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Ground Rules: The Utility of Psychological Entrapment in Group Dynamics

Two or more people who understand one another, communicate regularly, and work collaboratively are what define a group. Though, communication within a group is mainly face-to-face, groups are increasingly becoming dispersed geographically and even globally. In such a case, modern means of communication have gained popularity in group interaction. Though depending on technological means to communicate has its challenges, the same technology can also be used in facilitating collaboration and communication.

Although groups take various forms and stem from different sources, they all have a common goal of satisfying the needs of an individual or an organization (Forsyth, 2009). By collaborating or associating with one another, group members achieve some form of contentment. Without satisfaction, a member ends up detaching or alienating oneself from the group.

Works groups play a fundamental role in an organization since they present numerous benefits. Among the major benefits is that individual needs are satisfied by small groups. According to Franz (2012), groups also go a long way in promoting innovation and creativity as well as resolving conflicts or problems. In terms of decision-making, groups often make better decisions compared to individuals.

There is a higher degree of willingness to carry out the decisions made by a group, owed to the fact that group embers show commitment towards the decisions they make. In terms of discipline, groups are thought to manage and discipline their individual members in a manner that is more effective than that of standard disciplinary systems. Small groups allow for a better sense of belonging and interaction (Witte & Davis, 1996). Additionally, groups are a component of an organization, and are their existence is inevitable.

Psychological entrapment is a key concern in group dynamics. The term can be defined as a situation where there are flaws or errors in the decision-making process (Kameda & Sugimori, 1993). In this case, a group chooses to follow a course of action that had been chosen previously, despite knowing that the action chosen is wrong. The course of action in question is chosen so as to develop a justification for prior investments. The prior investments that are at stake in a group do not merely entail physical costs like time, money and energy. When an unfavorable outcome stems from a previously selected policy, a group should take into consideration accumulated physical costs as well as interpersonal and social outcomes arising due to discarding the current plan (Kameda, 1993).

A general assumption that can be held is that an integral subset of groupthink phenomena is group entrapment. Groupthink can be defined as flawed process of decision-making that has three major characteristics. Overconfidence in own group’s morality and invulnerability is one of the characteristics. The second key characteristic is close-mindedness that includes collective generalizations. Straining to attain uniformity is the third characteristic of groupthink phenomena (Fiske & Gilbert, 2010). Regardless of the fact that a loose definition has been assigned to the concept of group think, it is clearly evident that it shares some common aspects with the phenomenon of psychological entrapment is group dynamics.

A characteristic of psychological entrapment is over-commitment to a particular course of action (Kameda, 1993). The party that is entrapped continually invests valuable resources with the sole objective of achieving a particular outcome, and recovering their investment of energy, money, time, or other resources, even when objective criteria can not justify the recovery cost. A good example is an individual to goes on to invest money in a car this beyond repair and well past its useful life. Some of the driving forces of psychological traps include the goal that an individual is working towards, the feeling that an individual is getting closer to the goal, or the cost of giving up the investment. The four major types of psychological traps are relationships, procrastination, work, and money (Levi, 2011).

Ground rules can serve as a key solution to preventing psychological entrapment and groupthink phenomena. For a group to be effective, it has to implement ground rules that would function in guiding the behavior of its members (Schwarz, 2002). Group members who adhere to the formulated ground rules reap major benefits such as improving individual satisfaction, improving working relationships, improving decision quality, increasing the level of commitment of group members to carry out the decisions made, and reducing the time required to implement the decisions effectively (Tindale, Kameda & Hinsz, 2002). Ground rules are applicable to all forms of groups including boards, executive teams, union-management teams, work teams, and groups having members derived from two or more organizations.

A key process of managing agreement is establishing ground rules and norms (Witte, 1996). Most people often overlook the aspect of taking the time to establish ground rules. The task is considered to be unworthy of valuable resources and time. Several experienced negotiators have failed because of not taking time to develop a rapport with the negotiating party. Relationship is important in the negotiation process. Taking time to build trust is a precursor to developing a relationship. Establishment of ground rules is considered to be a preventive measure whose objective is to provide ground and expectations from which all parties can work. This step is essential in guiding members, and serves as a way of preventing a conflict that may arise from escalating. Ground rules need to address the way members will interact, a means by which conflicts will be solved, and many more (Hastie & Kameda, 2005).

The core values of ground rules clearly illustrate their effectiveness in improving the process of making decisions. There are four main values upon which ground rules are based. These are free and informed choice, valid information, compassion, and internal commitment. For groups to make decisions and find solutions to different problems, they need valid information (Forsyth, 2009). Sharing valid information means sharing all relevant information concerning an issue, including, one’s opinions and thoughts concerning the progress of the conversation. An opinion or perspective is shared in such a manner that other members of the group can visualize and comprehend the reasoning behind the conclusion reached upon. Ideally, information that is considered valid can be confirmed independently. Such a piece of information is sufficiently specific to enable another person to determine if it is valid (Hastie, 2005).

Free and informed choice allows members of a group to formulate independent decisions that are grounded on valid information. In this way, the decision-making process is not disrupted or influenced by internal and external pressures. Group members can formulate their own objectives, and ways of attaining them within the group’s mission. The probability of gaining internal commitment is increased by making free and informed choices on the basis of valid information. The best possible information as well as honest opinions of group members is the basis of sensible decisions (Dalton, Hoyle & Watts, 2006).

Another value is internal commitment, which enables each group member to feel individually accountable for the decision made, and show willingness toward supporting the decision (Franz, 2012). The fourth value is compassion, which enables a member of the group to suspend judgment and take time to comprehend other members with opposing views. In this case a group member is genuinely concerned about his or her personal needs as well as the needs of others. Acting with passion allows infusion of other core values with the intention of understanding, empathizing with and helping others (Schwarz, 2002).

According to Schwarz (2002), ground rules serve as a cornerstone for effective groups. Testing assumptions and inferences is the first ground rule. An assumption is a mere statement that lacks a solid proof on whether it is true or not. An inference can be termed as a conclusion drawn on the basis of what is known. People make inferences so often and may at times not know that they are making them. Without testing the inferences and assumptions made with the fellow group members, a person simply acts on them under the assumption that they are true. Consequently, the actions undertaken may be based on flawed conclusions (Tindale, et al, 2002). The importance of testing inferences is to generate relevant information to make use of in the process making informed choices. It is essential to determine whether an assumption or inference made is correct prior to making the final decision. Therefore, the ground rule of testing assumptions and inferences is essential in preventing flawed decision-making process, referred to as psychological entrapment in group dynamics.

Sharing all relevant information is another essential ground rule worth noting. It is essential to for a group member to share all the relevant information that may have an effect problem-solving or decision-making process (Witte, 1996). By sharing relevant information, all members of a team will have a common information base in which to formulate informed decisions and develop commitment. People may feel that they have been prevented from making an informed choice when they make decisions and then realize later on that other group members had withheld relevant information from them (Levi, 2011). This often results to flawed decision-making process, and some members may resort to officially withdrawing their agreement.

A group member should share all the information regardless of whether it is in support of the preferred position or not. For instance, in case of a project, information concerning the costs, benefits as well as demerits of the projects should be disclosed. Personal pinions, views and thoughts are also part of the relevant information to share prior to making an informed choice (Tindale, et al, 2002). Some group members may be tempted to withhold information out of the fear that disclosing it would hurt the feelings of other members. However, this should not be the case. An effective group or team comprises of members who are free to share their feelings, thoughts, and perspectives without fear. Diverse opinions and views would eventually result to the provision of relevant information that can be help in the process of formulating sound decisions (Kameda, 1993). In this way, psychological entrapment and groupthink phenomena are avoided.

A third ground rule worth noting is the use of specific examples and agreeing on the meaning of important words. This serves as a means of information sharing, generation of relevant data, and arriving at a common understanding (Schwarz, 2002). Specific examples comprise of names of places, people, events, and things. Contrary to statements that are generalized, specific examples allow members of a group to independently determine if the examples given are valid. Some may view giving names as a way of putting them on the spot. It is however, important to change this mentality and view mentioning names as a means of giving such people an opportunity to give their opinions (Forsyth, 2009). In this way, it should be considered as a way of sharing relevant information to be used in the process of making sound choices and decisions.

Explaining individual reasoning and intent is another ground rule that is fundamental for effective groups. Failure to explain one’s reasoning gives others a chance to draw assumptions and conclusions of the behavior (Fiske, 2010). More often than not, the explanations given by others may be totally different from the original intent. This may result to misinterpretations and use of flawed information. It is therefore essential for a group member to clearly explain the reasoning behind the comments made or actions taken. Though the terms “reasoning” and “intent” have some similarities, they also differ is some ways. Intent is defined as the purpose of carrying out a task or action. Reasoning on the other hand refers to the logical process used to come up with the ultimate conclusions based on values, data, and assumptions (Dalton, et al, 2006).

Explaining one’s intent and reasoning entails informing the public about personal thoughts and opinions. This is a perfect way of establishing and getting to know the differing views and thoughts aired by other members. By explaining one’s reasoning, other members are given an opportunity to identify errors or flaws in reasoning (Witte, 1996). It is at times extremely difficult for a people to know their strengths, weaknesses or thinking errors. By using this ground rule, it is possible to identify one’s mistakes correct them prior to making the final decision. Psychological entrapment may result from fallacies, which are errors in reasoning. By giving explanations to one’s reasoning, such fallacies can be pointed out, consequently preventing psychological entrapment (Kameda, 1993).

Another essential ground rule that promotes group effectiveness is that of focusing on interests rather than positions. Interests can be defined as the desires and needs that people have regarding a specific situation. Positions on the other hand can be defined as the means through which people meet their interests or needs (Franz, 2012). This implies that the needs of people trigger them to support a specific position. Problem-solving process starts by sharing interests and needs. It is unfortunate that several groups commence by taking about positions or solutions. This leads to conflicts, even in cases where the interests of group members are compatible.

The main reason for the emergence of conflicts is because there is a tendency for people to take positions that meet their personal interests and failing to account for the interests of other people. This may eventually lead to the formulation of decisions that are biased (Fiske, 2010). Some people may even end up withdrawing from the group on the ground that their interests and needs are not met. Dissatisfaction by one or more group members is one of the key reasons why groups become dysfunctional and ineffective.

Combining advocacy and inquiry is another ground rule integral to effective groups. In this context, group members are given a chance to express their points of view including sharing their intent and reasoning (Franz, 2012). Other members are then invited to make inquiries or share their views. There are a number of goals that can be accomplished by combining advocacy and inquiry. The first goal is that shifting a meeting from a set of unrelated monologues to a conversation that is focused.

Secondly, conditions for learning are created by combining advocacy and inquiry. When a group member shares his or her own reasoning, other members are given a chance to determine whether they support the reasoning or hold a contrary opinion (Levi, 2011. There is also a high probability of other members reciprocating by sharing their reasoning and inviting views and comments. The inquiry made needs should be genuine. This means that a question should be asked with the sole intent of learning. It is thus clear that combining advocacy and inquiry is a means of gathering relevant information, which would serve as a basis for formulating informed decisions or choices (Tindale, et al, 2002).

Another ground rule that would undoubtedly prevent psychological entrapment is that of making use of a decision-making rule that generates the degree of commitment required. This ground rule specifies internal commitment as one of the integral values of ground rules (Schwarz, 2002). It increases the probability of group members to support the decision reached upon and implement it. The basis for this ground rule is that enough commitment of members to a given decision enables them to make the informed choice of supporting that decision (Forsyth, 2009).

Group members who are given a chance to make informed choices are highly likely to show internal commitment towards the decision made. It is important to note that this ground rule does not necessarily require all decisions to be formulated by consensus. There are some situations where group members can show commitment without consensus in the process of decision making. What matters is internal commitment, which plays a role in preventing groupthink (Dalton, et al, 2006).

Generally, there are several benefits that can be attained by using ground rules. Used in combination, ground rules can serve as a powerful tool to help a group to make high quality decisions and increased the level of commitment of its members towards implementation of formulated decisions (Hastie, 2005). The rules can also serve in improving satisfaction among group members as well as improving working relationships. Relationships are improved because members would tend to feel free to air their thoughts, ideas and opinions. Also, ground rules will improve the degree of innovation and creativity among group members, owed to diverse thoughts, perspectives, ideas, and opinions (Levi, 2011).

In conclusion, the paper has clearly shown that psychological entrapment is a major concern issue in group dynamic. This is a case where flawed decisions are made by group members. Such decisions are usually made in an attempt to account for achieve specific results or recover specific resources.

The decisions may be biased, in that; they may fail to take into consideration the collective interests of group members. Ground rules can be viewed as an appropriate tool for addressing psychological entrapment in group dynamics. These refer to rules and norms that govern behavior. There are several ground rules that have been discussed, and adhering to them leads to the formulation of informed choices. A good example is providing all the relevant information prior to formulating decisions. This information serves as a basis for the entire process. Therefore, ground rules serve as effective utility of psychological entrapment in group dynamics.


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