A group refers to two or more persons forming a collection, assembly or cluster, with or without any unifying objective. For the purpose of our discussion, we refer to groups of persons in organizations, institutions and business entities who are to be brought within the overall communication framework for achieving a set of objectives.
Although groups constitute a collection of individuals, the very same individuals often respond differently when they belong to a group. In the business context we may have varied groups, which may be either homogeneous or heterogeneous in nature. There are groups of employees, supervisors, executives, union members, trainees, suppliers, customers, prospects and investors.
It is important to note that groups often develop an identity that sets them apart from any collection or mere assembly of persons. While any collection of persons exhibits disparateness, groups often exhibit certain uniformity and congruity.
Groups consisting of persons with identical expectations demonstrate a high degree of integration in their behaviour. This pattern gives rise to what is known as group dynamics. Effectiveness of communication in the context of a group needs to be viewed in two dimensions.
First, communication constitutes the instrumentality through which members of the group express themselves and maintain their uniformity. Second, an outsider who is communicating with the group should take cognizance of the characteristics of the group and change the style of communication accordingly.
Groups are of different types and vary in terms of the objectives they set out to achieve. There are family groups, social groups, religious groups, professional groups, formal groups, informal groups, hierarchical groups, geographical groups and functional groups.
The objective of a learning group would be to impart training irrespective of the other characteristics of the members. The objective of functional groups like a group of sales personnel would be to come together and deliberate on issues of common concern to all of them. Groups come together and meet under various platforms.
Such platforms would include conventions, symposia, classroom sessions, study groups, quality circles, workshops, discussion panels and brain-storming sessions. Communication is indeed central to the successful functioning of all the groups.
Group behaviour is distinct from individual behaviour, and organizational dynamics calls for recognition of and response to both. The statement, ‘Man is kind, but men are cruel’ very easily brings out the metamorphosis that the same individual undergoes as a member of a collective body.
A person who is otherwise docile may be very stubborn when representing a group. Individuals in an organization behave differently when they respond as members of a group. Very often individuals in organizations wear different caps and accordingly play different roles.
Experts and trainers in HRD, industrial relations personnel and group leaders will have to be highly cognizant of this aspect of human behaviour. A good communicator, like a good leader, must learn to adopt different strategies in putting across the message and eliciting the desired response.
It is important to note that in the organizational context, groups have their strengths as well as weaknesses. If any decision or action is perceived to be a threat or inimical to their interests, the groups can offer stubborn resistance and opposition.
At the same time, if the leader or the communicator can win them over, wholehearted positive response would be forthcoming from the same group. In other words, groups have a synergy that can be gainfully utilized.
In recognition of the significance of this characteristic, modern business organizations lay considerable emphasis on team formation and team efforts. Collectively, team members can achieve much more than what they can as individuals.
The synergy of a well-motivated group or team would be such that the collective achievements would be significantly higher than the mere sum total of the achievements of the individual members. Group synergy is an important facet of group dynamics in which effective communication has a very positive role to play.
Within the organization, in dealing with staff members, joint conferences, negotiations and workshops are some of the forums assuming group dynamics and the communicator should accordingly learn to deal with them tactfully and with due understanding of group behaviour.
The communicator should make every effort to talk to them at their wavelength, highlight the areas of agreement, so that the communication moves smoothly to its logical end.
Just as there are groups within the organization, there are groups outside the business organization which also have to be dealt with. In fact, in the context of marketing of products and services, public relations and information sharing and image building, there are external groups, which will have to be positively influenced through communication strategies.
While the broad approach already enunciated earlier will have to be kept in view, it is also appropriate to take note of specific influences, viz., reference groups and opinion leaders.
A reference group is a concept developed by Herbert Hyman in 1942 to describe the types of groups, which serve as a point of reference to individuals in their behaviour, preference or judgement.
The basic idea developed by Hyman has been further elaborated by others. The three reference groups, which have been identified with reference to any individual, are as follows:
1. Groups that serve as comparison points
2. Groups to which a person aspires to become a member
3. Groups whose perspectives are assumed by the individual
Any business organization would find it easier to win over the customer if people therein know the reference groups that would influence decision making.
Sociologists and social psychologists also recognize the fact that in taking a decision, an individual, instead of being influenced by a group, may be influenced by another individual.
The other such individual to whom a reference is made while taking a decision is called an opinion leader. Opinion leaders are normally influential, knowledgeable persons, with status and who command respect and trust.
A business organization would find it easier to reach out and influence a larger section of its target group by communicating with the opinion leaders, especially in rural areas and new markets. In fact, advertising campaigns focus on influencing the larger audience through opinion leaders.