Helping Group Members with Maladaptive Communication 127 competence, and caring and question one another’s trustworthiness and where— and if—they fit within the group’s structure. As groups begin, workers can anticipate some testing of their competence, authority, and caring. At times, the testing is overt (sitting in the worker’s chair, reading a newspaper, challeng- ing the worker’s credentials, or identifying differences between the worker and the members). Other times, the testing is subtler, such as sharing a joke or an experience that leaves the worker out. From the process of testing, group mem- bers begin to develop mutual bonds and alliances as they struggle to figure out where the worker belongs within the interpersonal system of the group. As their place within the group’s hierarchy becomes clearer, members’ attention turns to how intimate they wish to become with each other. For mutual aid to evolve, the group members—with the worker’s assistance—must develop interper- sonal trust and intimacy. This leads to yet another developmental task for mem- bers, which is developing comfort with disagreement and differing points of view. Whether the mutual aid potential is realized depends upon powerful yet subtle interpersonal processes. Not all groups are successful at fostering mutual aid and achieving members’ collective tasks. Some groups never begin, others begin and then disintegrate, and still others reinforce maladaptive behaviors among individual members and the group as a whole. A common source of internal stress stems from the agency and/or the worker paying insufficient attention to the considerations associated with creating a group that were first presented in chapter 6 (e.g., lack of clarity about group purpose and the work- er’s role, compositional imbalance, and group size). When workers pay insuf- ficient attention to the tasks associated with forming a group, the potential for mutual aid is unlikely to be realized, while the risk of dropouts and member dissatisfaction and disinterest increases. 3. Importance of Establishing Shared Expectations An important task in the beginning phase of working with groups is to estab- lish guidelines for how members will work together to accomplish their col- lective tasks. The worker’s expectations place the emphasis on behaviors that threaten the group’s survival (e.g., running out of the room or physical fighting). Otherwise, members should be helped to decide—with the worker’s guidance— how they plan to work together. The group’s work is undermined when expec- tations are nonexistent, constantly in flux, or ambiguous, since members are constantly testing to determine what is expected of themselves and others. On the other hand, when guidelines become inflexible rules to which members must adhere, spontaneity and genuine interactions are limited or nonexistent and members’ individuality and autonomy are discouraged. Rigid adherence to rules can contradict the very purpose of the group.
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