copyright by Jerry L. Hampton 1994-2009


This group dynamics exercise allows people to find their communications barriers. It can be used in any kind of group an can be adapted for use in a number of ways. You may just want to use the handout of barriers and discuss them or just part of them. The main barriers people have are listed first in the handout except for the barriers on listening which are listed last. The exercise below is how this is done in conjunction with a Community Building Workshop. I've used this exercise more than 100 times and always with great success.


This exercise is done toward the end of the second day of a community building event. The introduction is usually done at about 4 -4:30 p.m. and the small groups work is in the evening with presentations given the following day.

PURPOSE: The facilitator introduces the exercise by telling that barriers to communication most often keep people from experiencing community in a workshop and in relationships they have in life. The purpose of the exercise is for each individual to find one primary personal barrier they would like to change. Discuss various barriers and how you see them in your communications with others. Then talk about what you would like to do to minimize one barrier in your life.

FACILITATIVE NOTES: Tell the group that you know they are probably tired and that this is a time they may go into chaos, but you are asking them to be patient for the next 10 minutes. Listen to the instructions and be prepared to ask some questions. Tell them they will work in small groups and you will start by dividing them into the groups.
You can do this in two ways: (1) Put people in the groups you want them in. Use this only when you have a number of subgroups and what a person from each subgroup in a small group. (2) Count off by the number of people you want in each small group. This can be 3, 4, 5, 6, or 7. Any larger groups may not provide enough individual time. I prefer an odd number of 3 or 5 people per group.
Each group will need a private place (room) to meet. Some may decide to have dinner together and work after in a persons room. You need to limit where they meet to the facility where the workshop is being held.


Read the following to the group and give each person a copy with the handout
The object of this project is to have you discuss barriers and obstacles to community, both individual and group, and then determine how to transcend these in your everyday life. Be sure to look at how "coming from emptiness" plays a part in overcoming obstacles. Also, try to use actual examples in your life or from the workshop to learn how the barrier works in your life.

Priorities in this exercise:

1. Have fun!
2. Build Community in your group
3. Do the assigned task.

1. In your small group, take some silence and start to build community in this group. (have fun)

2. Examine the Barriers Handout. Discuss your barriers in your group in an attempt to find the barrier you would like to transform (let go of or improve) in your life. (have fun)

3. Share your personal insights with each other. (have fun)

4. Select a barrier (or barriers) to present to the large group. This can be a common barrier or each person may feel a need to present their individual barrier. (have fun)

5. Together as a group, decide how you wish to present the barrier(s) and their transformation to the large group. This can be done in about any way you desire. Be creative. Make it fun. It can be just a report, a song or group of songs, or a poster, but a skit is preferred. Try to keep the your presentation to 10 minutes. You can use props. The transformation should embody emptiness in some way. (have fun)

6. There are a few rules about the presentation:

· Do not use any presentation that uses fire or smoke (fire detectors may go off and stop the workshop.)
· Do not require participation by individuals in the large group.
· Be mindful of our differences and respect all differences .

Ask if there are any question and for only one person at a time to speak.

Have some materials available that they can make props from, like cardboard boxes, marking pens, colors, poster board, old "dress up" clothes, hats and anything else you can think of.

Have each group write on a paper where they will be doing their project and the times they will be there. Your task in the evening is to move between the groups and help if they truly get stuck. Some groups will get stuck but can usually get themselves out of it. So don't do a rescue until you know they are truly stuck. On very rare occasion, some group may find it very difficult to work together. In this case you will have to work with them and perhaps tell them what to do. This is very rare. Many groups will struggle and that is good. Some will be working out chaos that happened in the workshop or even work out differences between people. Usually three hours is enough for most groups. Some have gone six hours because they were having such fun. You may need to limit them to a certain time to quit. I usually say 9:30 pm. Some will labor to have a skit. You can encourage them to just have a theme and let it happen. I've seen groups put their skits together as they did them and it looked like they had practiced it for hours. Tell them to let the spirit guide them.

For Pictures of a group doing the skits from this exercise see:   

Group 1
Pictures Of New Orleans Workshop Skits  
       (held July 28 - 30, 2005)


The following questions can used to self-debrief your behavior in settings where personal communications are used to build relationships -- at work, at home, in a church, with a spouse and about any place where two or more gather. These are the common barriers and you may think of others or variations. It is often helpful to do this evaluation in a group of 5-7 people and exchange your views to enhance learning about yourself. The purpose of this exercise is to discover what you may be doing to shut off communications and find ways to improve your behavior.

A second way to use these barriers is to just copy the heading and discuss each within a group. The number one barrier to communications is not listening. Different forms of this are at the end of the list. (jump to listening barriers)

EXPECTATIONS: Are your expectations of others or organizations a barrier? Do others know your expectations or do you just think they know them? Can you change your expectations or let go of them to be part of a group or a relationship? How would that feel? Did this in any way feel like giving up your "self" to be what the group wants you to be?
This is probably the number one barrier to communications. Expectations are often not expressed to others and it is as if the other is expected to have a crystal ball and know what you expect.

RISKING: What is a risk for you? How much do you risk in a communications setting? What keeps you from risking? Is it fear? If so, fear of what? Is it control? Control of what? Yourself or others or the group? Do you wish to risk more? What will it take to risk more? More trust?
This is probably the top barriers in communicating authentically. Risk in communication often has this silent question: "If I risk myself and this is all I've got, what will happen if I am rejected?" Building communications with others authentically takes a degree of risk.

AVOIDANCE: What behavior do you use to avoid looking at yourself? Think about this hard. What was behind the avoidance? Fear of rejection? Fear of loss of control? Have you been part of an avoidance "project" to shift the subject away from yourself to enter a comfort zone? What does a group do to avoid doing what it needs to do? Did group norms facilitate avoidance?
Avoidance frequently is present when a person feels unsafe or is unsure if its safe. Many business meetings start with considerable avoidance and only in the last minutes does the group get to the real subject, and then often try a quick fix. Avoidance can become a habit. Vunerability is a good way to build relationships with others, but it is often scary and avoided. It takes risk to share your self

FIXING: Has anyone try to fix you? The group? How did that feel? Did you try to fix, heal or convert anyone or the group? Can you fix anyone other than yourself? How aware are you that this is often done, with good intentions and well-meaning but usually not wanted and unaccepted 90+% of the time?
What is your level of acceptance of people just as they are?

Fixing is often trying to get the other to believe as you do or to do as you have done in a similar situation or to be more like you so you will feel more comfortable.

PROJECTS: Most individuals and groups are creative in making "projects" that have avoidance as its main purpose. A project is doing or saying or organizing to shift the subject of a discussion. An example might be to say,
"its too hot in here to think. I need more air conditioning to go on with this discussion."
Can you name a project you have done or one your group has done? What do pseudo-projects represent in a group?
Sometimes projects are things, sometimes people and often it's something completely outside the group and the room. For example I once had a group talk about a former person that was part of the group but has been dead for 6 year. This was pure avoidance of the work that this group needed to do. Projects can be a way of fooling ourselves and have many of the characteristics of "organizing a group" and represent avoidance. They can be barriers to communications. Projects are sometimes necessary to help build safety and trust in groups. They can take the form of challenging the norms of a group or the written rules.

SCAPEGOATING: Have you felt scapegoated? What did it feel like? Have you been part of a scapegoating effort on another person?
Scapegoating is often form of nasty avoidance or blaming or excluding. It may be an attempt to keep focus off of the person doing the scapegoating! It is seen in most family situations and in the workplace and is usually destructive.

PROBING: Do you probe others for information? Have others probed you ? How did that feel? Did it create a barrier for you? If you were probed and did not like it, what kept you from confronting the prober? If you were the prober, why did you probe? Did it have anything to do with keeping the focus off of you?
Probing can be avoidance of task or scapegoating if carried too far.

SPEAKING IN CODE: If you are part of a subgroup of two or more people, did/do you speak with language that only those in the subgroup can understand? This makes others feel excluded and that you may be talking about them. Can you understand how this is a form of exclusivity?
This is often done without realizing it in all kinds of groups. It is not polite and keeps understanding low.

CONTROL: Did anyone try to control you or what you said? How did it feel? Were you aware at any time that you were trying to control an outcome? If you tried to control, what was the reason? Was it to control what might happen to you? Did you notice others trying control?
Controlling often takes the form of manipulation. Manipulation does not feel good when it is discovered. Most of us believe we have far more control than we actually do. Letting go of control and risking more may result in more love coming into your life.

BLAMING: Have anyone blame you for what was or was not happening? How did that feel? Do you blame others or own what is your responsibility? What was your motive for the blaming? Did it have to do with trying to make some other person responsible for your behavior? Did you experience blaming in your family of origin?
Blaming can become an almost unconscious habit.

PLACATING: Did you feel placated by anyone? Did you placate anyone? How does it feel to be placated?

CONFLICT AVOIDANCE (CHAOS) : Do you run from conflict or avoid it in some way instead of trying to go through it? Do you leave a conversation when it gets too hot for you? (either actual or emotionally) How do you react to change?
Another word for conflict/chaos can be change. People find many ways to avoid talking about change as it usually feels uncomfortable because of the unknown. Chaos can also mean conflict and most people will do anything to avoid it. Chaos is one of the most certain things in life and it is well to learn how to embrace it.

SILENCE: How comfortable are you with silence? Can you listen to yourself? To your source of spirit? Do you recognize respectful silence? Do you experience a silent time at home? What would it be like if you asked for some silence in your workplace during a meeting?
Silence is an unused tool that is very effective in all kinds of ways. "Silence is the primary key to finding what you need to let go of in your life to have a happier life."
More than half of Beethoven's music is silence. Without the silence there is no music; there is only noise. Most people have little true silence in their lives, yet it provides considerable peacefulness.

EXCLUSION: Did you feel excluded at any time? Did you exclude yourself? Did some person say anything that made you feel excluded? Was your feeling of exclusion accurate? Is this something that often happens to you? Did you exclude any person either by avoiding them, or emotionally tuning them out, or by making a judgmental statement? Did you later change the exclusion to inclusion?
Think of how people are often excluded and why. It is often done as an unconscious act that may have been learned in the family or work place.

BOUNDARY OR BARRIER: A boundary is often created for protection and should only be changed with considerable thought. A boundary "rule" is one you have originated that defines what is good or bad for you. A boundary may be a barrier to communication depending on what it is. Are you aware of any boundary you have that is a barrier to meaningful communications? Are you aware of any boundary that you want to change? How will you do that and how will you know if it is safe to change?
Boundaries are accumulated during life for protection and become a learned method of existing. Boundaries need to be changed slowly and may be replaced with another boundary that offers more freedom until it becomes safe to "take the next step". Some people have few or almost no boundries and this often gets them into trouble. An example of this is a person that regulary offers far more information that is asked for by people they talk to. This becomes a turnoff to others and may result in other avoiding you.


LISTENING: How well do you listen to what people say? Do you hear what is not said with words, but with emotions or body language? How about listening to what is not said? How can you listen with your whole being, body, mind, spirit and heart? There are many sub-barriers that come under Listening. Below are some.

Automatic Talking: Listening just long enough to find a word that you know something about. Then shut off the rest of what is being said, particularly the emotional content. Then start talking about the word you know something about. This blocks real communications by not hearing the total content. This is the most used form of blocking true communication. For more on this, see Automatic Talking Exercise.

SELECTIVE LISTENING: This is when a person hears another but selects to not hear what is being said by choice or desire to hear some other message. This can take several forms and result in acting out in destructive ways. An example is to become passive aggressive by pretending to hear and agree to what was said when actually your intent is to NOT act on the message, but make the other person think you will. Another form is to act on what you wanted to hear instead of what was said. Continued selective listening is one of the best ways to destroy a relationship.

BEING A "FIXER": A fixer is a person that tries to fix another person's faults, problems or personality by offering what worked for them or a friend in a similar situation. Fixers often cut off others in the middle of a conversation without hearing the whole story to offer their fix. People overall do not like to be fixed and most suggestions for a fix will be disregarded and may result in anger toward the fixer.

Using "You" or "We" statements instead of "I" statements. "I statements show ownership of what is being said. "You" statements are often a form of criticism. "We" statements often implies everyone within listening distance agrees with the statement which is not true. Its like you speaking for another person without their permission.

Absolute Statements. These use such words as Never, always, forever, etc. and are often make a statement untrue. Use a less absolute word.

Daydreaming. Letting your attention drift away. There are many causes of this and you can stop it by getting into the conversation and saying you are having a hard time staying with what is being said, without blaming. You may find out others are having the same difficulty and will do the same.

Being right. This can take several forms. The most common is polite criticism of how a person speak or what they say or to insinuate that the person said it wrong. This can stop communication particularly with sensitive people. Many people have to learn how to communicate and can only do it by trying the way they know how.

Derailing. (a form of avoidance) Changing the subject, or tell a joke, or point a finger at another person or try and turn a question around and back to the speaker.

Name calling or belittling. This is hurtful and may make another feel foolish or stupid and they may exclude themselves from further conversation.

Being the Reactor. On occasion, a person will attempt to get you to speak by trying to "hook" you to react. Swearing is a way of hooking some people. A good listener will continue to just listen and not react. This will often cause the person to stop trying to hook you if you keep it up long enough.

Copyright by Jerry L. Hampton 1994-2005 All rights reserved

Roleplay for Groups (click)

For other similar exercises,

See: | Listening Exercise | Automatic Talking - No Listening | A Mask Exercise | Group Starters | Resources |

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