• Sheena Bhayana, Elyce Cole, and Minnie Tao

Confessions of an Administrative Team

Two weeks following the New York Center’s February 20th online Group Relations forum

(eGRF), United and Divided We Stand: Leadership, Authority, Political Identity, and

____________, sponsored by Group Relations International, the administrative team gathers to

reflect on their experience.


ELYCE: OK, so what’s on our minds? Who wants to go first?


SHEENA: I can go; I’m very curious about the following...for Elyce, in handling the logistics and

being one of the principal decision-makers behind the scenes, what was the most challenging

emotion you had to contain for the staff? What did you feel was ‘in you’?


ELYCE: I’d say overwhelm. During a time of digital overwhelm, flooded with information

regarding the pandemic, politics, etc., I felt enormous pressure to synthesize information for you

both and staff and make it as accessible and digestible as possible. It wasn’t easy to work out

the right balance between making sure everyone had access to the information needed (e.g.,

knowledge of the task, technology, and membership) to boost their confidence in working online

and not be overwhelmed. When conference anxiety is high, people take it out on the

technology, and whoever is managing it (i.e., us), so I was trying my best to mitigate the need

for projections of vulnerability and anxiety due to working remotely. I naively desired for staff to

not want for/need anything (from admin), akin to society’s relationship with the internet where

everything is available at once, right at their fingertips (and optimistically lessens their need for

dependency). So I thought...


SHEENA: And for you, Minnie, what do you think got lost (e.g., diffusion of responsibility)

with having co-admins who hadn’t worked together before?


MINNIE: Figuring out how to play to our strengths, read each other’s stress responses, and

support each other in ways that we needed during peak stressful moments. Another was, how

much could be talked about? What were the boundaries around the things we can talk about?

And what are the things that are too intimate to discuss? Feeling out those pieces with each

other was challenging.


SHEENA: Minnie, the way you articulated it made something come to the forefront for me,

which I hadn’t identified/recognized before. This world of Group Relations straddles my personal

and professional spheres, so I wondered how I could be vulnerable and professional. What could I say? How can we work together professionally and still explore these more personal

matters?


ELYCE: Yes, that’s the challenge with this work, merging thought with feeling. I’m often

surprised by what others divulge about themselves in service of the work. Yet, when they do,

I’m forever grateful for their emotional authenticity and aspire to be that brave myself,

consistently. For example, thinking back to your question whereby you explicitly asked for a

reflection on emotion, did I even touch on emotion? It’s a common defense for me to ignore the

emotional elements and remain intellectual. Although the goal is to stay in touch with my anxiety

and vulnerability and make meaning of it with others...it's hard.


MINNIE: One question I had for the both of you is, if you were to speak to the unspeakable

from putting together this event and running it, what would you say?


SHEENA: I’m so glad you brought this up because this was something I wanted to bring up

during the eGRF to see how it landed with you both. One thing I became more conscious of, the

longer we worked together, was questioning whether you two preferred working with one

another because you had a prior relationship. Over time, I built a belief that neither of you liked

working with me as much as you did with each other, and then would monitor our interactions

for instances that confirmed my belief. I know this was exaggerated in my mind because I tend

to other myself in many situations. Still, it was sitting on the periphery of my thoughts. Therefore,

I appreciate your question, Minnie, because it gave me the courage to bring this up.


ELYCE: Hmm, I did worry sometimes that some staff members’ identities, including ours, were

being romanticized too much concerning the theme of the eGRF and wondered whether that

played a role in our group/staff behavior and ability to fully engage in all conscious and

unconscious elements of the task. I recall one staff discussion where someone said, “Oh, you

know, we all get used to some extent; it’s part of the job.” And I thought, yes, and...is it ever

excessive? Damaging, etc.? And when others are explicit about naming that it’s their first time

working for a Black director and predominantly Black staff, do we take the risk to inquire further

about what their fantasy of working with a Black director or staff entails? Or do we shy away

from it? Because what runs through my mind is, “yes, we’re a predominantly Black staff, AND

there’s more…” But do others allow themselves to explore the more, or does the

complexity/intersections overwhelm their experience? Yeah, that’s what I was often wondering.


MINNIE: We are three women of color working on the admin team, but given the limited time we

had to work for all of this to come together (amidst the pandemic, working across timezones,

etc.), there wasn’t a lot of time or space to process this aspect though I know that this piece,

along with some other intersectional pieces, like neurodiversity and Sheena’s mention of her

meditation practices, were aspects that I felt quite curious about and drawn to explore because

of their perceived richness. Another question I had was, what are you both still stuck with regarding your experience on the administrative team? What’s hardest to speak to?


ELYCE: Hmm, that's a sensitive/delicate one. I feel I’m still holding some resentment and

concern for the members due to their confusion around the Political Affiliation Joining Circles

(PAJC) event (an integrated intergroup and institutional event). Based on a reported interaction

between a member and a consultant, I think a lot of members felt prompted to ask consultants

directly about their political identity instead of indirectly examining the way they relate to their

fantasy of the consultant’s political identity. The confusion around the design distorted what I

perceive to be a fundamental dynamic in Group Relations, whereby the consultant is used as a

pseudo-mirror and container to carry the group’s projections in service of learning. However, it

can be quite confusing in the moment, for consultants and members if the consultant is asked

(by a member) to speak to a part of them (their identity) ‘as if’ it’s real material, not projective

material. So with that said, I’m not surprised that we shared less about our intersecting identities

while planning this event if unconsciously we were afraid that it would be used/interpreted

inappropriately.


SHEENA: Actually, that comment about all of us being used in a certain way for this forum stuck

with me a lot. Upon reflecting, I’m actually OK with it because that is what brings about diversity.


MINNIE: [laughs] I’ll answer my own question. One of the things that was hardest to speak to

was this subtle sibling/competitiveness dynamic that emerged between Sheena and me, and my

desire to not give into these parts of myself that I noticed got kicked up under certain

stressors…and yet, there was another part of me that longed to have a “sibling” in the work,

which I associate with my complex history around grief and siblings. So I noticed a

caretaking/protective part of myself got activated working alongside you both.


ELYCE: Yeah, I think knowing what I know about other parts of the system, I'm not surprised

that there was some competition here as well. To be expected.


MINNIE: What did you learn about yourselves through this experience that you didn’t

already know?


ELYCE: I learned more about when to speak up and when not to. I know I can be very

opinionated, authoritative, etc., at times. And so, out of fear of bulldozing others or being overly

influential, I overcorrected and censored myself in an unhelpful way. So what I learned is that

I’m still figuring out the right balance of when to share, build, or withhold constructively.


MINNIE: I felt like we were afraid of hurting each other. But then, the risk was not speaking our

truths, and by not doing that, did that put us in a place of shame because these pieces were

silenced?


ELYCE: For me, it's not even about the shame. I genuinely feel a design, project, etc., will be

less good if everyone doesn’t weigh in and share their true concerns, thoughts, and, most

importantly, anticipated challenges...My biggest fear is that we’ll have a poorer outcome because we’re afraid to share our true opinions and withhold to avoid hurting each other. And in

doing so, we may miss an opportunity to do things differently/better.


SHEENA: I keep thinking about one consultant’s intervention, “...It’s easier to say, f**k you or

f**k off to people whom you know well versus people you don't,” and how that was likely present

in our team. How much were the niceties playing into us, maybe not collaborating as much as

we could have because we were afraid to say things?


ELYCE: Exactly...I remember times where I felt you (Sheena) were challenging us on the

design, and I remember thinking, “Oh, this is great;I hope she doesn’t back down.” I didn’t want

you to minimize your doubts by saying that you’re new to Group Relations. I wanted you to

continue to bring it. But at times, I feel we each de-authorized ourselves in the moment because

we were afraid of a little bit of rub, which could have been helpful to the process. And if we failed

to model it for each other, then we likely avoided it altogether.


SHEENA: I didn’t realize this about myself, but maybe in the face of some unconscious

competition with Minnie, I saw it come out that in an urgent situation when I’m panicking, I tend

to take control and need to handle everything myself, especially if it’s something where I feel like

I made a mistake. I’m not sure how I missed seeing this in myself in 31 years of existence, but

the Zoom format and all the technical pieces which needed to fit together, amplified this sense

of urgency.





ELYCE: Hmm, what would you both have done differently?


SHEENA: I wish we could have discussed more of the admin team dynamics and how some of

the unworked energy may have transferred to the staff or the larger system. I also wish I had

been braver and brought up my insecurities with you both in the here and now. Though I also

recognize that this desire runs a bit counter to how much time we had to work on the forum and

our desire for each meeting to be efficient. Paradoxically, I could have initiated talking about our

dynamics by being vulnerable and revealing where I was at first.


MINNIE: Looking back, I realize I could have been more thoughtful around how I grouped the

PAJCs in terms of different intersectional identities. However, I was running out of time, and

physical and emotional energy from double-checking and triple-checking, and I just needed to

get the task completed.


ELYCE: It is what it is. That’s my short, playful way of saying it’s not all on you—never in Group

Relations, a blessing and a curse.


MINNIE:..Can I just say, like, how wonderful it has been to work with you both in all of these

different ways that I can't articulate in the few minutes that we have left...I want to do it all again,

but just not right now, because that would be masochistic.

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