The Dreaded Group Project

“This will be a group project.”

I can’t think of any worst sentence that would leave an OC (overcontrolled) person frantically looking in all directions, desperate for an escape from this situation.

After all, we’ve all been there. Since elementary school, we are taught to share, and to work in groups. There are many advantages to this, but in my opinion, way more disadvantages (hehe 😉 ).

Apparently, the benefits of teamwork include developing better communication skills, learning to compromise, and seeing problems from a perspective other than your own.

Well, if you’re OC like me, you might see several issues with group projects. First, group projects mean that you are less in control, which could increase your anxiety significantly. Second, it also means that others might not be as vigilant when it comes to focusing on details, and you can get frustrated if other members of your group produce work that is not up to your standards. Finally, this could cause interpersonal problems, and you might feel alienated from your team members, which could make future interactions awkward and uncomfortable.

Also, what happens when more than one group member leans OC? It might be a good thing in terms of wanting a better grade, but what if the two members have a different vision of the “perfect” group project?” Will there be a battle of wits to decide which individual should take the lead? Will the two-team member’s dislike for each other cause friction with the rest of the classmates? All this combined could result in a disaster.

So, I study English literature at university, and one of my requirements is a course in the English language (i.e., grammar). Even though I never liked learning grammar in high school, I did find comfort in grammar rules and writing “the correct way.” Very OC of me. This is a “prescriptive” approach to grammar, meaning that some individuals believe there is a right way to write, and when you don’t follow the rules, you are wrong and “bad” at writing grammar.

Side note: Who are these people, anyway? And why do they think that their perspective is the right one? In my opinion, they could benefit from some RO-DBT skills!

I was surprised to learn that there is a “descriptive” approach to grammar. This aligns more with the RO-DBT perspective. It means that we analyze texts and their grammar without judgment, and that there is not a “right or wrong” way to write and speak English.

All this ties in with the fact that last week, my professor assigned us a group project. I was paired with 3 other classmates. I tried hard to “back off” and let another student take the lead. I resisted urges to take over the entire project and didn’t want my classmates to think I was “bossing” them around. I was quite proud of myself, because in the past, I dreaded group projects so much, I’d prefer to do the entire thing by myself, if it meant having more control over the outcome. Classic OC behaviour, I know.

So, this time around, I tried to relax, and told myself that this project would get done on time regardless, and it was only worth 5% of our final mark, so it wasn’t that big of a deal.

A few days went by, and I didn’t hear anything from my classmates. Each day, my anxiety rose a little more, until I made the executive decision that we needed to start our project to meet the deadline. I sent them a message and asked them to let me know what times they were available to meet via Zoom.

I felt relieved, and a little bit annoyed that none of them had taken initiative first. What is there to learn? I asked myself. Where does my feeling of irritation come from? Am I feeling frustrated, thinking that my classmates are making me responsible to organize the group, when the truth is that I volunteered to do so myself? At the same time, do I feel relieved that I get to be in control again?

As you can imagine, once I got the ball rolling, I wasn’t going to stop. So, can you guess who created the Google document? Who copy pasted the instructions? Who created the Zoom meeting invite? Who reached out to the professor to get clarification? Who started the assignment without waiting for the group members to be present?

Me. It was me.

I’m slightly embarrassed to say that I let my OC tendencies get the best of me. At the same time, I know that in this specific case, someone needed to take the lead, and I had the capacity to do that.

I am meeting with my classmates in a couple of days, and it will be interesting to see how I react to their ideas and their ways of completing the project. My plan is to back off, and at least let them do some of the work! I promised myself that I would be on my best behavior and resist any maladaptive OC urges that arise. I will probably practice some self-enquiry along the way.

Group projects can be fantastic and even enjoyable, so if I can get along with my classmates without judging them or their work ethic, then I will consider it a success. They may even become members of my tribe this semester!

Obviously, I am hoping that we get 5/5 marks on our project, but if we don’t, I will try not to “fall apart and automatically blame myself, others or the world.” Like they say in RO-DBT, problems are to be celebrated as opportunities for growth! 🙂

About the Author: Daphnée

Daphnée studies English literature at The University of British Columbia. She works as a Youth Peer Support Worker, enjoys volunteering with inner-city kids, and tries not to take life too seriously.