Silence in the Group:
Following, yesterday’s posting, I will start with the first of several issues that come up in group dynamics. The silent group, or perhaps the silent student can be a frustrating experience for trainers. In reality, a silence that is warm and accepting is a way of pacing an interaction, of giving a student time to think, and of allowing him to bring forth that material that is important to him. For the new trainer, the ability to utilize silence in a constructive manner is a learned skill. When appropriately utilized, it is a significant part of facilitation of group process.
Silence may have a number of meanings:
- Silence may be a deliberate holding back of self in order to punish the trainer or other group members.
- Silence often is the way in which members run away from turmoil. It is an escape from the reality of conflict.
- Sometimes silence indicates suspicions and fears of the reactions of others in the group.
- Silence can mean a particular memberâsinability to formulate his reactions because he never acquired the habit of articulating strong feelings.
- Silence may conceal ambivalence.
- Silence may have positive aspects, often overlooked by the trainer. Silence may be a means to an end. In this privacy, members remove outward defences and cast about for satisfying and acceptable substitutes.
Silence may be due to the anxiety that members experience in meetings, which occurs most frequently in the initial stages of group life. Silence may also result from a fear of bringing up something that may be upsetting to the trainer, or hostility toward him. Silence in a group may signify a need for group members to think through what they wish to say. This type of silence reflects the need to change behaviours. Silence however can also communicate shock (following hostile outbursts) or support.
Still silence can occur for other reasons. For example, if orientation to the group has been poor, some members may be surprised by the personal mode of interaction and remain quiet.
Others feel that their contributions may not be worthwhile and fear that ridicule will follow their verbalizations. Still others find that some individuals dominate the discussions and they have difficulty getting in, even when they try.
Of interest to the trainer is Walter Liftoff’s well conceptualised discussion of how the silent student communicates. After listing all the non verbal cues he could think of, he found that such cues could be categorized under three labels:
- Cues that reflected avoidance behaviour such as lack of eye contact, a mouthful of gum, or chewing a pencil, or the movement of an individuals chair away from the group.
- Cues that reflected emotions of pleasure or anger including a smile, frown, clenched fist, and upraised hand.
- Cues that had symbolic meaning within a cultural context such as the girl who flutters an eyelash or playfully rolls her eyes.
Since the major role of the trainer is to facilitate group awareness,, he might respond to such non verbal cures with statements like: “John and Bill have said they favour the plan, but Jim and Betty seem to be shaking their heads in disagreement.”