Discuss 3 defensive reactions - fight, flight and pairing.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Fight, flight, and pairing are three reactions that are said to occur within groups.  These reactions can arise when the group feels that things are not going well.  The group will then look for ways to change the dynamic that is occurring and to, hopefully, reach a situation that is more acceptable to everyone. 

In the “fight” reaction, the group tries to allay its anxieties by finding someone to oppose and to blame for their problems.  That person can be part of the group or it can be outside the group.  For example, sports coaches sometimes try to foster this reaction.  They might try to get their team (the group) to feel an “us against the world” mentality.  They try to convince the group to feel that fighting against the hostile outsiders will fix their problems.  Sometimes, coaches even set themselves up as the person against whom the group will fight.  They hope to make the team coalesce around its dislike of them.  Perhaps most damagingly, “fight” reactions can be aimed at members of the group.  A group member can be scapegoated and the problems blamed on that person.

In the “flight” reaction, members of the group simply try to avoid their problems.  One way that members of the group can do this is simply by not being present in a physical sense.  A person might simply stop attending group meetings, finding excuses whenever possible to be absent.  Members might also be physically present but mentally and emotionally disengaged.  We can see this in classrooms, for example, where students come to class but ignore the teacher as much as possible.  Another way this occurs in classrooms is by trying to distract the teacher from the task at hand.  The class might try to get the teacher to talk about things that are not related to the course material.

Finally, there is the idea of “pairing.”  This is a much less intuitively obvious idea.  This idea holds that group members will sometimes hope that two people from the group will pair off and solve all their problems for them.  In a group, for example, if two people are more engaged, the others might encourage them to dominate the proceedings, hoping that the two will find answers for all the problems and will absolve them (the other group members) of any responsibilities.

It is quite easy to visualize the first two of these defensive reactions.  I have seen both of these dynamics many times.  However, I am less clear on whether I have ever seen pairing.  When I think about pairing, I have a hard time separating it from simply laziness in which group members hope someone else will do their work for them even if they do not particularly feel anxious or hopeless about that work.

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