Working on another kids show this week, this time with a group of 9 preteen girls (two live in the community, three live close by, and the rest are friends from out of town). Working with them for three hours a day, I’ve been reflecting on group dynamics and identity development, specifically how people seek power in a group. It’s more blatant with these girls than with adults because they haven’t learned to be subtle about it yet.

Three of the girls are pushy and aggressive, and get their way by dominating. One is mean and physically agressive, one is loud, and the other just talks alot. All three are visciously sarcastic.

Another of the girls, one who lives here, claims power with her self-confidence. She’s a natural leader and simply does what she wants without hesitation. The other girl who lives here tries to be manipulative through whining and acting out, doing what she knows is exactly what she shouldn’t be doing in the moment. It seems like it’s an intentional self-depricating thing. It’s so interesting (and frustrating!) to work with her in this context, because one-on-one she’s amazing and mature.

The other four have more subtle ways of seeking power, or empowerment (what’s the difference? a question for semantic reflection). They’re quieter and more docile. They’re more willing to raise their hand in group discussions instead of talking over other people. They seem to seek some of their power through structure, whether it’s rules I’ve established for rehersal time or more subtle social structure. One girl in particular seems to find her power within the group by pulling back and not participating, getting her book out whenever she’s not onstage. Tonight at dinner she asked if I’d eat with her — I had to decline because I had a dinner meeting, and I wished I could have eaten with her (I thanked her for asking me and offered to eat with her tomorrow). In other groups, she’s been one of the dominators, but other girls have taken that role here and she seems to have stepped down. One of the other girls is a “whatever” kind of person, the type that just goes with the flow and doesn’t assert much of an opinion. She finds her “power” by not giving herself a chance to be wrong. Another girl is just silly, and doesn’t seem to care very much. She has opinions that she doesn’t seem to be attached to, and likes to be funny whenever possible. And the remaining girl is the most fascinating of all to me, and I just realized that it’s probably because I see so much of myself in her. She tries to find her power through knowledge, through being smart, through being right. She tries to do the right thing, to be good at whatever she’s doing, whether it’s acting onstage or being someone’s friend (or being “cool”) She gets frustrated and upset when other people don’t honor her for being right, especially when they make fun of her or tell her she’s wrong. She’s insistent and stubborn when she knows she’s right, and sometimes crosses into being bossy and ordering people around when they aren’t following the rules.

I’m working on the assumption that everyone is seeking some sort of empowerment in group settings, whether it’s through domination or submission or somewhere in between (this could become a whole S&M discussion, too). There’s a difference between seeking empowerment from other people (the dominators) or from circumstance (the solitaries), or from finding it in oneself (the self-confident), and of course, like so many things, it’s not like all people fall into one of these three categories. It’s a dynamic mixture in different situations, the different “tactics” existing at varying levels depending on the circumstance.

What are your tactics for seeking power in group situations?