Chapter 4: Small Group Communication
Home Up Chapter 1: Introduction Chapter 2: Listening Chapter 5: Audience Analysis Chapter 7: Organizing Chapter 8: Delivery and Visual Resources Chapter 4: Small Group Communication Ch. 6, Being Credible Using Evidence Chapter 3: Interpersonal Communication

Chapter 4: Small Group Communication

I. Small Group Defined:

A small group includes 3-9 people and is characterized by a sense of collective identity (a sense of being a group or team), is interdependent (what one does affects the others), and is created and sustained through interaction among the group members.

II. Advantages and Disadvantages of Group Work:

A. Advantages:                                       

1.   Greater pool of knowledge

2.   Different perspectives

3.   Greater comprehension of the nature of the task since there is direct involvement in task

4.   Increased acceptance of decisions made by group since members are involved in the decision making.

B.  Disadvantages:

1.   Social pressures to Conform: People may not wish to be ridiculed, ostracized, teased, silenced, etc. by “rocking the boat.”

2.   Minority Domination: Occurs when a vocal minority takes over. For example, three out of ten people may feel strongly about a course of action and if they are very vocal, the concerns and preferences of the three people may override the concerns and preferences of the entire group.

3.   Logrolling: Occurs when political agendas take over. In a political forum, it refers to trading votes to obtain passage of actions.

4.   Goal Displacement: Occurs when members lose sight of the group’s goals. For example, members may let personal concerns may override group goals.

5.   Groupthink: Occurs when group cohesion leads to faulty decision making because the group is unwilling to realistically consider alternatives. In other words, in groups where members know and like one another, everyone may assume that the “right” decision will automatically be made or will not wish to “rock the boat.”

III. Type of small groups:

A.  Task vs. Relationship: Task oriented groups focus on completing tasks and problem solving. Relationship oriented groups are long term and are characterized by affiliation and affection.

B.  Assigned vs. Emergent: Assigned groups are based occur when members are appointed to a group or a team. Being appointed to a work committee is an example of an assigned group. Emergent groups evolve from the environment. Friends what meet in school are an example of an emergent group.

IV. Leadership: Using communication to influence attitudes and meet group goals.

A.  Designated vs. Emergent Leaders: Leaders can be appointed or elected to serve. But leaders can also emerge informally. Sometimes an informal leader can be very powerful, even more powerful than a designated leader.

B. French & Raven’s Power bases: According to French and Raven, power can stem from the following 5 power bases.

1.   Reward: Power to reward. Ex: Special treat given for compliance, extra credit, etc.

2.   Punishment: Power to punish. Ex: Points deducted, time outs for kids, etc.

3.   Referent: When we like someone and want to be like them, we are more willing to accept their influence. That influence is referent power.

4.   Expert: Occurs when people defer to someone who knows more, has more experience, expertise.

5.   Legitimate: Power based on formal title, position. For example, we are expected to honor our managers/supervisors wishes in a work setting.

V. Approaches to leadership:

A. Style: These approaches look at various styles of leadership.

1.   Laissez-faire: Some leaders provide no structure to the group members at all believing that things will take care of themselves.

2.   Democratic: Democratic leaders encourage participation from all group members. This style is popular in the United States.

3.   Autocratic: Autocratic leaders prefer to maintain control of the group and the group proceedings.

B. Contingency: Contingency approaches acknowledge that different situations call for different styles. In other words, no one style is best but a good leader knows when to use a particular style. Thus, it is best to be flexible.

C. Communication approaches: Communication approaches attempt to identify which communicative behaviors work best in leading teams. Here are some common principles of effective team leadership.

1.   Display respect for others

2.   Share in successes and failures of the group

3.   Place group goals over personal goals

4.   Encourage open dialogue

5.   Facilitate discussion

6.   Provide a clear grasp of the task

7.   Communication clearly without dominating

VI. Group cohesiveness: Refers to the attachment among group members. Groups that are cohesive perform better than less cohesive groups. Cohesion contains three elements.

A.  Group climate: Emotional tone or atmosphere of the group

B.  Trust: Belief that members can rely on each other

C.  Supportiveness: A supportive climate is one in which members feel free to voice their opinions, concerns, etc. and expect to be heard and treated with respect.

D.  Creating Cohesiveness: Leaders can engender a sense of cohesiveness by emphasizing the following.

1.   Engender a sense of teamwork (‘we’ instead of ‘I’)

2.   Traditions that foster togetherness

3.   Emphasize shared goals

4.   Respect, accept all members

5.   Recognize individual efforts

6.   Respect differences

7.   Establish a sense of cooperation

VII. Six Ways Group Decisions are Made:

A.  Lack of response: Sometimes no one will voice strong opinions and decisions are made by default or not at all.

B.  Authority: Occurs when a leader has the final word and makes the decisions based on his/her authority.

C.  Minority coalition: Sometimes a strong and vocal minority will make decisions for the whole group.

D.  Majority rule: Involves voting formally or informally. This is one of the best ways to make decisions
          because it will please the most most people and most people feel that voting is fair.

E.  Consensus: Occurs when group members decide to accept a particular course. Group members may not actually agree with the course of action, but after discussion where all group members share their points of view, they come to a decision they can accept. Reaching consensus  is perhaps the best way to make decisions because all members feel they have been heard and are understood. However, it can be time-consuming.

F.  Unanimity: Occurs when members are in full agreement. It is rare.

VIII.  Problems with Group Productivity

A.  Lack of cohesion: Groups who lack cohesion may experience a number of problems and thus be unproductive. Examples are members may not participate fully, do not do their fair share of the work, do not understand the group’s task or goals, etc.  

B. Groupthink: As stated above, groupthink occurs when cohesion leads to faulty decision making because the group is unwilling to realistically consider alternatives. In other words, in groups where members know and like one another, everyone may assume that the “right” decision will automatically be made or will not wish to “rock the boat” and question other group members. The concept was introduced by Irving Janis. To prevent group think, the following suggestions may be helpful: (1) Play Devil’s Advocate: Raise reasonable objections or express counter viewpoints or provide reality check. This should  be part of the group norm; (2) Stress importance of supporting opinions with evidence; and (3) Emphasize commitment to task, not just commitment to group.

IX. Group Problem Solving: There are many problem solving sequences, usually ranging from four to 10 steps. Your text lists four:

A.  Wording the Question: The group must know the exact nature of the problem to be solved. Groups may consider whether or not they are dealing with questions of fact, value, or policy. This will help focus the group on the task at hand.

1.   Questions of Fact: Deal with true/false questions. In classroom speeches, a speech dealing with a question of fact would be whether or not ghosts exist or there is life on other planets.

2.   Questions of Value: Deal with issues of good/bad; better or worse; moral/unmoral. In classroom speeches, a speech dealing with a question of value would be whether embryonic stem cell research is immoral or abortion is right or wrong.

3.   Questions of Policy: Concerns what type of action should/should not be taken or whether specific actions should be taken at all. In classroom speeches, a speech dealing with a question of policy may include whether or not Craighead County should become a wet county or not.

B. Establish Decision Making Criteria: Certain standards can help guide decision making. For example, if the issue is whether or not Craighead County should become a wet county, you may wish to consider (1) the potential impact on the crime rate in the county and (2) the revenue generated from such as change, as your criteria.

C. Identify Alternatives: Apply criteria to your problem.

You may wish to brainstorm several alternatives to your specific question. For example, you may consider that Jonesboro could become a wet city in a dry county or that bars should operate but liquor should not be sold in stores.

D. Evaluate Alternatives: Once you consider your issue in light of the criteria you have selected, you can come to a decision. For example, in considering whether or not Craighead County should become wet, if you come to believe that the crime rate will increase drastically but the revenue generated would be small, you may conclude that Craighead County should not become a wet. If, on the other hand, you believe the reverse, you may decide Craighead County should become wet.

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This page last updated August 21, 2007

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