Power and Group Dynamics

Posted on 03 February 2015

Our culture is keen on building up competitiveness, status-seeking, and individualism. These qualities are useful for easily encouraging people to consume. What we need now more than ever is for people to learn how to cooperate and to share. These skills will help us to live in a more balanced, peaceful, and sustainable manner.

Successfully forming and maintaining a group is also a skill. Simply turning up, banging around, then disappearing when things don’t instantly go your way is a recipe for disaster. You have to give yourself time to learn. Then you have to learn things such as flexibility, listening skills, creative problem solving, empathy, resilience, and humility.

At some level we all want to get our way and be the important one. At a more mature level we understand that the final goal and the means by which we get there are more important. Every group needs to be clear on its purpose, values, and goals, then remain focussed.

Because of the nature of our culture people have a hard time being forthright and thoughtful. Some people are motivated to use different tactics to manipulatively control a group, rather than collaborating. Understanding the tactics can help to reduce some people unconsciously slipping into these behaviours. They may even take them to a positive place instead.

Some people will not want to learn, because they feel insecure being in anything less than a controlling position. You will want to recognise what they are up to, see if they can be convinced to learn, and if not, drop them. No matter how high-minded you are, keeping some people on board will destroy a group. It’s okay to let people go upon occasion, we seek freedom as well as community.

Too many generals (not enough soldiers)

We do need considered opinions. We do need the voice of experience. We don’t need people who tell the toilet cleaners how to do their job when they aren’t willing and haven’t cleaned those toilets themselves. Those who do the work need to make the rules about how the work is done.

Entourage vs cheer leaders

We need cheer leaders who are good at bringing in new members. Go team! We do not need people who bring in the numbers (their entourage) just to use them as a way to gain personal power.

Working their way to the top

Some people are very good workers and we need that. Some people take on jobs and take on jobs, until their presence is indispensable. They may then hold the group hostage to their desires.

The bountiful parent

We want people who are warm and generous. It’s what we are all aiming to become. Some people will wrap you in their arms and give you things in order to get you to relinquish your responsibilities/power to them and oblige you to abide by their wishes.

Poor pity me

We do need to be there to the best of our abilities when someone is in trouble. We need to recognise when people regularly create trouble or rely on trouble as a way to function on an ongoing basis. These people need professional help. We need to recognise when this is used by people to be treated in a privileged manner.

Late comers and early leavers

Life is messy and we are all late comers and early leavers upon occasion. We need to be aware when this is being used as a form of passive resistance. Why do some people feel the need to protest in this manner? Is it indicative of a problem the group needs to address? Is it a power play?


We need people who deeply care and have the strength to stand for a better world. We need to be careful of people with dominating personalities who silence others and take over agendas.


Sometimes it’s worth dealing with people in a gentle and sensitive manner. However some people will not speak up about their wishes. They can cause people to hop around trying to figure out what they want. They can undercut people through looks and body language, creating an unwelcoming atmosphere. We need to create a space where everyone feels safe to be forthright about their wants and needs, and then be forthright. It’s unfair making people guess.

Difficult people

Is someone simply being difficult, or are they symptomatic of a larger problem? Dysfunctional families classically point to the member who is struggling to free themselves from dysfunction as “the problem”. However, sometimes a person does have a problem with anti-social behaviour. We need systems in place to ensure they are treated justly, but are not allowed to disrupt the group.


We all need good advisors. Sometimes people are attracted to being the power behind the power. They will put themselves in an advisory role with a leader. Their compliments will edge into flattery. They will carefully plant doubts into a leader’s mind. They will lightly cut others down and say that it’s meant to be helpful advice. The problem with puppeteers is that you can’t know when they are being genuine. Talking with them does not help, because they will verbally agree with you, then actively ignore your wishes. These people have to be removed. They will take their pound of flesh while you are doing so, but keeping them on board is worse. Stand strong, take what actions you have to efficiently and with as little entangling emotion as possible, then count your losses.

Groups and power

Groups are important. We do not live on this planet alone. We cannot survive on our own. A group is more powerful than one person, of course. The larger the group, the larger the potential power. To quote Voltaire and Spiderman: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Positions of power attract people whose sole interest are positions of power. Such people may support your cause, and are likely to do so effectively, but they are more dedicated to power and therefore will not always represent your best interests.

Even on the small scale we all seek validation. We can become entangled in our own pet desires and side track ourselves from our own highest vision.

Thomas Jefferson once said, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”

We will have to remain vigilant of our own behaviour to ensure we are a nexus of compassion. Ask Mohandas Gandhi: compassion is not for wimps. We must withstand bullying that can come from within as well as without. Fear and paranoia are not the answer. Wisdom and discernment are called for. Patience and strength are a must. We must treat one another fairly and with kindness. We must also trust in our ability to face contention and controversy. Together we can change the world.

Peace and kindness,


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