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Have you ever noticed what default role you naturally and unconsciously take in group interactions? Whether you are discussing a brochure for an event at work, the political situation in the Middle East or an acquaintance who broke up with her boyfriend, are you aware that you assume pretty consistent behavior in group interaction? According to Kantor’s Four Stances we all have a natural tendency to act, behave or do things in groups that is pretty consistent and predictable, no matter the context.

For example:

  • If you are a Mover, you often find yourself in the role of initiating, saying things at first to launch a conversation and bringing it towards its conclusion. Without you there would be no direction in the group work but you might be perceived as too directive.
  • If you are a Supporter, you notice that you often tend to agree with what was said and support someone else’s good ideas in meetings. Without you there would be no completion of the work in a group but you run the risk of not sharing your perspective.
  • If you are an Opposer, you often catch yourself disagreeing in team conversations and changing the perspective on what has been said. Without you there would be no correction to the work, but you might become repetitive and a nuisance to the task at hand.
  • If you are a Bystander, you often provide perspective on what is happening by asking questions or clarifying things in group conversations. Without you there would be no perspective but the risk is to never focus on completing the task.

None of these roles are eminently good or bad, none better or worse than another. But according to Kantor all four basic roles need to be present in a productive balance if we want healthy groups. And if you are trying to have important work done in your team, the understanding of these different natural tendencies can help you a lot.

Another key insight from Kantor is that sometimes we deploy our group dynamics roles unproductively. How do we make each role’s contribution more helpful for the group and more conducive to an effective deployment of each person’s natural tendency?

  • The movers among us can try to express their true voice and encouraging team members to do the same, rather than imposing their views on others.
  • The supporters can try to listen as a compassionate participant, grounding their understanding of what is said in directly observable experience, rather than following by listening selectively, imposing their interpretation of what the speaker is presenting.
  • The opposers among us can oppose from a stance of respect, in which they acknowledge that colleagues have wisdom that they may not see, rather than opposing with a belief that they know better than everyone else.
  • The bystanders among us can suspend their certainties and accept that others may see things that they miss.

The emergence of a particular balance between the positions people advocate and their willingness to inquire into their own and other’s views creates an open exchange that brings about the collective wisdom of your team. So the next time you’re in a group situation ask yourself:

  • Which role is this person playing in the interaction?
  • How can we help this person be true to his/her own role and still give a more effective contribution to moving the conversation forward?
  • Which possible ways are there for this person to deploy himself/herself more effectively in service of the purpose of the group?