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Spotting & Intervening With Shadow Dynamics in Groups
Workshop with Dr. David Gruder, PhD, DCEP Part 1
- Clarity about what “shadow” dynamics are and their toxic impacts in businesses, nonprofits, community groups, families, society, and politics. (“Shadow” is a psychological term coined by the extraordinary trailblazing psychologist, Dr. Carl Jung, for the parts of us that we ignore, repress or deny.”)
- How to spot the telltale signs of 5 key individual, co-created and systems shadow dynamics in groups.
- Key questions to ask yourself when you see any of these dynamics happening… before you speak up about them.
- Simple ways to quickly help groups get back on track.
Get access to the entire workshop at https://synervision.kartra.com/page/shadowworkshop
Read the Transcript
Hugh Ballou: Greetings, everyone. This is Hugh Ballou. One of my dearest friends, if not my dearest friend in the world, Dr. David Gruder, organizational developmental psychologist. David and I have known each other for a number of years, at least a decade+. David and I have done some work together in organizations in developing the culture of leadership so that people function in a different way. David is able to experience the culture in a different way because he has had this training of Jungian psychology. This goes back to the ‘70s. David, tell us about your training in Jungian psychology and how it relates to shadow.
David Gruder: Sure. My doctorate is in both clinical and organizational development psychology. When I was in grad school starting in the mid-1970s, I was trained in a number of different forms of psychology and approaches to psychotherapy, one of which is Jungian psychology. Jung was originally the star student and intended to be the crown prince of Sigmund Freud. Jung had a much more spiritual orientation than Freud did. That and a number of other things resulted in the two of them splitting from each other and Jung going on to develop his own approach to psychotherapy. One of the key parts of his approach has to do with recognizing and dealing with shadow inside of us. I’ll go into shadow as we unfold the presentation.
Hugh: David, you’re also what they call an elder in the Mankind Project. Tell us about that and the work that you do there around shadow.
David: Sure. The Mankind Project is an international nonprofit that has been around for 30-odd years. The organization’s mission, if I paraphrase it, is essentially to create a safer world by enabling men to mentor each other in aligning with and removing whatever blocks stand between them and their mission in the world. A big part of the work in the Mankind Project is facing shadow, facing the parts of us that undermine our ability to be authentic, collaborative, and positively impactful.
I am what’s called a certified ritual elder in the Mankind Project. Our role as ritual elders is to hold a spiritual space inside the Mankind Project. We also mentor the leaders in the Mankind Project. One of my projects has been to develop and be a senior trainer for a comprehensive training program in becoming a shadow watcher, watching for shadow in groups inside the Mankind Project, and intervening in helpful ways when shadow surfaces in group dynamics.
Hugh: You have been at this for a while. I have learned so much from David, and I have just scratched the surface. I will now be quiet and turn it over to David, who will teach us some important things.
David: Marvelous. Thank you, Hugh. Of course, it’s a pleasure to be with you as always. This mini workshop is called “Shadow Spotting Basics: An Introduction to Recognizing and Intervening with Group Dynamics That Undermine Collaboration and Purpose Fulfillment.” I want to forewarn you that you will be drinking from a fire hose because I am providing a compressed overview of what shadow is, how to spot it, and how to stop it in a very short period of time. What I am going to invite you to do is lean back and absorb what you can, knowing that at the end, you can download a worksheet, an action guide, that will give you all of the important material in this particular presentation.
Let me start with what shadow is. Shadow is things about ourselves, our interactions, or systems that we’re part of that we deny or tolerate or even justify, despite their negative impacts. That is a concise definition of what shadow is.
Shadow spotting is pointing out shadow in ways that help restore love, collaboration, and purpose effectiveness.
There are six principles that are important to understand about doing this kind of work with spotting and stopping shadowy group dynamics.
The first of those six principles is that it’s human for there to be things we don’t know that we don’t know. In other words, it’s important for us to be humble. There are things we don’t know that we don’t know. That is part of being human. No shame, no blame, no fault. It’s human. It’s important to stay connected with that, especially when we are in a shadow spotting role. If we don’t remember that it’s human for us to have things we don’t know that we don’t know, then we run the risk of becoming judgmental. If we become judgmental as shadow spotters, then we can’t be effective.
The second principle is that it’s human for us to have gaps between our good intentions and our words and actions sometimes. That’s important for shadow spotters to hold in our awareness because if we forget this, then we will get judgmental and thereby become ineffective as shadow spotters.
The third is it is human for us to have blind spots about our positive impacts and our unintended negative impacts.
The fourth principle is that psychologically mature adults have consistently high willingness to spot and fill our gaps, and consistently low shame that we have gaps to fill. Why low shame? Because it is human to have gaps. That’s why it’s important to be able to recognize our gaps without shame. If we develop shame, it’s going to be much harder to face and deal with those gaps in helpful ways.
The fifth principle is that thriving company cultures and nonprofit cultures and government agencies and cause-based organizations, etc., and the individuals within them, hold these awarenesses compassionately and address these gaps effectively within themselves, between them and others, and among them as a group.
The sixth principle is thriving company cultures, or again, nonprofits, religious organizations, community-based organizations, government agencies, doesn’t matter what group we’re talking about, don’t retain people with insufficient commitment and capacity to consistently seek out, spot, and fill their individual gaps, their co-created gaps with others, and their organization’s collective gaps or blind spots.
Now I realize there are some situations out there where it’s hard to get rid of people. That’s unfortunate because if we have toxic people in an organization with no way to get rid of them, they will pull down the organization’s effectiveness.
Those are the six principles. Before I move on to the three steps in shadow spotting, Hugh, is there anything you want to add or ask at this point?
Hugh: I’m just groovin’ on it. Thanks, David. I want to hear more.
David: There are three steps to shadow spotting. I will start by giving you the summaries, and then we can deep dive into the detail.
The first step is to spot the symptoms of shadow, the symptoms that indicate that the group dynamic has gotten off track. Spotting the symptoms is becoming more able to recognize when shadow is creating damage in a group dynamic.
The second step is to strategize. What are you going to do about it once you spot there is shadow afoot? That has to do with deciding whether and when to speak up, and with whom.
The third step is to intervene. That is about implementing the most useful intensity level in speaking up about shadow in order to initiate the restoration of group wellbeing.
That is an overview of the three steps we are going to go into.
Step one: spot the shadow symptoms. There are basically three variations on shadow that a shadow spotter needs to be aware of.
There is individual shadow, stuff about me that I am denying or repressing or ignoring or unjustifiably justifying, despite unintended negative impacts.
There is co-created shadow, which is shadow that you and I create together.
There is systemic shadow, which is shadow in an organization and how an organization functions.
The goal of step one, which is spotting shadow symptoms, is to uplevel your ability to accurately spot when shadow is undermining group dynamics. What you’re going to see as I unpack five different varieties of shadow is that they all have individual symptoms, internal, personal symptoms; co-created symptoms, symptoms of what that form of shadow looks like in relationships in a group dynamic; and systemic symptoms, which are symptoms an organization is suffering from.
The first variety of shadow know is emotional charges. An emotional charge is when I notice something that is off-kilter or not going right or I don’t like, I lose track of my capacity to self-manage my emotional reaction to that. My emotions become the driver of the bus. There is a big difference between noticing that something is wrong and speaking up about it versus noticing something is wrong, getting so angry, furious, scared, shamed, off-kilter, fearful that when I try to speak up, it doesn’t go well. That’s an emotional charge. It’s a level of emotional intensity that reduces connection instead of building connection.
Individual symptoms of an emotional charge are things like when you hear people blaming each other or shaming each other, or someone shaming themselves; someone being controlling or playing victim; justifying harmful words or actions we are taking; not taking responsibility for broken agreements that someone has or for unintended negative impact. Those are all examples of emotional charges on an individual level.
Emotional charges on a co-created level is where the accusations go back and forth, like a Ping-Pong tournament. Who is going to accuse whom more effectively while they themselves are playing the face of innocence? “What you did is worse than what I did.” “What you did is bad, and I did nothing. If only you cleaned up your act, everything would be fine.” It’s where one person explodes, and the other person implodes. The implosion is where you go through an intense emotional reaction inside yourself that you might or might not speak about. Or you withdraw. Those are the co-created symptoms of strong emotional charges that reduce connection.
At the organizational level, the symptoms are where you have an organization with no agreed-upon mechanism to spot and resolve emotional charges that reduce connection, or an agreed-upon method exists, but it’s not being used consistently with everyone.
Those are all of the symptoms of emotional charges. Hugh, does that make sense?
Hugh: It makes great sense. I wish I had known this years ago. I’m ready to deal with it right now. This is all magnified with the anxiety in our current culture, so this is so helpful.
David: Good. That is the first variety of shadow that we want to be spotting. The second variety is polarization, which is taking sides in ways that increase defensiveness. It’s fine that we have different perspectives on things. In fact, in organizations, it’s really useful that we have different perspectives. We all see slices of a larger picture. However, if we don’t have the capacity to synergize the slices that we see, and instead, we insist that what each one of us is seeing is the whole picture rather than the slice of a larger picture, instead of having multiple perspectives, we get polarized, and we take sides in ways that increase defensiveness and therefore decrease collaboration.
Individual symptoms of polarization are individuals taking adamant positions or insisting on a specific solution that only addresses what their deep concerns and high intentions are but none of the other deep concerns or high intentions of other people. Another symptom is when someone is closed-minded about other perspectives.
Co-created symptoms is where together, we stay stuck in arguing over positions or solutions instead of on understanding each other’s deep concerns and high intentions that are underneath everyone’s positions or solutions, which are at the heart of the positions we take or the solutions we advocate. If we don’t know how to go underneath those surface positions and advocate solutions to identify and disclose our deepest concerns and highest intentions, there is no collaboration that is possible in creating integrative solutions.
Systemic symptoms of polarization are where in an organization, there is no agreed-upon, or an agreed-upon but underused, mechanism to identify concerns and intentions and develop an integrated solution based on combining those on everyone’s parts.
Hugh: I love it. There is a comment from a colleague, David, “Emotional charges. I recognize these as what so often happens when a narcissist runs an organization. It’s his way or no way. I have been on both sides, which I guess is human behavior, but can ultimately erode confidence in the individual and the organization as a whole.”
David: Yes. Spot on, David. Narcissism is an individual shadow. When we get into shadow dances with narcissists, then it becomes co-created shadow. I will get into that.
The third is triangulation. Triangulation is I have a problem with Hugh. Instead of going directly to Hugh to deal with that problem, I go to someone else, not to consult with them, not to hopefully have them help me get clear on what it is that I have to say to Hugh and how I might say that in ways that promote collaboration or resolve a conflict, but instead to manipulate that person to do my dirty work for me and talk to Hugh on my behalf. That is what triangulation is. There is a very common form of triangulation called the Projection Magnet Dynamic. I am going to unpack that as I unpack all of the symptoms. Bear with me.
Individual symptoms of triangulation are what I just described: Trying to get someone else to do for you what’s yours to do or doing for someone else what is theirs to do. Feeling trapped in the role of an attacker, the recipient of attack, or the bystander. Those are the three roles that are involved in a Projection Magnet Dynamic.
What you see at the bottom of the slide is the Projection Magnet Dynamic roles. You have Attackers, people throwing arrows at one or more people; the people who are having the arrows thrown at them, the Targets; and the Colluders, everyone else who is witnessing the arrow throwing and arrow receiving.
There are different versions of Colluders. The variations on Colluders are the Rescuers/Heroes, who try to jump in without anyone’s agreement. They are trying to save the day, but nobody wants them to do that yet, so they end up getting arrows thrown at them.
You have the Pot Stirrers, the people who are invested in conflict occurring in a group.
You have the Complainers, the ones who are constantly complaining about what’s wrong, but aren’t involved in doing something positive about what’s wrong.
You have the Gossips, the people who gather around the proverbial water cooler and gossip to each other about the arrow throwers and arrow receivers, but never deal with those people directly.
You have the Ostriches, who stick their head in the sand and hope that the craziness will pass before they completely give up.
You have the Quitters, who say, “That’s it. I’m outta here. I don’t want anything to do with this.” prematurely, rather than because they have tried to turn the shadow dynamic around, and nobody seems interested in having that happen.
You have these three roles: the Attackers, the Targets, and the versions of Colluders. That is a Projection Magnet Dynamic. Someone has this mark on their forehead who says, “If you want someone to attack, I’m your person.” Or someone who just makes an innocent mistake, and everyone comes down on them. The people who come down on that person who has an X on their forehead are projecting their own inability to deal with conflict or problems effectively onto the person they are attacking, basically saying to the person, “You’re the problem. If only you cleaned up your act, everything would be fine.” They don’t understand that a Projection Magnet Dynamic involves all three roles.
In co-created symptoms, what a shadow spotter is looking for is individuals or groups tolerating deterioration into finger-pointers (Attackers), those having fingers pointed at them (Targets), and those who are colluding with various forms of enabling the finger pointing dynamic to continue to happen (Colluders).
Systemic symptoms of triangulation are there is no agreed-upon or an underutilized/incompetently used mechanism to identify and address triangulation, and the Projection Magnet Dynamic version of triangulation when that is going on.
Hugh, anything here?
Hugh: I see this happen in organizations so much, David. It’s really toxic when you’re not spotting what happens with triangles. You and I have talked about the act of triangling. People take what you’re describing as a power position and creating a worse problem than existed before.
David has another comment related to emotional intelligence. “It sounds like a lack of emotional intelligence with regard to communicating with others at a medium. This is very revealing on challenging the offender to the group or other individuals as a means of undermining the target. If so, they often end up being the Quitter rather than contribute to fixing of the issue.” What do you think of that?
David: Yes, that’s spot on, David. The reason that these premature Quitters quit is because like most of us, they haven’t ever received training in how to recognize and intervene with these kinds of dynamics in good ways. Good, meaning in ways that restore collaboration. Because we aren’t, in my judgment, in a culture where people are trained in how to spot and effectively intervene with these dynamics, it’s no wonder why we get Quitters and Ostriches and Gossips and Complainers. We don’t know what we don’t know. We have these emotional intelligence deficits.
I am going to go on to the next form of shadow, which is culture shadow. These are unrecognized or unaddressed isms. There are various kinds of isms. We all know about the obvious isms like racism, sexism, ageism, etc. There is also an ism that is the only ism I know of that people have not only not spoken out against, but a large number of people continue to vocally justify, unlike a lot of these other isms that most people who are love-based recognize exist. They may have their differences in how they address the isms, but they are not in denial that the ism exists, except for this one ism: politicism. Hatred of political perspectives that aren’t our own, and justifying the attacking of anyone who doesn’t have the political orientation that I have. That ism is the only remaining ism that people actually continue to justify, glorify, and indulge in with utter impunity.
Individual symptoms of culture shadow are where we have unconsciousness. We are insufficiently aware of stereotyping that we do. This is where we don’t see an individual; we see the group that they are connected with, and we pigeonhole them into our preconceptions of what that group is or stands for. It’s the opposite of treating each individual as an individual.
Individually insufficient awareness of stereotyping or of privilege, meaning an unawareness that I have certain capabilities that others don’t. If I am a leader with a lot of authorized power in an organization, and I’m not aware there is a power differential in the organization because I have and have been given more power than certain other individuals, then I am unaware of the impacts of my privilege. I am not talking about guilt for being privileged. I am talking about awareness that I carry privilege and awareness that not everyone else has privileges that I have depending on the role I occupy.
Unawareness of target dynamics. Unawareness that people are part of groups who have the fingers pointed at them, and the disadvantages they have. Unawareness that many of us carry an internalized oppressor, meaning an internal critic, a part of us that beats us down and shuts us up before anyone can criticize us. Fragility: Easily triggered by the unconsciousness of others around isms, around culture issues.
Co-created symptoms are tolerating division into privilege groups and target groups. Tolerating the continuation of groups that have more rights and opportunities and privileges and the deprivation of groups from having certain opportunities that they have earned but aren’t receiving. Not talking about unearned opportunity; I’m talking about earned opportunity they are deprived of. Groups that have been turned into caricatures and cliches. The most extreme individuals in that group are talked about as though they represent the mainstream of that group. That is stereotyping again. Tolerating that divisiveness is co-created culture shadow.
Systemic symptoms in an organization are the refusal to provide wise, mature, not stupid and immature, training in recognizing and addressing isms or providing poor training in recognizing and addressing isms. You can always tell where there is poor training in this because the poor training always reinforces people’s fragility, entitlement, and resentment. If that is the outcome of culture shadow training, then it is psychologically immature training.
Hugh: David, the first point here about insufficient awareness. You and I have talked over the years about blind spots. The way we respond to things, sometimes we create unintended results by how we respond to things. Having a blind spot about shadow is pretty significant for a leader, isn’t it?
David: Yes, it’s significant. Where do you know where this stuff is taught to leaders? I don’t know anywhere other than the programs I do.
Hugh: It is not universally available for people. As you’re talking about this, I can go back in history and think about situations where this is happening. It really creates a lot of indigestion for people.
David: Oh yeah.
Hugh: It’s not easy, but it is so preventable. You have to work at it, and you have to open your mind to “I’m a part of the problem because I don’t know this stuff” or “Maybe I’m jumping into an ism.”
David: So many of us are dealing with this right now, which is exactly why I am doing this mini training.
Let’s go on to the final variety of shadow I want you to be aware of, which is institutional shadow. These are policies and procedures that organizations have that actually undermine success, productivity, collaboration, engagement, etc. Other than the most sinister and ill-intended institutions or organizations or businesses or nonprofits, etc., these policies and procedures are not intentionally installed. Yes, they are installed in sinister organizations, but not in well-meaning ones. They are unintendedly harmful or undermining policies and procedures.
Individual symptoms are poor and consistently applied policies that a leader implements about how people are trained; inconsistent standards that leaders use around salaries, perks, and tolerating glass ceilings.
Co-created symptoms are where we together in a group allow unresolved conflicts, collaboration breaches, and lack of accountability, or we allow divisiveness or siloing to continue instead of doing effective conflict resolution that restores goodwill, trust, collaboration, productivity, and engagement.
Organizational symptoms are where an organization does not regularly upgrade their standards and best practices regarding any of these forms of shadow and collaboration and conflict resolution and things like that. Or having good standards but not adhering to them consistently. Or having good standards and trying to adhere to them but not providing sufficient training to people so that they can be in integrity with these standards and best practices that avoid these five varieties of shadow.
That is what I’ve got in the five forms of shadow before I go onto the next section. My closing urging, maybe even beseeching of you, is to master the art of illuminating shadow in ways that help restore love, collaboration, and purpose effectiveness. If you lead any kind of organization, master the art of building line items into your budget so that your organization can get training in this, or that a designated shadow spotter in your organization can get that kind of training.
Hugh: Thank you, David, for illuminating this invisible topic that causes so much grief in so many organizations. We can do something about it. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us today.
David: My pleasure. Thank you for recognizing the importance of this kind of topic. I am grateful to all of you for having recognized how important this topic is, how timely it is, and how important it is to take action to elevate our shadow spotting competencies as leaders.
Hugh: To get access to the full workshop, go to ShadowWorkshop.com.