HomeBlogsDekeSharon's blogCreating and Sustaining Inner-Group Harmony

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Like many pop psychology concepts, I think the term "dysfunctional" is thrown around too much. Some relationships “work” and others don’t? I find that too clean for the reality of human nature and interaction. In reality, it’s been my experience that all individuals both share good times and have problems.

A band is a combination of creative ensemble, business, and family. Sometimes the best of all three coincide, and sometimes the worst. Every band has fights, clashes, and problems that face it, especially in the extremely demanding and competitive music industry.

However, in the midst of all the difficulties, groups manage to make music, conduct business, and often share a small enclosed space together (like a van) for long periods of time. It could be argued that the statistically insignificant number of road trip deaths can actually be attributed to the effective relationship management in most bands.

Of course I’m being facetious, but it’s to prove a point: bands aren’t by definition dysfunctional. They generally function effectively, and when they don’t they usually break up.

A more effective working of the above quandary might be: “How can members of a group more effectively relate to each other?” This is an excellent question, yet one that I’m sorry that anyone would need to ask.

I wish this information were something we could all take for granted at this point in our adult lives. As children we spend at least 13 years of our life in school, yet conflict resolution and interpersonal skills are almost never mentioned, let alone intentionally taught. If I were restructuring the education system, this information would be a cornerstone, before anyone learned how to factor polynomial equations, or even learned to multiply.

Since the department of education hasn’t been returning my calls, I’ll offer some simple pointers that can help in any group or one-on-one conflict situation:

HAVE FUN TOGETHER REGULARLY: A common mistake in any business or relationship is to focus primarily on things that are wrong or need changing. Eventually, no one will want to spend time together - who wants to wallow in problems and failure?

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” In other words, make sure you all have fun together, and celebrate your successes. This seed needs to be planted in advance and be watered regularly to grow - don’t expect a last minute trip to an amusement park to solve a group breakup. Just like a marriage, you need to set aside time to enjoy each other.

ADDRESS PROBLEMS RIGHT AWAY: Don't let little problems build up until they're a big mass of confused emotion - this will only lead to an inappropriate explosion that takes forever to untangle. Bring up little issues when they arise ("It bothers me that we're starting rehearsal 10 minutes late" or "I felt bad when you made the following comment"). They’re much easier to deal with, understand, and move beyond.

IDENTIFY THE PROBLEM: Remember that when you have a problem, your bandmate is not the problem. You both have a common goal - personal happiness and band success. When you realize that the problem is outside of both of you, it will be easier for you both to work to finding a common solution.

MAKE AN APPOINTMENT: If there’s something you want to discuss, don’t just launch into a diatribe - ask if it’s a good time to talk, and if not, make an appointment. Your whole group will feel a lot more at ease in general if they all know that they’re not in danger of an unexpected accusation or venting of anger.

TALK ABOUT YOURSELF: To keep you from assigning blame on the other person when angry, start sentences with “I” and talk about your feelings, needs, problems, worries. When you focus discussions this way, you presenting a much cleaner, more navigatible problem, and making it clear that you don't see the other person as the problem.

For the record, sentences that start “I hate it when you...” don’t meet this criteria. Example: “I hate it when you never show up on time” will trigger defensiveness - try “I feel powerless - like we’ll never achieve our goals - if we keep losing rehearsal time due to lateness” or “I feel like I’m not respected when I have to sit here waiting.”

MIRROR DURING ARGUMENTS: When having a heated discussion/argument, make sure to repeat what the other person says before launching into your own next statement. This technique is called mirroring, and while it may seem obvious or moot, it really works.

It's the best way to get past difficult topics, as it makes sure you have heard what the other person said, makes sure they know they've been heard, and gives you both a chance to absorb that thought before moving on. It will diffuse building anger and misunderstanding - even if you're the only one mirroring during the conversation.

DON’T MAKE DEMANDS: Know that you can't demand anything of anyone - all behavior changes need to be decided by the individual who's changing, and in a sense that makes it a gift. No one wants to give a gift that’s been demanded of them. Realize this, respect this, and approach your relationships accordingly.

SEARCH FOR “WIN-WIN”: Business culture has co-opted what was once a hippie sentiment, but there is such a thing as a "win-win" solution, whether you wear Armani or tie-dye.

Solutions that resolve all members’ problems are not always easy to find. They usually require all available pertinent information from each perspective, which means you all need to get past any defensiveness and bad feelings and open up completely. Only then can everyone lay out the facts that will allow a common solution to be found.

KNOW YOUR “ISSUES”: This one is initially tough to accept, but it's true: things that bug you about other people are your problem - not theirs. Have you ever noticed how different things bother different people? That's because we're all the result of various experiences that have us see crisis in different things. When upset, first look inside and see how much of the problem is about you and your fears - and not the other person. Usually, it's 99%, unless it involves death, hunger or the like.

SEE BOTH SIDES: Nothing is ever black or white/right or wrong. See where you have made mistakes, and realize your own faults, especially when you're feeling holier-than-thou. You have faults. No, they aren't less of a big deal.

The key to resolving conflict is to find out what the other person’s problem is - then you have all of the information, and can find a solution. Seek this information. Listen before talking.

CONSIDER FEELINGS AND FAIRNESS: It’s a bit overstated in our culture that men tend to focus mostly on what’s fair and follow rules when resolving conflicts, whereas women worry primarily about everyone’s feelings. Figure out where you fall on this continuum, and make sure to employ both perspectives when resolving problems.

Sometimes people need to be treated equally, and sometimes they just want to vent their feelings and be validated. Identifying this can save you long, unnecessary discussions.

MAKE YOURSELF HAPPY: Know what makes you happy, and spend time in your life actively pursuing these things. Everyone needs to be in charge of their own happiness. Some people expect others to make them happy, which is a very destructive thing in a relationship. Make sure you aren’t expecting your bandmates to be anything they aren’t, and planning on the band to make you happy.

I think the following quote is attributed to Abraham Lincoln: “People are just about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” Decide to be happy instead of letting your emotions ride completely on the next gig vote or repertoire discussion.

DON’T SWEAT IT: Relax. Life is full of challenges and conflicts; you'll only make yourself and others around you less happy and able to deal with things if you heap lots of negative emotion on them. Laugh at yourself, and your situation, and realize that in the grand scheme of things, little you do right now will matter at all in a year from now - even to you. Being in a band is a rollercoaster ride, and you’ll have a better time if you’re able to appreciate the dips as well as swells.

Of course no person is perfect, and there are times that all of us collapse into destructive, unfocused anger. However, by making it a point to work on the interpersonal harmony of a group as well as your own happiness, you’ll find that musical harmony is much easier to achieve.