Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Most Difficult Group?

“Isn’t this the most difficult group you’ve ever worked with?” a group member asked earnestly. As a group facilitator I have heard this question – in one form or another – many times. For years I responded by downplaying or outright denying the group’s difficulty. “Oh, this group isn’t so difficult, it’s not that unusual.” “Really?” the group member responded, “I thought this was a really bad group!” and the eagerness and energy that came with the initial question would fade.

After many such exchanges I finally realized two things. First, from my perspective the group did not seem unusual or difficult, but from the perspective of its members, it was. Second, instead of hearing me deny their reality, these group members wanted me to acknowledge that their group was indeed difficult, provide some insight into why it was difficult, and suggest what they could do about it.

When finally I caught on to the meaning of this question I started responding differently. Instead of negating their sense of the group’s difficulty I replied, “That’s an interesting question! What makes this group difficult from your perspective?” The responses I heard were often illuminating, and they helped me appreciate the many ways in which groups can be experienced as difficult. And indeed, even for the most experienced and wise group members, leaders, and facilitators, there are “difficult groups.”

This leads to an important element in how we think about our work with groups: rather than think in terms of how to work with difficult groups, the approach we take in Working with Difficult Groups is to think in terms of what makes working with groups difficult. That is to say, a particular group is not innately difficult; rather there are various things that make working with the group difficult. Wouldn’t it be useful if we had a way of thinking systematically about all the ways in which working with a group might be difficult? That would provide a basis for understanding why working with the group is difficult and then, what you could do about it.

Excerpted from The Handbook for Working with Difficult Groups: How They Are Difficult, Why They Are Difficult, and What You Can Do About It