Jim was struggling. On an impulse, he had shared a quote as a response to the situation someone had shared. However, after listening to a follow-up comment by another participant, Jim felt confused and started to excuse himself.
The follow-up comment had been more personal than his and he assumed that that would have been the better interaction. He believed that the other had had a better idea than him.
What Jim had been expecting was a visible transaction telling him that his input had been received and how. For him, giving something also meant the hope to see his interaction be acknowledged with some type of receipt. The best would have been one he could acknowledge too as it would have allowed him to perceive his transaction as successful.
When a group consists of people who don’t know one another well, the group starts by establishing a culture. All the individuals contribute to it based on their experience of how people behave with one another. But they all also come in, with their desire to be welcomed.
It’s a dance that starts, one that is based on the fear of rejection and the need to belong. Without the habit of known rules, the unconscious has more grip on the group. It’s a time where the individuals find themselves busy figuring out the types of relationships the group prefers to use. As friendly and generous as everyone may be, to settle with the group the individuals first need to establish a sense of the group. They need a preliminary power map.
In his book, the structure and dynamics of organizations and groups Eric Berne called this image the imago of a group. It is called a provisional imago as long as the group is in its first stage. A stage where members ask themselves how they can participate while trying to achieve a sense of security for themselves. As the sense of security progresses the group moves on to an adaptive imago. That’s when members ask themselves how to take their place in the group and what the roles are the members have taken. It is when people start adapting to one another.
The group Jim was in had established their operational imago. Participants had started asking themselves how to engage with one another. In doing so they were also testing the stability of their connection with others.
Jim was making that visible for us. However, as the reaction to his comment didn’t show a stable enough connection, he started to doubt himself. Which in turn allowed the group to see his need for confirmation. To feel safe in the group and have a sense of belonging to the group Jim needed a way to experience his competence. It would have happened by being sure that his comment had been impactful and according to the rules of the group.
Experiencing the group dynamics was serving the group to establish itself.
Knowing that experiencing signs of discomfort was natural in their situation would also have added ease in reading the signs and adapting to them. Jim would have received a more visible reaction to his input. He could also have found a way for himself to be less susceptible to his doubts.
Groups often expect themselves to immediately perform. But being in the secondary imago is an experience where everyone puts aside whatever may be personally at stake for them.
It takes the time it needs to get there.