavior .


The Influence of Power,

Authority and Covert Strategies on

Group Dynamics &

Organizational Behavior

            Conflict is experienced at various levels by each one of us throughout our personal, private and public lives. The manner in which we react to those experiences depends upon the dynamics, not only of relationships that are inherent to the conflict itself, but of the nature of our own thoughts, feelings and images of previous conflicts that we bring along into our prevailing relationships.


Because our reactions to conflict vary widely, our understanding of the processes of conflict in our everyday lives should be of special interest. In order to understand and effectively deal with conflict with others, one must understand the underlying conflicts within one's own individual self. Some suggest, however, that in order to understand and to effectively deal with the conflicts within, we must truly, openly and honestly reveal ourselves to others.


The difficulty here, of course, is that this may seem to be contradictory to one's personal survival instinct of either confronting the perceived conflict or running away from it. Middlebrook (1974) argues that, in order to effectively resolve any external conflict -- i.e., one which is perceived to exist, whether real or imagined, with another -- there not only must be true self-knowledge within the individual perceiving the conflict, but the inherent difficulties of self-discovery require self-disclosure to others, even and often especially to those with whom we perceive to be in conflict:


            Paradoxically, even though we think we know ourselves better than anyone else, attaining self-knowledge is very difficult. Our emotions and motives seem to be experienced so directly that it is difficult to believe self-knowledge is a problem in this area...

When we try to discover information about our general selves, the problems of knowledge multiply. The disparity between what we are and what we want to be may be so painful that we cannot bear to contemplate our actuality, and we may deceive ourselves...

The only way we can force ourselves to be honest is to disclose ourselves to others. When a person honestly reveals aspects of his self he provides a realistic picture of himself that can counter all of the false images and allow him to relate more closely to another person.


The risks involved in willingly and openly revealing one's self to others includes empowering those with whom one is perceived to be in conflict. Furthermore, dependent upon the degree to which the reality of the conflict is threatening, an understanding of the power and politics involved in any given relationship will help the individual to assess the physical and emotional safety issues that must be considered with each new encounter with another human being.


Freud (1930) relates that our need for personal liberty can be a source of enrichment as well as a destructive force within the confines of civilized society:


            The liberty of the individual is no gift of civilization...The development of civilization imposes restrictions on it, and justice demands that no one shall escape those restrictions. What makes itself felt in a human community as a desire for freedom may be their revolt against some existing injustice, and so may prove favourable to a further development of civilization; it may remain compatible with civilization. But it may also...become the basis in them of hostility to civilization.


The political reality, therefore, demands that we manage our conflicts in such a manner so that no harm shall come to us. Murphy (1970) contends that competition results from the conflict of various interest groups:


            Politics is conflict. It creates competition among interested groups for things they want -- and for things they do not want. While some groups are well organized in terms of membership, involvement, economic resources, leadership, and realistic goals, others have only a loose aggregate, few resources, and unarticulated goals.


Finally, the review of the literature, as represented by Egan (1994), reveals that power is of common and utmost interest among all participants:


            Power of one kind or another is at the core of political maneuvers. Without power it is impossible to compete. Since power is the essence of politics, then getting it is part of the political process.


Thus, groups and organizations may be viewed as complex systems of individuals and coalitions, each having unique sets of values and beliefs. Since these coalitions compete for scarce resources, conflict is inevitable. In order to fully understand how coalitions function and behave under different sets of circumstances, it is important to analyze:


-- how they are influenced;

-- how their goals are formulated;

-- the power relations that exist within them;

-- the differences between formal and informal power; and

-- the members of the coalitions themselves.


             In the participation in and subsequent analysis of a “leadership processes simulation” experience, under the auspices of a masters-level college course on power and influence in

organizations, this participant engaged in various opportune moments through which I was able to both observe group behavior and experience first-hand its consequences. The group task,

according to the syllabus, was to "explore the function of leadership and authority in groups and the individual's role and influence in the group process."


The focus of this paper is to explore how the group to which I was assigned dealt with power and authority dynamics, in terms of what the “Consultants” of the leadership processes simulation represented for group members, and my covert role in our group in terms of the interpersonal feedback, which I both gave and received. Of additional interest is the effect of our group on the behavior of members of other groups outside of our own.


Since we were assigned to an unstructured group, my perceived needs, as reflected in Coplin and O'Leary (1972), were to be "successful," not only in this group process, but also, in the authors' words, "the politics of life," and so I was compelled to probe, interact, calculate and execute:


1. Probe your surroundings to figure who the most important actors are

2. Interact with them to find out their inclinations and influence on the topics important to you

3. Calculate how to get them to behave the way you want

4. Execute the plan you have decided upon


While the actual leadership processes simulation did not begin until the class participants were assigned and actually participated in their respective groups, the first several weeks of class were crucial in setting the tone for the rest of the semester. During the first week of classes, the instructor (hereafter referred to as the Director, for the "Director of the Consultants") informed us that we would be assigned the following week into one of two groups, each consisting of from four to five members.


The Director also related that we were to work in our groups, learn our roles and develop a group model for conflict resolution and group development based on a process derived from

Tavistock theory. Very few overt clues were given other than that we were to review our texts in terms of theory and practice of group dynamics and to keep a journal of our experiences and integrations of the readings.


Once the leadership processes simulation was to began, the Director informed us that our only communication with her was to take place either through E-mail or through one of the other

Consultants, whose role as presented to us was to give our group "feedback" during the leadership processes simulation.


We were also assigned to hand in our written impressions of power and authority at the end of that class period. Mine were basically that one may have power without authority, authority without power, and that at times one may have both. Finally, we were told to be "courageous" in how we were to deal with power and authority "processes" in our respective groups.


During the second week of class we were assigned to our groups – with my group being referred to as Group II – and in turn we observed our counterparts as they sat facing one another while conducting an assignment from a handout and interacted in what was referred to as the "fishbowl.”


Later, our groups were assigned to separate rooms with poster papers and markers and we were to answer two questions for subsequent presentation to the class as a whole: "How does the

other group see us?" and "How do we see the other group?" This was referred to as our group's "mirror" exercise. We basically agreed in a hurried fashion at the end of our assigned time to list a series of adjectives with representative symbols for each group: a rabbit for Group I, and a lightning bolt for Group II.


Incidentally, Group I consisted of one man and three women with two of the women older than me, one younger and the man approximately my age, while Group II consisted of two men and three women with two of the women younger than me, one was approximately my age and the other man was older than me. These distinctions, while perhaps useful while studying certain aspects of the group dynamics, are here presented as matters of reference for describing behaviors of individual group members.


Towards the end of our mirror exercise, one of the younger female members of my group seemed to become withdrawn after we hurriedly moved to a conclusion of our assignment without fully discussing her proposal that we represent each group graphically and entirely in picture symbols. When other members asked her whether she was agreeable to our rather hurried "compromise" of using both words and symbols for each group as a whole, she replied affirmatively but with a rather subdued affect in her facial expressions and body language.


While presenting our "mirror" project to the class, this same younger female member broke down crying, stating that she felt uncomfortable but that she didn't know why. The Director stated that we, her other group members, had "scapegoated" her by projecting our "self-fears" onto her and that we needed to "take back" what we had "given" to her.


I experienced discomfort with this explanation as, first, I did not know this woman well enough to openly interact with her in such a manner and, second, I believed that the responsibility for the well-being of a student placed in such a distressful situation, apparently resulting from an assigned exercise, "belonged" to that of the Director who, at that particular time, was still in her role as class instructor and group facilitator.


(Herein lies an important distinction in that, given the possible emotional volatility of our group processes, I resolved to remain aware of any covert role that the Director might play concerning “emotional safety” issues for myself as well as for the other group members.)


Finally, at the end of that week's class session, the Director informed us that the information on the posters for the "mirror" presentations would be provided to us in a word-processed format during the following week of classes and, furthermore, that the following class would mark the beginning of the leadership processes simulation experience.


In addition to our assigned readings, we were informed beforehand that we should be aware of:


 -- "assumptions" within our groups;

-- that not initiating is in fact "following";

-- that, when observing and commenting on others we should look at the "reflection" of ourselves;

-- that everything said has a meaning, whether consciously or unconsciously;

-- that we may want something yet fear it at the same time; and

-- that "intimacy" used herein refers to the "here and now."


Thus, in probing my surroundings I was learning that the most important actors were to include the Director, the Consultants, and group members who might compete for disparate goals. My personal goals were to remain safe from conflict, to belong to the group to which I was assigned, to feel good about participating, and to possibly learn a bit more about who I am during the course of the group processes.


I resolved to learn more about the politics of power and authority concerning myself, my group members, and the Director and the Consultants. I would remain aware of and analyze as much as possible my own thoughts, feelings and beliefs, both as they are experienced and how they may relate to my past. One important clue concerning the safe and effective management of behavior was referenced from Donnellan, et al (1988) who proposed that:


In deciding to intrude upon another person's being and change her behavior, we should examine the context within which the behavior is occurring...

When an unconventional behavior is seen as a problem, the context in which it occurs should be examined through a functional analysis...

While we do not know that all behavior is an attempt...to "tell" us something, we do know that all behavior has the potential to communicate important information. For example, even stereotypic behaviors...may tell us that the individual is anxious and upset in certain situations.


This information suggested to me that I should examine behavior for what it is and not to take it out of context by trying to evaluate any underlying motivations beyond the "here and now." Furthermore, in order to interact with my group members and to find out their inclinations and influences, we would have to remain focused on a set of common goals and ideas. This notion of organizing various individuals around a set of central values was presented to me by an agency with which I was once employed, through an introductory training manual for new employees entitled, Welcome to the Challenge (1992):


...we value your individuality and the unique personality that makes you different from each of your co-workers. Nevertheless, regardless of personal differences, we...are unified around a set of basic principles...when a Unifying Principle is mentioned, it refers to one of our most basic beliefs about who we are and how we operate...Those we serve come first...Commit to excellence...Be dedicated...Employee satisfaction...Communicate effectively...Be innovative.


I believed, therefore, that my group would have to formulate its own set of values and, in terms of executing the plans and goals in which I as a group member would set forth to the others, I was reminded by Machiavelli (1514) that I could use these values to get them to behave in the way that I would want:


...a wise prince must devise ways by which his citizens are always and in all circumstances dependent on him and on his authority; and then they will always be faithful to him.


While the author's utilitarian methods for securing power are self-serving at best, I was reminded by Egan (1994) that, in order to have and to deal effectively with others' power, one must consider all players, including one's self, and fully understand each actor's power in a systematic manner:


-- How do you feel about power and its use?

-- What are the sources of power...? Authority? Expertise? Personal attractiveness? The ability to persuade? Connections?

-- What is the source of your own power?

-- To what degree do people...glory in its use?

-- How do you use the power that you have?


Another dimension, alluded to by Yogi Ramacharaka (1931), is that thoughts and ideas in group interactions can take on a powerful life of their own within the group that may be above and beyond the reach of any one individual member:


            While, as a rule, the power of thought of a certain kind depends upon the strength with which it has been projected, there is another element of strength which enables thoughts to manifest power. We allude to the tendency of thought to attract to itself other thoughts of a similar nature and thus combine force. Not only does thought along any lines tend to attract to the thinker corresponding thought...but thoughts have a tendency to flank together – to coalesce, to blend together. The average thought-atmosphere of a community is the composite thoughts of the people composing that community.


With regard to at times feeling helpless under the overall influences of the group processes themselves, the Holy Bible (2 Corinthians 12:9) relates that these feelings, if recognized for what they are, may be a source of inspiration: "...my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities..."


            Furthermore, participants need not be at a strategic hierarchical formal level in order to wield power within an organization. Mechanic (1962) argues that even lower participants in complex organizations often "assume and wield considerable power and influence not associated with their formal defined positions." The author identifies three main sources of power -- information, persons and instrumentalities -- that one must have access to in order to influence others. Since lower participants often have access to these sources in various ways, they usually achieve control by circumventing, sabotaging and manipulating the formal role structure of the organization.


Thus, the stage was set in my mind for conflict, which could be either rewarding or distressful, and that I should "arm" myself with the aforementioned strategies in order to be prepared for any contingency that might arise. We had two weeks off from the previous class experience and thus had sufficient time to contemplate the anticipated learning processes simulation -- whatever that was to entail -- along with our past experiences in class as outlined above.


I had resolved, therefore, that, while I recognized that not all of my needs and wishes would be influential on the group as a whole, I would utilize any covert influences that I had at my disposal in order to manage any undue power struggles both from outside of the group as well as from within.


Upon arrival to the next week's class session, the members of both groups were in the hallway outside of the closed classroom door and relayed that we were to remain there until we were instructed to enter. We were also provided with a memo, from the "Director of Consulting Team," outlining the "Leadership Simulation Process."


The Director stated in her memo that, after the presentation, consisting of introducing the "Consulting Team" and explaining the process, our groups would proceed to our assigned, separate rooms to begin the process, and that the consulting team would visit each group for fifteen minutes according to the assigned schedule. Of special note was that the memo concluded with the suggestion, "If any group wishes to consult with the Director of the Consultants, you can make an appointment with one of the associates."


Furthermore, on an additional handout, providing the names of the Consultants, we were informed, "The consultant team was chosen very carefully for their demonstrated expertise in group dynamics theory and practice" and that they "will visit your group each week, offering valuable input for your group's development." Thus, we were presented with the impression that we would be guided along in our group development with information and instrumentalities that would be readily useful for all concerned.


Upon entry into our classroom, the Director, who sat among the three Consultants -- two women, one of which was younger and the other approximately my age, and a man who was older than I -- greeted us. With neutral &, at times, seemingly scornful expressions on their faces, all eye contact was avoided, save for when the Director introduced the consultant team, and referred to herself in the third person as the "Director of the Consultants."


Here it seemed apparent that they were taking on the roles of very stern, impersonal authoritative figures. The Director stated that she would be speaking "directly" to our "group sub-conscience," that the "interventions are not about one individual, but about the group," and that "forewarned is forearmed" concerning managing our group's "shadow side."


As my group proceeded to our assigned room nearby, it was discovered that another class occupied it. When one of our members chose to inform the Consultants of this, she was abruptly told by the male consultant that she would have to "work it out" with her group. We easily decided to gather in another room several doors away from the main classroom, but not without some comments, especially from the other male member of our group, that possibly it was "planned" by the Consultants that our assigned room would be occupied. This led to some further comments from others and myself that we should avoid any "paranoia" resulting from speculation, and instead should focus on a reality-based analysis of what was known to be factual.


In our new room, we discussed strategies relating to handling the Consultants' "authoritative attitudes." First, we decided that the Consultants should come to the room chosen by our group, and not the room that was assigned to us and found to be wanting for our purposes. Generally, we agreed that this was to disallow them the power of what may possibly be -- although we had no concrete proof of this -- their perceived manipulation. Furthermore, we may have decided to stay in that room not only as a matter of security and safety, but also as a means of containing any more of the unknown that might lead to further speculation and, of utmost concern, paranoia.


The group readily accepted the offer of the young female member, who had broke down emotionally during the previous class, to personally present our position concerning the rooms. She quickly returned, however, stating that it was a "frightening" experience and that the Consultants ignored what she had to say to them on our behalf. Being conscious of her apparent fragile makeup and the desire to contain her emotions, I commented that I felt "slighted" for the Consultants' treatment of one of our group members and suggested that we all present our group decision as a "unified whole."


At the time that we were to meet with the Consultants in the previously assigned room -- which by then, incidentally, was no longer occupied by the other class -- we entered together and, one by one, provided a rationale as to why it would be more "practical" and "convenient" for us to remain in our newly-chosen room. The Consultants were subsequently informed that they were "welcome" to join us there. With no response from the Consultants, we departed.


By then we were not surprised that they did not join us. However, at the end of the class period, the male consultant entered our room and announced that we were to read certain pages in one of our assigned texts, prior to the next class, pertaining to the "shadow side" and "covert issues" that were "apparent" in our group as evidenced that evening. Upon his departure we expressed further elation, above that shared following our unified "confrontation" with the Consultants over the room arrangements. We viewed his presence in our room as "feedback," which had been lacking from the Consultants beforehand, first, as a response in and of itself, and second, as actual direction concerning our assigned reading assignment.


However, while discussing the overall impersonal nature of the Consultants, and our disappointment over their general lack of feedback, we shared our personal feelings concerning our nervousness with confronting the Consultants. Although we expressed "pride" in our group as a whole for doing so, we were cautiously optimistic that we would devise a means by which we could "contain" those negative feelings. I then suggested that we formulate our own "unifying principles" by which we could reference as our "code of conduct." This was readily accepted as a means of having a focus, given that, apart from our assigned readings, our group's specific tasks were totally unarticulated and thus we were left to devise them on our own. Together we wrote our "Values" list with five main principles, each beginning with the statement: "We value...


-- Strengths and weaknesses and believe they should be voiced when appropriate and taken as constructive criticism rather than a personal attack.

-- Democracy, whereby decision-making is a working to consensus. We understand consensus to be: when all members offer their input, where we negotiate differences, are flexible, and re-evaluate the decision being made.

-- Open, honest communication with respect for each other even when we disagree because we believe each of us has something of value to offer.

-- Group well-being, which means respecting our emotional state, our ability to feel comfortable as ourselves and discuss important issues without fear of rejection.

-- Leadership to be flexible and adaptable whereby promoting that any one of us can take on this role at any time.


Finally, we agreed to present to the Consultants a brief memo outlining our desire to stay in our new room, along with our offer that they join us. We also agreed to go to "their" room only if directly instructed to do so. Thus, by the class session's end, we had reformulated a whole new outlook on the group processes, as compared to the previous class experiences, and were cautiously optimistic that we would "prevail" as a group, even if that meant confronting the Consultants on a regular basis. It was later learned, however, that this "cautious optimism" would be short-lived, as the dynamics within the group tended to pull us into various directions of disarray.


There were forces set upon us that we still did not fully comprehend. We understood the Consultants' impersonal behavior to be a contrived, planned strategy for getting us to act within the boundaries of our group's dynamics. Knapp (1978, 2nd ed.) suggested that the Consultants' expressionless faces and lack of eye contact was meant to cut us off from discerning any clues as to their intentions:


            The face is rich in communicative potential. It is the primary site for communication of emotional states, it reflects interpersonal attitudes, it provides nonverbal feedback on the comments of others, and some say it is the primary source of information next to human speech. For these reasons, and because of its visibility, we pay a great deal of attention to the messages we receive from the faces of others. Frequently we place considerable reliance on facial cues when making important interpersonal judgments.


My take on all of this was that we were not to expect proper feedback from the Consultants unless we forced them to respond in some -- any -- manner. Stinchcombe (1964) suggested to me that I might be importing into the group my past rebelliousness during my formative years in high school:


...students who are rebellious in high school are likely to have a psychological set...high school rebellion is part of a complex of attitudes toward psychologically present authority, characterized by non-utilitarianism, negativism, short-run hedonism, and emphasis on group autonomy.


These possible underlying motivations of mine may have driven me to push the group toward total rejection of what we sarcastically referred to as the “Board," meaning the Consultants who were perceived as "distant" from us, and to deny any concessions on their part to provide us with useful feedback. Thus, by focusing the group on "flight-fight" responses to issues of aggressiveness and fear, I may have unconsciously stifled others' differing perspectives on the matter of the Board.


Yalom (1985) outlined how Bion's "basic assumption" theories emerged from an "holistic" study of group dynamics:


...Searching for total group currents, he noted that at times the group appeared to be pursuing it's primary task...an exploration of its own intragroup tensions... called...the "work group" culture. At other times he noted that the group appeared to be dominated by certain massive emotional states, which resulted in behavior incompatible with the primary task...(1) aggressiveness, hostility, and fear; (2) optimism and hopeful anticipation; (3) helplessness or awe.

From these primary observations, Bion postulated that in each of these emotional states the group was acting "as if" the members shared some common belief from which their affect stemmed...Bion termed each of these three emotional states "basic assumption cultures."


According to Yalum, Bion attributed three types of basic assumption groups to the above emotional states: flight-fight, pairing, and dependency groups, respectively. "Thus," says Yalum, "at any given time a group may be described as either a work group, or as one of the three basic assumption groups, or in some transitional phase."


Throughout the following sessions of the group processes, I proposed that we respond to the Board only when provided with direct, concrete feedback to our group. The following week our other male member was absent and one of our younger female members had to leave early for personal reasons, which we openly supported. We presented our group memo to the Board suggesting that they contact us at a certain time if they had any "questions, comments, or concerns" with regard to this matter.


We in turn were given another memo, written specifically to Group II, from the Board with several cartoons, one, depicting a clown not being taken seriously and, the other, a herd of buffalo running along with one stating, "As if we all knew where we're going." Of special note was that we were assigned -- in bold, underlined, all capital letters -- the original room, which we had plainly rejected the previous week before the Board.


We were not surprised to learn that the Board did not respond to our request to join us in our room, so we waited, intentionally, five minutes beyond our assigned time to meet with them, and then joined them there in the other room since, as agreed to the week before, we would oblige when directly instructed to do so.


However, upon entering the room, the Board did not engage in conversation with us in any manner until we began conversing with one another. We were then interrupted with a vague, seemingly nonsensical comment from the Director, beginning with the words, "It's as if the children..." and all subsequent comments from her were framed in such a manner, referring to us (or so it seemed) as "children" and to the Director as "the goddess."


These were quite disconcerting to us but, hoping that these apparent "metaphors" had meaning, several of the members tried to elicit clarification, only to be met with either silence or another vague metaphor.


Following this experience, we met later, as assigned, with the other group before the Board and had a similar experience. However, the impact of the Director's continued metaphors was diminished, as we all seemed to smile at one another and smirk whenever the Director commented in such a fashion.


After the Board left the room, our two groups shared further our experiences with the Board and discovered several issues that we had in common -- most specifically that our "values" in general were held as important to all members of both groups.


Before the next class, I explored the Director's use of the metaphors and tried to make sense of it out of my review of the literature. My only hint of the Tavistock theory "method," that was alluded to by the Director during the first class session, was that Consultants to group processes must remain objective in their observation, but this, however, is a common theme throughout the literature.


I did find a reference to William Gordon's "synectics," as described by Roth, et al (1996), but this method's use of metaphors was designed to promote creativity, and not to provide useful feedback in the sense of moving group processes along. As stated by the authors, "Synectics has been used mainly in group settings...its emphasis is on releasing the power of the individual mind and imagination, rather than deriving the most from group interaction."


I attempted to elicit a response from the Director by discussing synectics with her via E-mail, if only in some way to make her feel that we were somehow "on" to her strategy. I even added my own metaphor by stating, "It's as if the goddess is hiding in the shadows of the children," but still she did not respond.


Finally, knowing that she had already ignored one of the younger female group members who had E-mailed a request for our "mirror" project listings, as previously "promised" by the Director, I stated to the Director that, if I did not receive a response from this latest transmission, I would no longer E-mail her at all. Again, not surprisingly, there was no response, so my communication with the Director ended completely.


Thereafter, I was committed to circumventing the Director's power and authority until such time that she would step out of her role, as "Director," and respond to any one of us, as a feeling "human being." As outlined in The Great Law of Peace of the Longhouse People (fourth printing, 1975), a leader who is not responsive must no longer lead:


            If at any time it shall be apparent that a chief...has not in mind the welfare of the people...the men or women...or both jointly shall come and scold the erring chief...If the complaint...is not heeded, on the first occasion, it should be uttered again, and then if no attention is given, a third complaint and a warning shall be given. If the chief is still disobedient...the chief is deposed...


Dinkmeyer and Eckstein (1996) relate how “discouraging leaders” can have damaging effects on those with whom they should be serving, and that they themselves who dominate through intimidation and pseudo-support methods actually have deep-seated issues of their own which they may need to resolve before they can truly lead:


…Domineering leaders alienate employees. Employees meet this authoritarian challenge with resistance and lack of cooperation...

Power and control in any relationship stifle spontaneity, involvement, and cooperation...

Discouragement through domination occurs when leaders offer their strengths and talents to assist employees they perceive as ineffective...the leader teaches nothing but feelings of inferiority, dependence, and discouragement.

Leaders who dominate through intelligence and experience make their employees feel inept...Dominators usually speak as if they know it all. Those who feel this type of treatment often feel unable to stand up to the dominator...

Discouragement through insensitivity occurs when supervisors need to get even or gain power or are unaware of the needs of others. They attempt to increase their feelings of self-esteem and self-worth by controlling others.


The authors also argue that a lack of response by leaders may have an even more powerful, yet negative effect:


            Silence (the failure to comment) is a very subtle but effective way to alienate employees. The simple failure to notice an employee's efforts or contributions is a form of nonverbal rejection and communicates to the employee that his or her behavior is not what is expected or valued...

Many employees interpret silence as negative feedback. It has the same impact as criticism; it implies lack of acceptance...


Thus, I had become driven to do whatever I could to get the group to fight, not only the Director as she was in her role, but the instructor, herself, who played that role and let us experience the fears and frustrations that surfaced throughout the weeks. My foremost concern was one of ethics as it was obvious, early on and through subsequent experiences that several of our members had very fragile, and even volatile emotional issues that they needed to resolve and were without any guidance from that of the part of the Director.


Since it was apparent that these emotional concerns, both among our members and with the Board, were not being addressed, and were inappropriate and quite possibly dangerous given this setting, I therefore proposed the following strategies to the group that we might use in order to elicit a response from the Board, as well as to re-focus our attention on an "external enemy," versus us having to deal with the "demons within."


Whenever we sat before the Board, we adhered to an "agenda," consisting of: self-disclosure of our personal experiences, thoughts and feelings over the previous week; review of our "Values" list; and a review of the literature -- at times purposefully discussing our group's need for "direct" feedback from and dialogue with the Board, and the subsequent disregard which we held for the Director's metaphors.


Whenever a metaphor was given, we would ignore it and stick to our agenda, or redirect any member who might have strayed and focused attention on the Board. Whenever chairs were arranged for us, as on one occasion when they were arranged "fishbowl" style, we would immediately rearrange them to our own satisfaction.


At one time the "men" of both groups were "required" to meet separately with the Board and, after commenting that I wondered whether our presence before the Board was of any value to us, the Director followed with the metaphor, "It's as if the boys are glued to their seats," at which time I and then the others walked out, later resolving to no longer allow the Director to split our groups along the lines of "gender issues."


At another time we agreed to fifteen minutes of silence, followed by another fifteen minutes of discussion, before the Board. While I had promoted that the entire half hour be that of silence, several group members insisted on compliance with the Board, so we compromised on the above, with the objective of eliciting a response from the Board. Of special note during the period of silence was that the Director's metaphors gained in length as well as frequency, suggesting that our silence may have been perceived negatively, just as we had perceived the Board's silence and the Director's metaphors as well.


As we recognized that it was possible to get a "rise" out of the Director, I discussed fight/flight issues with the other members and suggested that we had to make a choice between total acceptance, fighting or "flighting." Since I had convinced the members early on not to try to read into the Board's behavior too much without any substantial knowledge as to their motivations, to judge them only by their "concrete," or overt behavior, the idea of total acceptance was quickly rejected. Also, the idea of fighting them was not acceptable in that some members were adamant that, by so doing, we would be lowering ourselves to their standards.


The idea of rejection of the Board became more and more attractive as they continued to withhold direct feedback, and their silence and vague metaphors were perceived as highly negative by our standards. Thus, with the knowledge that "valuable time" had been lost over wavering on how to react to the Board and with regard to the fact that our presentation would soon be due, we decided for one last time that if the Board did not respond to our direct request for a meaningful dialogue, we would vote immediately thereafter on totally rejecting their presence. As expected, there was no meaningful dialogue from the Board, and we voted unanimously to go on about our own business.


The following week we presented a memo to the Board concerning our decision and, although the Board's memo to our group noted that they would meet with us in our room for the first time, this, we believed, was not good enough. Interestingly, the Director began to give us handouts with helpful tips for our group processes, and she had E-mailed us prior to that class session with suggested readings, but still we did not interpret this as "direct" feedback. While the Board observed the planning of our presentation, the moment a metaphor was given, on cue we all walked out by announcing to one another that it was "time" for our "break." Later that evening, the "men," and then the "women" were required to meet separately with the Board, but we all refused.


Just prior to the class session when we were to give our presentation, one of our group members urged us strongly to "re-group," or at least to "re-think" our aggressive strategy after relaying an E-mail message from the Director. She had expressed frustration over our group's unwillingness to participate. Although she did not directly talk to all of us, we finally felt that she was willing to self-disclose, in some -- any -- manner, at least. The Director seemed frustrated that we did not recognize that she was the "expert" and has "the PhD," meaning, and actually adding, "not you or the group members," with the final statement of exasperation, "What is the deal with you guys?" She subsequently postponed our presentations for one more week and "required" that we participate "for the successful completion of this course."


By then we were ready, willing and able to participate. We decided to recognize the Director's extreme response as "feedback." Knowing fully that we had banned together and resolved issues of safety, belonging, self-esteem and intimacy by focusing our efforts on resisting power and authority, we were then ready to self-disclose before everyone. I presented how "paradoxes" of group life both moved us along and stifled our productivity. We re-focused on our values and shared how, by forgetting to refer to them, we strayed from knowing what was most important in our group processes.


Smith and Berg (1987) suggest that our external battles helped us to make certain internal structures seem "necessary" for the sake of the group. However, we created further conflict among ourselves by continuing to feed off of issues of scarcity, including time, information and feedback. While we perceived these to be clearly lacking from the Consultants, they were available to us within our group all along. Thus, our values were not referred to when we needed them the most.


Nevertheless, by dealing with the issues of power and authority, as represented through the persona of the Director, the Consultants, and even the instructor herself, my covert influences on the Board, as well as on my group, helped me to further examine the basis of who I am and what it means to be a member of a group.


By examining the basis of my power and that of the other players, I was moved to examine more closely the issues of power and authority in my workplace, my personal relationships and my everyday life in society. No player in the game of politics and power is exempt from participating, no matter how knowledgeable, authoritative, detached or powerful, nor can one claim to be totally unaffected by the interpersonal human interactions that are inherent through the processes of group dynamics.


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