I'm pretty sure that I'm the bad group member
May 26, 2018 6:45 PM   Subscribe

I thought I worked well with people, well... at least I work fine with my coworkers at work, but grad school has opened my eyes and made me realize that I might not work well with other people in group project scenarios. I am currently at my wit's end with the group project I'm working on now. How can I be a better person/worker in group projects? Right now I feel like group projects bring out my worst characteristics and I'm so frustrated with myself.

I don't even know where to begin with this question, and I'm super embarrassed to ask it. I know I probably come across as an asshole and I need to change now.

I constantly find myself frustrated in the group projects I've been in, because it seems like none of the members in my groups ever want to do things like... brainstorm, or talk about a topic and, ultimately, disagree with each other during our discussions. I was in a really great group for ONE group project because I found myself with classmates who were open to discussing things and disagreeing and we found it easy work together. Most of my group projects are people sitting around awkwardly asking each other, for example, what we want to work on in the project and everyone will go around saying "Oh, it doesn't matter to me, I'm fine with whatever." I'm a rather decisive person and I just want to get things done (or at least started), so when people start to hem and haw and say indecisive comments... I just end up feeling like an overpowering bully when I say my opinion on ANYTHING, because no one is sharing their opinion. I feel like I'm walking on eggshells around most of my classmates when we work together. For example, in the current group project I'm working on it took forever for us to agree on a damn topic! Everyone was throwing things out and kind of "meh, maybe" or "ehh I don't know" about every suggestion everyone had... I would have killed to have someone say "I think topic X would be a good choice because of xyz" or "I think topic Y isn't a good choice because of xyz."

I feel so overpowering and annoying whenever I say ANYTHING in groups that are like this. When I told the group what topic I thought would be interesting and why, I felt (again) like a fucking bully. Sometimes, because I'm the one who will share my opinion (if no one else will), I am then treated like I'm somehow the leader of the group when I don't want to me and it frustrates me *so* much. It's just so awkward when one is sharing any opinions, ideas, whatever. I almost got into a fight with one of my group members today because she said that I "told her" to include something in her section, ugh, it was just a suggestion!! Maybe I didn't articulate it right, but I'm not a dictator, if you didn't want to include it you didn't have to! Don't say that I'm forcing you to do anything, because I'm not. Of course, this group member has also done way less research than the rest of the group, as well which also makes me feel frustrated.

I'm not a control freak who will take over and dominate a project. When I feel like the other members of my group project don't care, well... I don't care, either. If you're going to put the minimum into the project, well so am I.

I don't know why these group projects are so difficult with me and I hate feeling like a bully. Maybe I don't know how to "assert" my ideas properly, so that's why I feel like I'm a bully? It's hard to feel like no one else cares and will just go along with anything. Is there a way to deal with groups like this and not go crazy? I wish I knew why it bothered me so much. I dread going to our next group meeting tomorrow.

My grad program loves group projects, so I'll probably have at least 8 more group projects to do before I finish the program. I've gotta learn how to love them.
posted by modesty.blaise to Education (32 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
My wife, late forties, is back at school getting a comp sci degree. Without question, the worst, dumbest, idiotic part of the program are the "group assignments."

Teachers never set these things up properly, generally expecting the group to self-manage. However, working together as a team is a skill we learn as adults in the workforce. At work as well, the stakes are much higher, so adults are more motivated to figure out how to make it work.

Anyway, if I were you I would perhaps ask one of your professors how to handle group-work situations, and get some pointers. You could also make a "guide for working in groups" and present to your prof as an "idea for working together more efficiently."

Based on my wife's experience (and my own experience being a social studies teacher long ago), group roles have to be clearly identified.

At a basic level, there has to be a group lead or facilitator who ensures the group project moves along and gets done.

The next time you do a group activity, you could suggest this model, "we need a facilitator."

That may just result in more blank stares and passive behavior.

Another tactic would be to use "I" statements to the group: "I feel we're getting behind here. I have heard the group saying these ideas, can we vote on which one is best?"

It means of course you will end up doing the "emotional labour" of pushing things along, which is unfair. On the other hand your frustration is also a manifestation of a great deal of pent up emotional energy with no place to go.

Finally, as long as you are behaving appropriately (e.g., not emotionally abusive or bullying), then don't worry if people think you're "pushy" or "aggressive." You're only with these people for a short period of time.

Because of your drive and your maturity in wanting to get things done, you will also likely be more successful than them in the future.
posted by JamesBay at 6:59 PM on May 26, 2018 [14 favorites]

I don't think the problem is with you at all. This sounds like at least 80% of group projects I had at uni (at both grad and undergrad level). I'm a reluctant leader, but often found myself in this position in group work for the exact same reasons. The problem is usually getting stuck with a group of people who don't care or want to do the absolute minimum. If you find people you work well with, try to work with them whenever you are in a subject together. I also personally found that part time students were easier to work with, possibly because they didn't have the time for a group discussion that didn't resolve anything.
posted by Kris10_b at 7:10 PM on May 26, 2018 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the replies so far! I'm not sure I was that "mature" today during our group meeting for the project. I think my frustration is really starting to bubble up. I did argue with the group during our meeting today, honestly... I don't even remember about what. I became pretty argumentative and complained about the division of work and what we "decided" on doing. I also get very annoyed with the way some of my classmates disagree with a shrug and a "I don't know..." instead of actively disagreeing and saying why, or presenting an alternative. One of my group members disagreed with my suggestion for the structure of our presentation, but gave no alternative, nothing... I wouldn't have been annoyed if she presented an alternative, or SOMETHING, but it really made me mad.
posted by modesty.blaise at 7:14 PM on May 26, 2018

It sounds like you're comfortable taking charge, which is a good thing!

Perhaps consider, in a situation like this:
For example, in the current group project I'm working on it took forever for us to agree on a damn topic! Everyone was throwing things out and kind of "meh, maybe" or "ehh I don't know" about every suggestion everyone had... I would have killed to have someone say "I think topic X would be a good choice because of xyz" or "I think topic Y isn't a good choice because of xyz."

instead of being the only one to suggest and idea, be the only one to suggest "Hey guys lets all go around and say "I think topic X would be a good choice because of xyz."

Like, most groups need a leader, and you won't gain anything by joining the chorus of "eh, idk" but you can take charge in an organizational fashion and less of an ideas fashion.

Also, I fully support just letting them think you're a bitch and actually getting shit done, and hopefully the rest of your group members will eventually figure out how to have a voice and develop leadership skills. Mostly, it is a them problem, not a you problem.
posted by Grandysaur at 7:18 PM on May 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

I have been in your shoes. This is very much a case of group dynamics making you into the bad guy, not you being the bad guy.

In school group projects with this dynamic, I will volunteer to be the group leader, knowing I am going to be treated like the boss anyway. My experience has been that just offering to be the editor, facilitator, whatever tends to go better than trying to avoid that role.

For me, it helps to talk a bit less. Where I feel that I am just trying to clearly explain my point of view, other people feel I am being a pushy asshole trying to win some argument and make them look stupid. I also have learned to use a lot more provisos that couch things in terms of "It looks to me," "from where I sit," "correct me if I'm wrong," etc

I try to get very goal oriented and minimize the social crap. In one class group, I offered to be the editor and we had too large a group and a size limit on each assignment. One member usually failed to contribute anything and I just never said a word about it because I was already struggling to get the contributions down to the maximum word count. It was vastly less work for me to have one less paragraph to try to somehow include snippets from.

I try to get what I actually need from people and absolutely cannot supply myself and then inject whatever I need to make it work and not sweat the small stuff. I try to set aside any tendency to get hung up on some abstract concept of fairness or equal contribution or wherever.
posted by DoreenMichele at 7:22 PM on May 26, 2018 [6 favorites]

Also, consider that the folks in your program don't need to be your friends, per se, and regarding any networking your grad program provides, your ability to get shit done will be an asset. I got through a lot of group projects just remembering that they don't need to like me for any reason.
posted by Grandysaur at 7:37 PM on May 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

I can't think of any advice, but I want to reassure you that you're not a bully. Even if you've had moments when you didn't handle your frustration ideally, that doesn't make you a bully. I think that they are the ones bullying you, forcing you into a position in which you do so much of the work. Maybe your professor will have ideas. "My classmates are reluctant to make decisions about our project, but I don't want it to be all up to me. Do you have any ideas?"
posted by Social Science Nerd at 7:50 PM on May 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yes, group projects are the Worst. I always end up in a similar position, feeling like I'm essentially dragging the group uphill because no one else seems to care. I do think it's worth trying to be aware if you're shutting down other people's ability to contribute, but from my experience there are just many people who are, frankly, unwilling to lead. They don't want to be responsible if it fails.

I still hate them, and in fact just took a class this year that was big on these group projects and it was difficult. I really leaned hard on my "meeting facilitation" skills to get through that one. I worked more on trying to get the other people to at least voice an idea and getting buy-in from the group, but didn't allow myself to just take over out of frustration. It wasn't "easier" but it was a more emotionally positive experience for me.
posted by sm1tten at 8:28 PM on May 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

This is the nature of group projects in school settings.

In other words, it's not you - it's the way the instructor didn't set it up as well as it could have been (as JamesBay, above, mentioned).

For me, though, advice would depend on how the groups are formed. Does the instructor form the groups, and if so, based on what? Do the students get to choose? Or is it the case that different instructors have varying methods for this?

More information on this would be helpful, but for the time being, you haven't done anything wrong, and this is an excellent question, not one that should be embarrassing.
posted by Calvin and the Duplicators at 8:30 PM on May 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

Group projects are a huge source of frustration. But effective leadership is a skill you want to develop. Learn how to listen effectively. Take notes, and practice identifying what each team member wants. You're not a bully, you're not a bad group member, but you do have an assertive and get-it-done style. Now you have to learn how to persuade others to participate. Easier said than done, but worth some effort.
posted by theora55 at 8:34 PM on May 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

I've gotta learn how to love them.

Well, presumably, you're doing your studies to make more money at some point, so why would you not want to cultivate your leadership skills so that you can set yourself apart from your peers?
posted by heyjude at 9:10 PM on May 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Group projects are terrible. I went through almost this exact thing a few years ago when I started and then abandoned a graduate degree.

My first thought when I read your question was whether you are a woman. (I believe from past questions you are.) Many women are socialized to defer, to be polite, to follow. It sounds like you're not comfortable stepping into a leadership role or taking a leadership role (as opposed to be given or assigned it). I struggled with this when I found myself assuming leadership in groups because everyone else was dithering too much. It's probably valuable for you to experience this, think about why you feel like a bully, and consciously approach leadership as a learning experience rather than a burden.

Second, are you older or better educated than the other students? My brief foray into the second grad degree was really frustrating for me because I was older, had more work experience, and already had a challenging grad degree. It made me really uncomfortable to be the bossy lady in the group. But, I ultimately got to the point that I just didn't care that much. Someone had to provide direction and make decisions, and it might as well be me. It might as well be you. I wouldn't say that I ever enjoyed it, but on the plus side I got to do projects on topics that I found interesting and cut through the time-wasting hemming and hawing that seems to also bug you.
posted by Mavri at 9:14 PM on May 26, 2018 [7 favorites]

I don't think you are the problem in your assignment groups but I think you do have some issues you need to examine.

I feel so overpowering and annoying whenever I say ANYTHING in groups that are like this.

Why? Why does it make you uncomfortable to be the only person giving an opinion? Who do other people have to feel as strongly as you do?

it is possible that your teammates are using passivity as a way of trying to escape doing work and yes, that sucks, but maybe they just don't have opinions. Maybe they're shy. It could be a really bad reason or a semi-valid reason. yes, life would be easier if they they participated more.

I am then treated like I'm somehow the leader of the group when I don't want to me and it frustrates me *so* much.

Why not be the group leader? You're worried about doing more work than other team members?

My grad school experience is that if you're the leader and you care about equitable work distribution then you're in the ideal spot. You solicit everyone's opinions and if they don't offer any then you go with what you have. And then you apportion work. Everyone contributes their work in full team meetings and if someone hasn't done their work then it's out there in the open for everyone to see. Leaders don't have to do all the work they mostly have to facilitate. And telling people what to do is bossy I suppose, sure, but in group work someone has to do it. There's a reasonable chance that other team members will be relieved that someone is taking the reins and structuring the work. The dynamics of group work are that usually someone has to tell everyone else what to do. Sometimes everyone is on the same wavelength, more often they're not.

I don't think it's an overstatement to say that of all the managers I've ever had the only common attribute they shared was a strong opinion on what needed to be done. Some were nice, some were assholes, some were right and some were wrong. But they all had opinions.

Anyway, my main suggestion is to figure a way to feel more comfortable with having and sharing opinions even if no one else does.
posted by GuyZero at 10:03 PM on May 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

Also you don't come across as an asshole and I don't think you need to change other than being more comfortable with having opinions which is a pretty reasonable thing to have.
posted by GuyZero at 10:05 PM on May 26, 2018

I'm not a control freak who will take over and dominate a project. When I feel like the other members of my group project don't care, well... I don't care, either. If you're going to put the minimum into the project, well so am I.

I think it may be helpful to reframe this belief a bit. The objective is presumably to create a good project, right? Group members, for the most part, are likely going to be unequal in how much they contribute to a good project. (Sometimes groups are awesome and that's not an issue, but I can't say I ever ran into an awesome group during a group project in grad school.) My solution was just to go ahead and be a (nice) control freak about it. No one else cares? Great, then everyone's doing the topic I want, in the way that I want, and all pieces are going through me so that I can vet them (though I'd phrase it as, "I'll put the pieces together"). Which at one point saved me from turning in a group project that was 25% plagiarized, as one group member apparently didn't know that citing sources was a thing.

Basically, I tried to get what I could out of the project, and to turn in the best product I could. If other people wanted to step up, great. If not, I was still going to do my best work. No reason to screw myself over just because my classmates were apathetic. And I would try to remember who was a worthwhile group partner and who wasn't, and to choose the good ones when I got the chance to do so.
posted by lazuli at 10:20 PM on May 26, 2018 [5 favorites]

I handle this in two ways. One way, is I stay completely silent and wait for someone else to speak or take the lead. Eventually someone does, even if there is an awkward few minutes in there. I naturally have a tendency to lead and I feel like sometimes good things come from me taking a back seat. The second way I handle this is by taking the lead, but compiling people's ideas (let's say 3-5 ideas) and then have people in the group vote on which ones they want to do. The one with the most votes wins, and we move on.

You have to remember that not everyone comes from a community or family where challenging, introspective or academic arguments are acceptable or even considered respectful. That doesn't mean there is anything wrong with you or them. It's just a different way of interacting with the world. Finding how to work with those people and draw out their ideas will benefit you in your life.
posted by Toddles at 10:22 PM on May 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

Man, I never thought I was a leader til I went to grad school! I agree very much with what lazuli says, pretty much down to the letter. I think that it sounds like you're being proactive (and helping your classmates a lot with the projects) rather than being a bully. Just make sure your irritation doesn't show too much. (Not being a saint, I would try to keep it together during group meetings then let off steam to other people I knew outside of grad school when group projects got especially ridiculous.)

I found a good way to get the work done to my standards was a lot like what lazuli says--if no one else had an idea for a topic, I offered to outline something so that we could each take a section, then I'd compile and proof the work. I suspect a lot of my group mates actually appreciated that someone took charge instead of dithering endlessly. I also suspect learning to love group projects is a pretty aspirational goal, but I wish you luck! (I'll also note that my job now does involve some group work, which I initially dreaded, but I am happy to say it's way better than grad school since my coworkers actually want us to put out the best product possible. So don't despair.)
posted by ferret branca at 10:30 PM on May 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

I want to append my advice to add that while I don’t mind leading group work you’re not required to like it or do it. But every group project needs a leader so choose a group with a competent leader or be the leader. But group work without a leader is going to go nowhere and drive you crazy.
posted by GuyZero at 10:57 PM on May 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

I am then treated like I'm somehow the leader of the group when I don't want to me and it frustrates me *so* much

You aren't going to like this suggestion.

Groups need a leader, otherwise either the group won't move forward and/or you'll get a poorer grade than you otherwise would.

If no one else is willing to be the darn leader, and people tend to look to you for this, sometimes it can be less work on the whole to be the leader than just having endless meetings where nothing gets done.

On the upside, perhaps this will help you develop some sort of skills that will be of use later.

Reading a book on leadership might be helpful. It's difficult to lead when you aren't "officially" the leader due to some sort of power structure -- but it's also difficult to lead when it is. It's a learnable skill.

If people are interpreting your suggestions as "making" them do something, you might need to change your phrasing. The same phrasing might mean different things to different people, so keep your audience in mind. (See: Ask v.s. Guess)

I know I probably come across as an asshole and I need to change now.

You certainly don't come across as an asshole for asking this question.

Sometimes the best leaders don't want to be leaders -- people who crave power and want to lord it over others don't tend to make good leaders, especially for group projects in school.
posted by yohko at 11:39 PM on May 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

I experienced this a lot in grad school too! Nowadays, I’m a User Experience Researcher and I lead a lot of workshops and ideating activities. I wish so badly that I knew what I know now then.

These group projects are mini workshops and they need a facilitator. Not someone to come up with the ideas, but someone to give the time spent a specific shape to be successful. Some groups will naturally follow the winning formula with or without a facilitator, but others will meander and it will be frustrating for everyone. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

Each group activity has three phases:

1. Opening - this is where ideas are shared, nothing is off limits and everybody spitballs. Nothing is explored in any depth or detail, just get it out. There is no judging allowed. This is very high-level. This phase answers the question “what are we doing/what should our topic be?” Post-its or lists are essential for this. Post-its are best because you can put them in people's hands, silence and peer pressure will handle the rest. Post-its are also great for making ideas tangible, modular, and moveable.

2. Deep dive - this is where you organise the ideas into themes, pick the areas to explore and really get into it. The question here will largely depend on what you’re aiming to achieve. You may want to list pros and cons for each theme/idea, you may want to pick one and run with it (ideal), you may want to explore what steps are involved if a particular thing is selected. This phase should be the majority of your time spent. It’s where you’ll be discerning, but because you’ve had a no-judgement opening phase, hopefully everyone should feel already heard and be able to let some things go. Usually something will naturally emerge from this place. More post-its and lists are recommended here. Write as much as possible down so that people feel heard, even if the ideas seem dumb. Sometimes ideas come out half-baked and need to be seen and tweaked by others to turn into really good things.

3. Closing - this is where you’ll step back, take a look at everything and converge on something to go with. The idea here is to review everything, narrow down all the options and pick your direction. I like voting dots for this — small stickers to place on the post-its or list items. Give people three and then pick the idea with the most dots. It’s not a popularity contest, it’s making sure we have a true concensus around the work we want to continue doing.

This is the general shape of research activities, but you can modify however you see fit. If you trust this opening-explore-closing process, you will get there. You’ll also notice mini versions within this process, as well as this activity being part of a larger cycle (eg. the first meeting of the group is the opening opening).

Give facilitating a go — it allows you to be helpful on a meta level, capitalises on your natural leadership abilities (and will hone them) and forces others to contribute, taking pressure off you. Everyone will be really grateful too. Somebody will probably take a picture of the list and that will feel good. They may even offer to write it all up, as you did a lot of visible work already.

Good luck!
posted by iamkimiam at 2:24 AM on May 27, 2018 [16 favorites]

Do you ask questions? I notice your examples involve you making statements and expecting others to then counter with statements of their own. But that makes your statement almost like a challenge: agree with me or come up with something better. Try going through a session where you ask a question every time you feel like you should say something, and I bet it will go a lot differently.
posted by meese at 5:56 AM on May 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

When someone disagrees with your idea without offering a solution, maybe try prompting them: "oh ok, well I don't feel tied to any one idea- what solution would you suggest?"

And it's ok to state how you're feeling when the group is being passive: "I had mentioned the idea of doing xyz... but I don't want that to be the only option we consider... maybe we can brainstorm a list of topics and vote on them?"

And then you appoint yourself secretary and stand at the whiteboard (or tape paper to the wall) and write the list of ideas, so your back is to the group and they may be more likely to volunteer ideas without the pressure of eye contact.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 6:00 AM on May 27, 2018

you can be a discussion leader without believing as some kind of essential principle that every working group needs a leader-leader (it doesn't) or that it's ok to just decide to be the group leader if the rest of the group didn't express an interest in having one. but you're not a bully for having opinions, everybody else feels the same hesitation to speak for that same reason (unless they just didn't do enough preliminary reading/preparation to know what's going on) and once you establish a position, they can agree with it or not without having to be the first one. it's a favor to them when you do that. It doesn't mean they don't want you do to it, it just means they don't want to have to be the one to do it. the person with the lowest frustration tolerance loses, breaks first, and has to take the risk.

and in all- or majority-female working groups, there is sometimes a social norm of expressing disagreement via "oh...I don't know" or silence or pained facial expressions" rather than "fuck that idea it's dumb as hell." there is nothing wrong with this and it is not usually any more subtle or less direct than the other style, but it's easier to steamroll or ignore (the only thing really wrong with it -- it depends on full group buy-in to function harmoniously.) so while this may not be your own style and doesn't have to be, you do have to watch for it and not use your own "directness" as an excuse for not noting other people's dissent.

if there's a pattern of conflict, then small changes like "what do you think about this?/could we try it this way?" rather than "I think we should do this" may help quite a bit. think of it as showing interest in their perspective, rather than forcing artificial insecurity/hesitancy into your own.

if these are not majority-female groups and the one female group member example you mentioned was just a coincidence, fuck it, just run the show. I am in favor of respecting other women's group politeness norms, but I am even more in favor of ignoring men's expectation that women must play by different and more careful rules than they themselves do.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:35 AM on May 27, 2018

Yay! You get to practice being a great leader!

It’s hard to inspire collaboration, start with the “you call 911” principle. Everything needs a direct task owner assigned.

Secondarily, I’ve got a collaboration model I call ever so preciously “the conscious working model” and me and my team of 5 people who report to me all work from it. The model is:

Everything is essential at first. Questions lead to “iono?” and more questions and more questions and general looking and feeling like no one has clue. Because you don’t. In order to move towards any kind of finality you have to work on...


For every question that begets a question, identify and categorize an aspect of the problem space the question is probing. This phase will bounce the fuck around for hours and days, but the more questions you categorize into identified “areas and stacks of problem spaces” a clearer picture emerges of what the fuck the problem is composed of. So you end up with a whole log of identified crap, and it becomes obvious that a lot of it is crap, but some of it may not be, this leads to...


Isolate out all the promising stacks of problem spaces and discard the rest for now as conceptual space to explore. Don’t throw that work away, just remove it from the focus. Now you are ready to...


At this point you have taken the essential formless goop and broken it down into piles of stuff that may actually be workable and solvable. Taking these isolated parts, query them deeper and deeper until the questions become small enough that single answers can formed. When you and your group have reached the point of forming answers, employ the “you call 911” theory and assign each single deliverable concept to a group member based on who wants to work on what, what’s cool and exciting and then finally explicitly calling out what everyone agrees is the shit work than no one wants to do, and lovingly and nicely farming that work out with the promise of a nice dinner or something.

Finally, I use the phrase “right work right time” a lot, because where people get irritated is when they are in say the essential phase of conceptual problem solving and putting the expectation on the group that y’all should be in the delivery phase. It’s important to recognize and make conscious what phase of the process you’re in so that your expectations align with what the group can actually achieve at that moment. Hence why I call this method “the conscious working model” because it requires a collaborative group to make conscious the process that we all do all the time without really thinking about it in order to help ensure that group expectations align with what reality can give you.

Congratulations for being the leader!
posted by nikaspark at 8:48 AM on May 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

I feel so overpowering and annoying whenever I say ANYTHING in groups that are like this. When I told the group what topic I thought would be interesting and why, I felt (again) like a fucking bully.

With respect and sincere empathy, this is your own battle with yourself. Your group is annoying and passive which clearly is not a great way to get a group project done. But they're not your enemy, they're just passive people who may or may not care about the project, the class, life, whatever. That said, welcome to the world. You seem to have some ideas and, better than that, some initiative of wanting to move the group along. So hey great, you can do some of the leader stuff. Here is the good news: the leader stuff is part of the work of doing this project. So if you take that part you can set yourself up for maybe not taking some other part that you don't like. It's work, being a leader!

And this is how you can outline it to the group. "OK if no one has objections, I'm going to try to help us arrive at a topic and a schedule and then we can split up the work" You can set up a "go around the room" sort of exercise to get people to contribute. If people really truly will not contribute, you can give them some solo work (not everyone is comfortable speaking up in public, and especially disagreeing in public, etc) but just be the one in charge of kicking the ball down the field.

But back to my initial statement. You say you feel like you are "walking on eggshells" and I guess I have to ask... what do you think is going to happen? I am familiar with that phrase when you think someone might yell or hurt you, but not when you just don't like the optics of a particular interaction. So, you don't have to answer, but maybe think about it. Were you in a relationship or family situation where you took charge and were berated or harassed for it? What is wrong with being the person who is in charge if you can do it without being an asshole (taking charge is not necessarily assholish and sometimes it's necessary)

I mean yes, at some level projects like this are stupid and a set-up. However you astutely realize that they are part of the hurdles of getting through school. so I'd work from the principle that you can't make people be different from how they are, you can only work on your own reactions. Try to see how you can structure this--you have the power--to minimize it being frustrating for you and maximizing the chances that you can still get an okay grade. Best of luck, from someone who often has to do this.
posted by jessamyn at 9:20 AM on May 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

Signs you're an asshole: raising your voice, not listening to people, telling them they're stupid/lazy, calling people names, spreading rumors/lies, making unilateral decisions like throwing someone's work in the trash.

Are you doing any of this? Probably not. Being a strong leader is not being an asshole. The best bosses I ever had were opinionated but didn't make me feel like they were overriding my input. Your options here are to be a leader or be a milquetoast like everyone else. Unfortunately that's how school projects tend to work. It's best to learn the difference between assertiveness and aggression now because it will serve you well in the workplace (and life in general).
posted by AFABulous at 9:52 AM on May 27, 2018

Response by poster: Thanks again for the advice so far. I guess I have to just embrace taking on a leadership role in the groups I'm in where that is needed. I think I've struggled with that because, and this might sound childish/ridiculous, I'm terrified of my group members blaming me/hating me if I do in fact take a leadership position and our presentation/project... flops. If we get a less than satisfactory grade, I'm worried that it will all be my fault if I'm the leader.

I'm already struggling with this current project because our professor is so remote and unreachable .
posted by modesty.blaise at 11:41 AM on May 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

If things do go badly but no one else in the group spoke up during planning, it’s on them as much as it’s on you. Unless you’re seriously being a tyrant and refusing to listen to their ideas, their lack of participation does not let them off the hook.
posted by lazuli at 2:43 PM on May 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hmmm...former group project giving instructor here. If your professor has not set up group projects with proper penalties and incentives things devolve into the type of group project people loathe and sure does not promote learning. If facillitation and consensus has not been baked into the experience then all the advice above is very relevant. Group contracts are handy because roles and communication expecations are set. Being the leader is no sin and to be honest, people seek order in most settings. Tl;dr: facillitate, consensus, organize and execute. What kills groups are vagueness and assumptions.
posted by jadepearl at 4:11 PM on May 27, 2018

> I'm terrified of my group members blaming me/hating me if I do in fact take a leadership position and our presentation/project... flops.

Hi there, I commented earlier.

One thing to consider is that things don't always work out. Our projects are not always successful. But if you're going at it the right way, a potential failure shouldn't matter all that much.

If you genuinely behave as a leader and a facilitator if needed, the failure of the project would not be a big deal. It's also worth considering just how often you're going to fail. Probably not very often, so don't worry about it.

However, the key is to demonstrate leadership, and to facilitate. This means no bullying. It also means communicating appropriately. Not everybody is comfortable debating before achieving consensus.

A key skill is listening with intent, which also incorporates reflective speaking.

In my own professional life, I find this is the most effective way to move a project forward when there is no clear "hierarchy" compelling participants to act.

Finally, we should always strive to behave ethically, and to treat others with respect, no matter what. But, on the other hand, you're only with these classmates for a short period of time.

Who cares if they hate you?

However, fundamentally, unless we learn effective communication skills, we're going to continue to piss our coworkers off into the future. The past will repeat itself. That's no way to work and live.
posted by JamesBay at 9:22 AM on May 28, 2018

I do want to emphasize that while it's great to evaluate your communication skills and style and make sure you're not bullying group members, I went to grad school for counseling psychology -- which means we were all in training to become therapists -- and even with our natural empathy and advanced training in communication and group dynamics and reflective listening/speaking, I still often had apathetic, passive classmates who would pretty much "Whatever" their way though group projects, even when someone was putting a bit of effort into facilitating. It's ok to do a cost/benefit analysis of how much work you want to put in to coaching others vs. just getting the work done. Learning how to facilitate is great, and it sounds like you may need to work on your diplomacy a bit, but sometimes group members just suck.
posted by lazuli at 10:13 AM on May 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

I guess I have to just embrace taking on a leadership role in the groups I'm in where that is needed. I think I've struggled with that because, and this might sound childish/ridiculous, I'm terrified of my group members blaming me/hating me if I do in fact take a leadership position and our presentation/project... flops. If we get a less than satisfactory grade, I'm worried that it will all be my fault if I'm the leader.

Well, speaking as someone who has somewhat reluctantly ended up leading a number of things... this is one of the tough things about being a leader. About making decisions. You might pick a course of action that others end up feeling is the wrong one, or even that you end up feeling is the wrong one.

The sooner you can accept that you can't make everyone happy -- and that is not just a saying, it's a very very true thing -- the easier this will be. You can't be perfect. You can't always make the absolute best decision possible. You can't always control the outcome to be what you want. No one can.

But, if no one ever gets things started, if everyone hems and haws and never makes a decision... what happens to your project then?

And if you had the ability to lead, to be the person to say, "look, why don't we do it this way" and get everyone on board, and you didn't do that and everyone disagreed and did random things that had to be thrown together at the last minute to hand in for a grade because you need to hand in something, anything... does having kept your ability to have gotten the group organized enough to hand in something better a secret make it not your fault?

And for a moment, forget about the group grade -- what about your grade? Your transcript? How important is this grade? Will anyone care what your grades are in grad school, and will your professors be writing you recommendations for anything later? (Sometimes this isn't important to people, such as when they don't plan on doing another degree ever, and their job gives them a raise for receiving the degree without the grades coming into account) Maybe it's fine with you as long as you pass the class, in which case you might be better off not putting your emotional energy into leading. Only you can decide.
posted by yohko at 11:23 PM on May 31, 2018

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