In class last week, a classmate brought up a great point when we were discussing the paradox of intimacy – does a group initially connect on the stuff we tend to hide? In other words, do groups tend to connect over each other’s weaknesses rather than strengths? Strengths can be so individualized that oftentimes it’s hard to find commonalities within the group. However, weaknesses seem to be a shared experience across the board. In the Berg and Smith book, the authors illustrate an example of the paradox of intimacy. An MBA professor starts the class with allowing everyone to reveal his or her own anxieties about starting a new graduate program and feeling like the only “fraud” in the room. Once those anxieties are shared and known, only then can the group progress, connect, and fully engage with one another (Berg & Smith, 1987, pg. 124-125).
I thought the example is in direct contrast to what are some mainstream techniques to getting groups to connect with one another. For example, my advising team participated in StrengthsFinders a few months ago and went through a training that involved us focusing on each other’s abilities and strengths rather than our weaknesses. I left the training better aware of myself, but I could have cared less about other people’s strengths (sorry to be so blunt). In fact, I am still confused how I would use Strengthfinders to match people up in a team because I can’t see how the strengths are performance based. Group tasks and individual strengths are so specific given the context. StrengthFinders helps the individual understand themselves, but I’m still left wondering if in terms of group development, would it be best to bond with our team members about our weaknesses first? If the point of group development is a collective and shared experience, then shouldn’t we focus on what unifies us instead of what sets us apart? Allowing a group to focus on the weaknesses first can bring about the need to contrast it with another person’s individual strengths. A conversation about strengths and weaknesses could be much more organic and natural rather than a computer program telling you what your strengths are. I don’t mean to bash Gallop’s StrengthFinders tool, but I just think it has it’s limits (at least from a group development context).
On the flip side, I do understand the need for a group member to fully understand themselves before they can fully contribute to the group. Groups are made up of individuals and the starting point to most development has to start with the individual disclosing sensitive information about themselves to the group in order for any meaningful experience to occur. However, when does it stop being about the individual understanding themselves and when does it start to be about something greater than themselves? In other words, the pinnacle of group development I would think is when the individual can put their own personal needs/initiatives aside and focus on the collective identity and goals of the group.
The paradoxes are such “heavy” concepts that I often find myself feeling like I’m back in a philosophy or psychology class rather than an education class. I’m aware now more than ever how connected just those fields are to one another. Who knew! (man my head hurts after writing this post!:)