Communicating in Groups

Maintenance and Supportive Roles

These roles represent the ones we play in the attempt to establish and preserve group and individual harmony. These are the behaviors that are intended to build group cohesiveness and solidarity.

  1. Be tolerant of individual and cultural differences that will appear in the group. The effective participant is aware of the truism that perceptual differences are a natural outgrowth of individual and cultural diversity and that this diversity can, in most cases, benefit the group.

  2. The watchful participant is aware of the total communication situation and is cognizant that symbols other than words can send messages.

  3. All participants should employ clear and concise feedback. Respond directly, verbally and nonverbally to the remarks of others.

  4. Create an atmosphere conducive to constructive and purposeful discussion. A relaxed and friendly atmosphere is best.

  5. Communication is a two-way process. The listener also plays a key role in discussion. The listener must pay close attention to what is being said. Participants must ask questions in attempt to narrow and define all ambiguous and nebulous concepts.

  6. Because group discussion employs democratic processes it is important that each group allow for some deviant behavior.

  7. Be prepared to play a variety of roles. The competent group member is one who is not tied to a single mode of behavior but rather is one who can adapt to people and events. Samovar and Mills

Maintenance Oriented Roles:

The following maintenance roles help the group run smoothly.

Encouraging–the member is warm, receptive and responsive to others and praises others and their ideas.

Gatekeeping–the member attempts to keep communication channels open he/she helps reticent members contribute to the group and works to keep the discussion from being dominated by one or two members.

Harmonizing–the member mediates differences between participants and attempts to reconcile misunderstandings or disagreements. He/she also tries to reduce tension by using humor or other forms of relief at appropriate junctures.

Compromising–the member is willing to compromise his/her opinion to maintain group cohesion. He/she is willing to admit error and to minimize beliefs to achieve group growth.

Standard setting–the member assesses whether the group members are satisfied with the procedures being used and indicates that criteria have been set for evaluating group functioning. Gamble and Gamble

Self-Serving Roles:

The self-serving roles below prevent the group from working effectively.

Blocking–the member is disagreeable and digresses in an effort to ensure that nothing is accomplished.

Aggression–the member criticizes or blames others and works to deflate the egos of other group members in an effort to enhance his/her own status.

Recognition seeking–the member attempts to become the focus of attention by boasting about his/her own accomplishments rather than dealing with the group task. He/she may speak loudly and exhibit unusual behavior.

Withdrawing–the member appears indifferent, daydreams or is lost in thought, or sulks.

Dominating–the member insists on getting his/her own way, interrupts others and gives directions in an effort to run or control the group.

Joking–the member appears cynical or engages in horseplay or other inappropriate or irrelevant behaviors.

Self-confessing–the member uses other group members as an audience and reveals personal feelings or insights that are not oriented to group concerns.

Help seeking–the member tries to elicit sympathy or pity from other members. Gamble and Gamble

Most experts agree that when contributing in a group your remarks should:

Relate–When offering an idea you should relate it to what is being discussed or to something that has been talked about earlier. Remarks that are simply submitted to the group without being placed into a specific context will often result in confusion or force the group to depart from the established agenda.

State–Once you have used what was being discussed as a transition to your comments, you are ready to state your position or offer some new information. It is important that you make your statements in a clear and concise manner.

Support–Once you have tied your comments to what is going on and clearly stated your position you should then offer support for your assertion.

Integrate–You should conclude your comments by integrating them into the flow of the meeting. This can be done by ending your contribution with a question. Samovar and Mills


Gamble, Terri Cwal, and Michael Gamble. (1999). Communication Works
Sixth Edition. Boston: McGraw Hill College.

Samovar, Larry, and Jack Mills. (1992). Oral Communication: Message
and Response Eighth Edition. Debuke, IA: William C. Brown.

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