Being an animal: Unhelpful behaviour in a group
by Anne Hope and Sally Timmel*
The donkey who is very stubborn, will not change his/her point of view.
The lion who gets in and fights whenever others disagree with his/her plans or interfere with her or his desires.
The rabbit who runs away as soon as (s)he senses tension, conflict, or an unpleasant job. This may mean quickly switching to another topic.
The ostrich who buries his or her head in the sand and refuses to face reality or admit there is any problem at all.
The monkey who fools around, chatters a lot and prevents the group from concentrating on any serious business.
The elephant who simply blocks the way, and stubbornly prevents the group from continuing along the road to their desired goal.
The giraffe who looks down on others, and the programme in general, feeling "I am above all this childish nonsense."
The tortoise who withdraws from the group, refusing to give his or her ideas or opinions.
The cat who is always looking for sympathy. "It is so difficult for me....miauw..."
The peacock who is always showing off, competing for attention; "See what a fine fellow I am!"
The snake who hides in the grass and strikes unexpectedly.
The rhino who charges around 'putting her/his foot in it' and upsetting people unnecessarily.
The owl who looks very solemn and pretends to be very wise, always talking in long words and complicated sentences.
The mouse who is too timid to speak up on any subject.
The frog who croaks on and on about the same subject in a monotonous voice.
The hippo who sleeps all the time, and never puts up his head except to yawn.
The fish who sits there with a cold glassy stare, not responding to anyone or anything.
The chameleon who changes colour according to the people
she is with. She'll say one thing to this group and something else to
* Taken from 'Unhelpful behaviour in a group; Animal codes' beginning on page 71 of Book 2 of "Training for Transformation - a handbook for community workers" by Anne Hope and Sally Timmel, Mambo Press, 1984 (republished more recently elsewhere and available on the internet). In the original each animal is accompanied by a picture.
Participants will need a copy of the animal descriptions above.
The original book, "Training for Transformation", suggests that after each animal has been explained, participants are asked to find a partner with whom they feel at home and discuss 'If and when they have behaved like any one of these animals during the workshop?'
It might be better not to limit this to the workshop but to ask "Which of these animals do you most often imitate?" This can be done in a one-to-one as suggested. After this, a plenary session can look at "How can we deal effectively with these kinds of behaviour?" . More generally it can be used as a jumping off point for a discussion of group dynamics and the problems experienced by particular groups. The emphasis here needs to move to "What can be done about it?" which can be explored using brainstorms and role play, particularly exploring particular kinds of intervention. This can also be combined with exploring consensus methodologies (also on the INNATE website under Workshops); e.g. pick a topic, let people act out their 'animal roles' except for a facilitator (who can rotate) who tries to use consensus methodologies to arrive at a decision.....and let all fun break loose.
You can ask "Are there other kinds of animals around in groups?" and let people describe their characteristics if they can suggest ones not listed. You can also brainstorm 'What kinds of animals and their characteristics would you like to see in groups?', turning it into a positive.
It has to be admitted that these 'animal stereotypes' are generally untrue to the reality of the animals concerned and are anthropomorphic (one sense of which is attributing human characteristics to animals - a mouse is not actually "too timid to speak up on any subject"). However, given that it makes a more enjoyable way for us humans to learn, it is justified in the context. You can, if desired, point out that it is humans who behave like the descriptions given and not animals - though they are not necessarily perfect either!
A fun way to break the session, or end it, is to invite people to do an impression of the movements and sounds of 'their' animal (the one whose qualities listed they most often imitate). Beware of the snakes..