Introducing a Shy Person into a New Group
by Ann E. Hale, M.A., TEP
You are introducing a new person into your ongoing group. You
know the person to be shy. Describe two ways to sociometrically orient
the person during their first meeting with the group.
A shy person will not ordinarily choose to join a group until they have
reached a position of curiosity about their shyness and have a
willingness to experiment a bit with trusting others and themself in
this challenging situation. The condition of shyness is one of
momentary retreat in the face of an abhorrent social event.
Shyness has become a chosen way to handle anticipated stressful,
critical and demanding life events. For many, shyness has
become a way of life, and one which the person would gladly give
up, once their trust in others is rebuilt and they have a success
experience or two in being their more courageous self.
Your ongoing group, whether it is a therapy group or a
psychodrama-oriented group, is one in which each person eventually
reveals the personal story which is connected to their beliefs and
behavior. The shy person believes that their very shyness reveals more
about themself than they want revealed and can’t seem to help this
paradoxical situation. Acknowledging this fact in your plans for
ways to orient the person to the group (and the group to the new
member) will help to provide a straightforward approach. Also, you
acknowledge that the addition of a new member changes the group, and
that the prior connections people have to one another will shift to
accommodate the change. The task for the group leader is to
return to group building activities providing opportunities for all
group members to connect. This diffuses the attention on one person,
the shy new member, and opens the process to each group member.
The effect lessens the performance demand on a person ill equipped for
Sociometrically oriented way to incorporate new members
(1) Sweatshirt messages - Give each person in the group two sheets of
paper. On the first sheet they write what could be printed on the
front of a sweatshirt which reveals what they “lead” with when meeting
people for the first time. On the second sheet they write what is
really going on, the back of their sweatshirt, “should the truth be known”. An
Front: “I’m a real cool guy”
Back: “Yeah, if I have a few drinks in me.”
Front: “People tell me I’m pretty.”
Back: “Can you imagine what it is like to have people hitting on you all the time?”
Have enough safety pins for each person to pin the messages to their
clothes. Have people mill around and spend a moment with each
person. Open the topic for discussion in the group. The new
member will have a chance to interact one on one without having the whole group
focus at one time.
(2) Advantages and disadvantages 2 - This is a paired exercise.
Normally I would have group members chose a partner; however, this puts
too much pressure on a new person so I will use a “pick a partner from
the hat” method. (Half of the group members names go in a hat, and the
other half choose their partner from the hat. If the group has uneven
numbers, I join
in to make the numbers even.) I usually demonstrate this exercise
first: Two people sit side my side, not facing, but looking out
same direction, similar to the “doubling” position. One person
begins by stating an attribute of theirs. It can be one he/she feels good
about, or one they don’t like. Example: "I am a truthful
person." The partner immediately begins to speak aloud, as if
they are the person, musing aloud what they
imagine to be the advantages and the disadvantages of having this
attribute. Allow about two minutes. Then, they turn to
the person with that attribute and get corroboration or
correction. Next, the exercise repeats with the “double” now
being the focus and stating an attribute of theirs to their partner.
This exercise helps each person realize they are able to contribute,
as well as to be known. It brings with it the realization that people are able
to intuit a great deal without explanation. And, it gives a person an
opportunity to immediate interact with correction in a non-threatening
and non-public way. Everyone is doing this at the same time and
so the full impact of group focus is lessened. The shy person is
helped to get to know one other person and thereby enlarging their
social atom by one.
1 This exercise was introduced to me in the late 1970's by Allen
Wickersty, Ph.D., TEP of Wickersty Associates in Maryland. He is
greatly missed by our psychodrama collective.