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Trust Activities

Ways to Improve Social Support in Groups

James Neill
Last updated:
28 Jul 2004

  1. Code of behavior (Group contract): Establish a code of behavior, such as the “Full Value Contract”, the Outward Bound motto, the organization’s code, or a code  developed by the group early in the program.

  2. Model supportive behavior:   Students will follow your behavior, so make sure your instructional team is seen by students as sharing a high level of social support.

  3. Encourage supportive physical contact: “Trails need to be wider so people can walk while holding hands.” (written on a National Forest Service comment card).  Silly as this suggestion may sound, it is a reminder to look for opportunities to encourage genuine supportive physical contact between group members.  Trust activities can be very helpful.

  4. Only discuss group issues in group discussions:  In an early debrief, explain that it is only appropriate to talk about group issues, not about problems with individuals in the group setting.  If there are any problems between individuals then these should be sorted out before or after group discussions, on their own or with the instructors.  In other words, group discussions are for talking about the group.  Positive comments about individuals are of course very acceptable!

  5. Early intervention:  When a pattern of negative social behavior starts to develop, act to change that pattern earlier rather than later.

  6. Positive comments: When instructing or facilitating discussions,  complement individual participants on their contribution.  Try to use their name each time, e.g., “That’s a really well thought through idea, John, well done….”.  Encourage others to provide positive feedback where appropriate.  This may seem corny and fake, but if it is consciously used when there is real justification for compliment, particularly with low self-esteem groups, then it can help to raise the general level of self and other respect.

  7. Anonymous positive feedback: Have everyone stick a blank sheet of paper on their back.  Students are then asked to then mill around and write honest, positive feedback on people’s backs.  Student can then read and discuss the feedback they received.

  8. Lineup: Ask the students to line themselves up in order from the student who is contributing the most to the group through to the person who is contributing least to the group.  This can be a controversial and socially challenging task!  Once the students agree on the lineup, then say that each student will get a chance to choose one another student who they believe should move further up towards the student who contributed most.  Debrief.

  9. Individual counseling: Take someone who is not socially supporting the group aside and chat with them about ways in which they can be more positively involved through the program.

  10. Removal of participant: If a participants’ behavior continues to significantly disrupt the development of the group and other individuals, then remove the student from normal group activities (e.g. ask them to sit out of an activity, through to removal for rest of the program).