Small Group Communication the Issue essay

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2002, p.3) The following example from the experience of the group serves to illustrate the way in which these theoretical perspectives applied to the evaluation of the group's ability to function successfully.

As noted in the previous section, the group was faced with a crisis when the tour guide was injured by a lion. In terms of the above theory the group should have been able to communicate under stress in order to find a common solution to the problem at hand. Instead, what actually occurred was chaotic division and disagreement in the group which led to dysfunction. Two of the group members were in a state of shock and feared that they might be in danger. One of the American members of the group suggested that they should drive the guide back to the base camp as quickly as possible. Other members of the group disagreed with this view and felt that the tour guide should not be moved. They suggested that some members of the group should wait with the guide while the others went off to bring help.

In terms of functional small group dynamics the functional ideal is that these disparate points-of-view should have been discussed and communicated well and that an agreement should be reached that suited the group as a whole. But consensus could not be reached by this group and there was an impasse for a number of reasons. The most conspicuous reason for this situation was the lack of communication.

. Some members of the group could not understand the rationale of dividing the group and others feared that they may be attacked by the lions if their number were diminished. When one of the German members of the group pointed out that there was no danger of attack as long as they remained on the tour bus this point was either not understood or ignored by the others. The various issues were also not well expressed in the heat of the moment. In other words, there was as general breakdown of communication in the stressful situation.

The breakdown of communication meant that in effect the functional aspect of good group functioning could not take place. For instance, the functionalist view of good group interaction includes the importance of the group making consensual choices as well as the evaluation of these choices in terms of their strengths and weaknesses in order to find the best solution to the problem. This did not occur. However, as will be discussed, the group did achieve something of these aims in a different situation.

Furthermore, in the crisis situation the group could not implement the functional requirement for good group interaction as suggested by Waldeck and others. In terms of this stance the group in order to be deemed successful should be able to establish rules of communication and also to employ appropriate interventions in order to overcome dysfunctional aspect such as affiliative and egocentric constraint (Waldeck et al. 2002, p.3).

In the crisis situation it was found that the group vacillated in their decision making. Another aspect was the evidence of egocentric bias. This proved to be an important barrier to the group integration; for example, when some members of the group thought only of themselves and their own safety and did not take the entire group and the situation into account.

Another basic element of functional theory shows a negative aspect of this group is their inability to deal with problems. This refers to the tenet that a primary assumption of group dynamics is that in the group the collective response and effort should "…exceed those of individual member" (Waldeck et al. 2002, p.3). In reality the safari group did not attain the ideals of good group problem solving in the crisis situation. In terms of another theoretical concept the group failed to achieve the ensamble effect. This concept refers to the situation when a "…group solution is superior to both choice of the group's most expert member and to an averaging of opinions" (Galanes and Adams, p. 126)

In the final analysis the crisis situation revealed the shortcomings of the group. They did not do well as a group in many areas. The central problem however centers around the inability to communicate, which in turn led to many other issues and problem areas. This also refers to egocentrism and conflict as well as other barriers to communication that would otherwise have allowed the group to function more effectively in that situation.

4.2. The Wildebeest calf

As has been suggested above, this negative assessment of the group refers to the crisis situation that they experienced on safari. However, this assessment changes radically when we analyze the group in terms of another event and set of circumstances.

One of the constraining aspects in the crisis situation was that there was very little time as well as the added component of stress and tension. Another factor that should be taken into account was that the members of the group came from different cultural backgrounds, which in turn may have been a reason for the poor level of communication. Waldeck et al. ( 2002) refer to these aspects from a theoretical perspective.. "…certain group member demographic variables, such as cultural background and gender, may influence particular communication styles enacted within groups and, consequently, the resulting decisions" (Waldeck et al. 2002, p.7). Waldeck et al. also refers to cognitive constraints which occur when"…little information is available to solve a problem or make a decision, time is limited and/or the issue if more complex than one with which the group typically deals" (Waldeck et al. 2002, p.8).

Therefore, taking these theoretical aspects into account, the concept of cognitive constraints would seem to fit in well with the actual experience of the safari group. They certainly had very little time in terms of knowing each other and with regard to the stressful situation. The situation that they found themselves in when the tour guide was injured was also much more complex than anything they were used to or had experienced on the trip. These factors therefore contributed to the fact that the group performed badly in the crisis situation.

A very different picture of group interaction is painted in the assessment of the second scenario. This refers to the incident when the group encountered the wounded Wildebeest calf. In this case there was a great deal of discussion and communication about this problem and the group succeeded in weighing up the options and achieved consensus in terms of a decision about the calf.

They were unanimous that this was an issue that everyone agreed on in principle and they decided to cancel their tour of the game reserve for that day and assist in helping the wounded animal. There was general agreement on the principle of helping the animal but there were also divergent views on what they as a group could actually do or achieve. After a lengthy discussion the group as a whole decided to go back to the camp and assist with the payment of the veterinary fees. While there were some members of the group who wanted to continue the tour they acquiesced to the views of the group after some debate.

There was therefore a profound difference in the way that the group functioned and communicated in this case when compared to the previous case. In this instance the group tended to function well in terms of issues and problem solving.

There are many reasons that might be put forward to explain this situation. One reason is that they were acting as a functional group because they could make decisions in a more relaxed atmosphere -- although it could also be argued that the sight of the calf in pain was also stressful to many of the group. There was also more time to discuss the issue, compared to the very tense situation with the lion. However, these reasons do not go far enough to explain the change in the group and their optimal level of group communication in this situation. .

A theoretical perspective that sheds some light on this situation is Symbolic Convergence Theory or SCT. The fundamental assumption that characterizes this theory is that, "…humans, by nature, interpret and give meanings to the signs, objects and people they encounter" (Waldeck et al. 2002, p. 9). This in effect means that human beings tend to create a "common consciousness" of shared experiences and symbols that are recognized by the group. This serves as a common focus and as means of understanding and communication. In this theory "common worlds" of understanding are referred to, which intersect and overlap to…[continue]

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