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People pleasing in group projects

Before you tear your hair out in frustration, read these tips as to how to avoid being a pushover.

Unless you’re someone who absolutely loves the idea of bonding with your fellow classmates, group projects can be a pain to execute. Coordinating busy schedules, dealing with slackers, coming to a mutual agreement amid opposing perspectives and figuring out how to evenly distribute the leadership can be tedious, time consuming and downright frustrating.

Although the idea of working together in teams sounds great in theory, many college students know from experience that carrying out the logistics of it all can be rough. If you’re one of those people that shudders at the thought of group work because you just know you’ll be forced to singlehandedly complete the entire assignment, read on for tips as to how to avoid people pleasing in group projects.

Divvy up the work specifically among members.

A major issue that causes “free riders” during group projects is one person taking on the bulk of the assignment. When someone offers to complete the lion’s share of the work, often they’re motivated by a desire to be in control, don’t trust the others to pull their weight, think their ideas are better or prefer to work alone.

Usually what happens is that after one person takes the reins, others are left scrambling to fill a role or ride on the coattails of the more proactive group members. To avoid the issue, establish early on before the deadline who is in charge of what and emphasize each person’s role. With guidelines and set expectations, it will be much easier to keep track of what needs to be done and who bears the responsibility.

Communicate effectively from the project’s outset.

You may be tempted to shout at that one guy that “forgets” to come to the meetings or the girl who hasn’t responded to your flurry of desperate group text messages. Before you rant to your roommate about how much you despise the people you are being forced to work with, talk individually with the “problematic” ones. They might not even realize that they’re causing issues for the team and just need a gentle reminder to stay on track.

If your class conducts peer evaluations at the end of the semester, that can be a place to voice your opinions honestly. However, if you find that you are being taken advantage of and have spoken with your classmates to no avail, schedule time to speak with your professor if possible. Instructors generally understand the difficulties that come alongside working with others and can assist as an outside authority in troubleshooting the most difficult cases.

Don’t be afraid to assume a leadership role.

Being proactive is not a bad thing. If you’re a natural-born follower, it might be expected of you to manage the overall group. By taking control and assuming a leadership role, at the end of the day, your group members will be grateful that someone has stepped up to the plate.

When you shy away from responsibility or fail to speak up out of a fear of criticism, the likelihood rises that nothing will get accomplished and everyone will be frustrated in the end. Even if you don’t consider yourself a leader, there are steps you can take to ensure that you aren’t getting taken advantage of in the group project.

Leading with simple guiding questions such as “What do you think?” or “How can we improve?” are little things you can say to show you care about your team’s grade and are taking initiative but expect other people to contribute as well.

Don’t dominate the group.

On the same thread, while being a leader within the group can be beneficial, it is also important to be mindful that the work should be done in collaborative effort. Even if you love to work alone or think that your ideas triumph over everyone else’s, at the end of the day, you’ll need to put your classmates’ names on the top of the page.

In addition, keeping in mind that this is a group project can ensure that you don’t set your expectations too high and become stressed out or frustrated at others when you realize that you’re doing all the work at the end. Be open minded to the suggestions of others, but at the same time do put yourself out there as well. Like any relationship, even one between your peers, a useful mentality to adopt is that it is all about striking a healthy balance of both giving and taking.

Choose teammates who aren’t your friends, if possible.

Let’s say you’re fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to choose who you’re working with. Before you lock eyes with your best friend from across the lecture hall, keep in mind that working with friends is not always all that it’s cut out to be.

With preexisting friendships, troubles come when roles are assumed. Friends can be a distraction and because they know you well enough, they might assume that you’d be willing to make sacrifices for them when they don’t deliver. Besides, if things go horribly wrong, the worst-case scenario is that you risk the friendship and may end up having hard feelings.

To avoid people pleasing during group projects in this scenario, choose people who are acquaintances so you don’t go into the project with preconceived expectations. Therefore, you can meet new people and treat the project as work rather than a test of friendship.

Learn how to say no.

While it can be extremely difficult, sometimes putting your foot down and firmly saying no is the best solution to avoid people pleasing in group projects.

Is one of your teammates asking for the homework that you pulled an all-nighter to complete while he slacked off? Is another person guilt-tripping you into finishing all the tasks she just so happened to forget to do? Assert that you are unwilling to help them in this case and that they need to pull their weight.

While some things you can compromise on, use discernment on a case-by-case basis. Make it clear that there are certain things that you will not budge for.

Writer Profile

Bonnie Wong

University of Southern California

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