There is a long and extensive history of the development of small groups. Topics discussed include communication, nonverbal communication, stages of development, group decisions, etc.
This section is currently based upon the "secular" history of Small Groups. I believe most of this material is applicable to Christian Small Groups, especially in the area of Leadership Skills.
The key to a successful sustainable Small Group is the Leader and his or her leadership/coaching skills. To better understand the Small Group concept I thought it would be interesting to review the history of Small Groups as a "base of understanding" for Christian Small Groups.
If we better understand the cornerstone of Small Groups communications, it will help us better lead and grow our Christian Small Groups. I was pleasantly surprised about the depth and clarity of "Secular" Small Group Studies.
Of course secular Small Groups do not have the benefit of "Prayer Support" and the legacy of Jesus behind their purpose and power. I have to think Jesus and His Disciples were the first Small Group in existence.
The Reference for the material below is www.Wikipedia.org under the Category "Small Group Communications". There are numerous other sources of Small Group Studies but Wikipedia's is comprehensive and well organized.
I. Small Group Communications:
- The first important Small Group Communications research was in the mid 1950's. It was conducted by Social Psychologist Robert Bales.
- The Study focus was on how Groups communicate as related to relationship among members, Demands on the Group for task completion and opinion exchanges related to decision making.
- Studies showed the most talkative member tends to make 40-50% of the comments and the 2nd most talkative member makes 25-30% of comments.
- Comment: "These findings do apply to Christian Small Groups"
II. Small Group Stages
- Small Groups normally go though 4 or 5 Stages when after they are created.
- The Stages are generally (avoiding research detail) described as:
1. Orientation Stage
2. Conflict Stage
3. Normalizing/Discussion Stage
4. Productive/Decision Stage
- If Groups had more difficult tasks and/or especially poor Leadership they tended to take more time and be much less productive
III. Conflict Resolution
- "Any" Group has conflicts, topics that people do not agree on
- Conflict resolution takes place in six steps:
1. All the group members have to listen carefully to each other
2. Understand the different points of view that were discussed
3. Be respectful and show interest in maintaining a good relationship with the group members regardless of their opinions
4. Try to find common ground
5. Come up with new solutions to the problem or situation
6. Finally, reach on a fair agreement that will benefit everyone
IV. Group Decisions
- In the early 1960s, evidence appeared that group decisions often became more extreme than the average of the "individual predisposed judgment".
- The is a tendency for extremity in any direction based on which way the members individually tended to lean before discussion. (group polarization)
- Group polarization is primarily a product of persuasion not compliance
- Upon discovering where the group stands, members only voice opinions on the socially correct side consistent with social comparison notions.
- Methods used in reaching Group decisions:
1. By Majority (Quick decisions, popular in Western Society)
3. By Consensus (Time consuming, allows everyone an opinion)
4. By Averaging (Requiring all Teammates to reach a compromise)
5. By Minority Decision (Small group/sub committee gets together and makes decision)
6. By Authority Rule (Group Leader listens to individual members but has final say)
V. Nonverbal Communication
- Body language is a form of nonverbal communication, consisting of body pose, gestures, eye movements, tone of voice and rate of speech.
- Humans send and interpret such signals unconsciously. (It has been suggested that that between 60 and 70 percent of all meaning is derived from nonverbal behavior)
VI. Body Language & Space
- Interpersonal space refers to the psychological "bubble" that we can imagine exists when someone is standing way too close to us.
- Research has revealed that in North America there are four different zones of interpersonal space.
1. The first zone is called intimate distance and ranges from touching to about eighteen inches apart. Intimate distance is the space around us that we reserve for lovers, children, as well as close family members and friends.
2. The second zone is called personal distance and begins about an arm's length away; starting around eighteen inches from our person and ending about four feet away. We use personal distance in conversations with friends, chat with associates, and group discussions.
3. The third zone of interpersonal space is called social distance and is the area that ranges from four to eight feet away from you. Social distance is reserved for strangers, newly formed groups, and new acquaintances.
4. The fourth identified zone of space is public distance and includes anything more than eight feet away from you. This zone is used for speeches, lectures, and theater; essentially, public distance is that range reserved for larger audiences.
- It is important to be aware of the "personal spance" topic both in a individual one-on-one discussion or in a Small Group setting
VII. Language Difficulties
- Misunderstandings in communications are common not just because of different languages
- There are three common language barriers such as jargon, bypassing, and offensive language
1. The inappropriate use of jargon. Jargon is a fictive language invented by and for the group as a verbal shorthand. The problem with jargon is that it can make words confusing and can be used to conceal the truth.
2. Bypassing occurs when group members have different meanings for different words and phrases and thus miss each others meanings. To overcome the risk of bypassing it is important to look to what the speaker wants and not always at what the speaker says.
3. Offensive language is "any terminology that demeans, excludes, or stereotypes people for any reason. Avoiding sexist, discriminating, or labeling talk will greatly reduce chances of communicating effectively.
- Remember, there is no right or wrong way to communicate.
- Though language difficulties are common, avoiding barriers like jargon, bypassing, and offensive language will greatly reduce your chances of being misunderstood.
Hopefully the material above has not been too detailed. I believe only through awareness
of Small Group Communication issues can we begin too truly understand and then be understood. I believe there is enough "applicability" to Christian Small Groups that we become stronger Leaders and Disciples.