I am sure you have seen collusion in your group. Here is an example. As Stan arrives for his Monday evening battering intervention class he is clearly agitated. Class begins with a “check-in”. When it is Stan’s turn, he states his name and reports that he is feeling angry because “my ex-wife is a bitch”. Before he can say anything else, another group member chimes in, “Oh, you got one of those, too.” Soon, in almost orchestrated fashion, some members of the group are talking about their ex-wives, bitches, and how the system is stacked against men in general. The conversation can take on a life of its own as group members commiserate with each other. Depending on the strength of other members, they may be hard-pressed to offer a different view.
What the facilitators of this group are experiencing is the power of collusion. Collusion is technically “secret or illegal cooperation or conspiracy, especially in order to cheat or deceive others”. In group work, collusion describes a “coordinated avoidance of accountability”. In the case of Stan, some group members jump on the “ex-wife is a bitch” bandwagon, keeping the conversation externally focused instead of holding Stan accountable for his own behavior in the relationship.
Frequently, it is the facilitator who is colluding with the participant.
Of course, there are many other methods of collusion that appear in the group process. Often, the collusion is unintentional and goes unnoticed. Frequently, it is the facilitator who is colluding with the participant. While it is true that some facilitators will join in with the partner bashing, strong facilitators recognize this for what it is, and will redirect the conversation toward a more internal-focused dialogue. However, other forms of collusion are not quite as obvious. Two of the less obvious forms of collusion that we see among facilitators are advice giving, and lecturing. While many do not think of these as collusion, both strategies take the focus off the participant and place it on the facilitator. Both strategies allow the participant to avoid internal-focused dialogue. Here is how it works:
In advice giving, a group member might bring a problem to the group. Perhaps they are having trouble sorting out child visitation arrangements with their former partner. Whenever a facilitator begins a statement with, “Have you ever tried...” or, “What you ought to do is…”, or, “let me tell you what has worked in the past…”, the facilitator is in advice-giving mode. While the facilitator is giving advice to the group member, the group member does not have to work to address their own life situation. A different way to handle this is by the facilitator exploring choices and options. By asking the group member, “what options do you have at this point?” or, “what have you tried up to this point?”, the facilitator can keep the participant engaged in an internal focused conversation that is key for change to occur.
While the facilitator believes that they are offering valuable information about the dynamics of domestic violence, they have let the participant off the hook in exploring their own world and the sources of their own views.
The other strategy that winds up as collusion is when the facilitator believes they have information that is valuable to the conversation, so they provide a 20 minute lecture. For example, a participant complains, “Kansas is such a pro-woman state! If the police get called, it is the man who always gets arrested!” Sometimes the facilitator will take the bait and go into lecture mode on why that is not the case at all. They might say something like, “Actually, the research shows that women are at a disadvantage in the system and let me tell you how….” While the facilitator believes that they are offering valuable information about the dynamics of domestic violence, they have let the participant off the hook in exploring their own world and the sources of their own views. In addition, participants appreciate the opportunity to manipulate the conversation so that the least amount of time is spent focused on them.
Collusion is a common challenge in groups for those who batter. It is important to learn how to manage groups when the participants begin to collude with each other. Equally important is the ability of the facilitator to recognize when they are colluding with their group participants, letting them off the hook of accountability and responsibility. It is a real treat to listen to a facilitator who has mastered the art of the internal-focused dialogue as they tend to keep all forms of collusion to a minimum. If you are not steering participants toward examining themselves, you may be colluding.