The Psychology of Group Dynamics
Many months back, sometime around early November last year, I had a spat with a close friend of mine. It was actually more than a spat; we kind of completely fell off talking terms. It escalated to a point where we more or less presumed we wouldn’t be crossing paths again. It wasn’t an easy place to be. Being in the same building, we meticulously timed our entry and exit into elevators so that we could avoid facing each other. Being on family terms, the spouses too did a good job of not accidentally bumping into each other, perhaps because they would not know what to say to each other. The tension was tangible, palpable.
This disturbed equation must have lasted close to 4 months; that is a really long time when you live in such close proximity. But coming to the point of this narration – it completely destroyed and threw out of gear, a circle of friends that I had so meticulously cultivated over 3 long years. The communication disruption touched all concerned. No one initiated a meeting for fear that either one of us wouldn’t turn up. We lost many holidays and weekends, which otherwise as a group we would never have missed. On a 1-to-1 personal discussion with friends, everyone wanted to know what happened, and everyone was updated from both ends separately. Then loyalties came into play, and those who felt closer to me and thicker with me chose to take sides. This meant reflecting an attitude of reserve and coldness with my enemy of the moment.
That was when I realized that group dynamics had come into play. I stepped in and stopped it before it could even start. I have seen enough disruptions of human equations, both in my own experiences and all around me over the years. One common dynamic always emerges towards the end…
When 2 who are part of a bigger group fight -> people in the group take sides -> group gets disrupted -> factions are formed -> subtle battle lines are drawn -> egos accelerate and the fight takes bigger proportions than it ought to -> then the 2 warring factions remember the good old times and yearn for each other again ->then they look for ways to patch up (in my case retiming elevator entries and exits so that we did bump into each other) -> egos start descending -> both sides look for opportunities to put the past behind and restart (check on kids’ exam schedules, ask for a recipe) -> seek and you shall find, says the Bible, so one fine day they chance upon the perfect God-sent opportunity to hug and patch-up (in my case it was the Holi celebrations which allowed us to color each other’s faces and thankfully hide the color of our own embarrassment) -> having gone through a rough patch, they vow to be extra careful with each other’s feelings ->they are sensitized -> and then…
…the one common dynamic that always emerges towards the end… is that those who blatantly chose to take sides are shortchanged. They don’t now know where they stand. The will now have to bear the ire of those whom they chose not to side with. They live in guilt of having taken sides on an issue that was never theirs to begin with. There begins the degeneration of the group and the group’s inter-personal relationships.
So when I stepped in and nipped the loyalty attempts in the bud, I automatically saved my group from future complications; because I knew somewhere deep down, that sooner or later an attempt to reunite would begin from either end. It had to happen. I was willing it, though my ego prevented me from forgiving so easily. This was the friend that had stood up in strongest support of me in a time of my deepest personal crisis. How could I have let her go so easily?
What I consciously did do, was that I discouraged all group activity till the time both of us were ready for a face-off. It would have been easiest to boycott my enemy of the moment; there were numerous occasions when I could have brought it to pass; but boycotting is a very serious offence, and when someone is at the receiving end of it, they usually do not forget the act; I guess my patience to-hold-on-for-a-bit-longer paid off, and the reunification was not only worth it but totally without guilt on anyone’s shoulders.
Rewind to a couple of years back and there comes to mind, another incident that happened with me. Different time, different people, different faces, same group dynamics, but here I was at the receiving end of a social trauma that I still cannot seem to erase from the subconscious layers of my mind.
Best friends -> over many long years -> we reconnect in Bombay after about 17 odd years -> delighted -> I initiate an all inclusive group gathering -> then the dynamics change from the other end -> maybe there were external influences that stole the show -> maybe there were hidden reasons which were never vocalized -> but what resulted was not just a break-off but a total boycott -> the boycott was not just by the friend in question, but by an entire group that chose to take sides on an issue that was never theirs to begin with. Unfortunately, it happened at a time when I was going through a personal crisis and my need to reach out to people was greatest. Friends about whom I had warm memories in my mind, friends with whom I had made a more than fair share of human effort, all chose to take sides. There were meetings, gatherings, house-warming, house-parties, picnics, holidays – to none of which I was invited. It was a humiliating and humbling experience.
Then the inevitable happened. Best friend apologizes, best friend accepts, best friends patch-up. So what then happens to the earlier group that chose to line up in support of the other? The guilt factor sets in, then the anger that they perhaps compromised on human values -> then the invites begin -> invitations to catch-up over coffee, invitations to come home, invites to parties, invites with family. I concede when I’m in the mood, I refuse when I’m not. If the effort required from my end is minimal, curiosity gets the better of me, and I oblige, I’m curious to know what people have to say to me; where I sense that I may have step outside my existing comfort zone and make that extra effort to blend in, I refuse.
There is no guilt or pressure from my end to accept or refuse an invite. When people had a chance to call the shots, they called it the way they chose to. I have come to terms with that, and I hold no grudges. Today, I’m in a peaceful space, I have overcome the trauma of my personal crisis, I have no emotional need to connect with families or the need to ask for a share in the joy of being with children. If I had been welcomed at a moment I had been reaching out for a hand to hold, today I could have multiplied that gesture manifold and returned it with gratitude.
I have asked the most uncomfortable questions to myself and have answered my own questions with unflattering answers. I have swayed to both extreme ends of the pendulum and have found my own inner equilibrium. Maybe it’s time others did the same.
4/29/2012 7:17:10 PM