You're sitting at one of those oval-shaped tables in a study room at the library. Four other group members surround you; this meeting organized through a chain of emails that were just a little too formal between peers. Their names are saved into your phone as "Lexi Comp 1" and "Dylan curly hair" instead of their real names, and before it even begins, you wonder how on earth you will survive something so painful, awkward and frustrating.
Group projects are one of the worst and most socially challenging parts of college — unless you are miraculously paired with friends — but there are some ways to survive, and potentially even enjoy your experience.
1. Begin with a fresh perspective.
Don't go into this adventure thinking it will be the worst thing to ever happen in your life. Even if you aren't the biggest fan of somebody in your group, it's life's biggest and most obvious skill to get along with people professionally. Dani Dipirro, an author and the blogger behind Positively Present, cites an open mind as a tool to reap benefits in our lives.
This means you gotta put aside your differences to make the most amazing PowerPoint or tri-fold board of your life, because, trust me, people — and most importantly, your professor — will notice when you put in the effort.
2. Pick a nice place to meet.
Sometimes you have to gather around a screen and a couple laptops, but if you can, find a cozy hangout spot everyone can agree on. Whether that means the closest Starbuck's or a local study hub, take ownership of your territory and know that work gets done there. The New York Times even dove into a study that poses coffee shops as boosts in creativity, so who knows what could blossom when you grab that white mocha?
According to Denis Coleman at Work Compass, delegating work boosts morale and prevents control freak habits.
So, do that thing your teachers made you do in your elementary school reading circles where each person takes on a different role. Someone can initiate communication, another can be in charge of the visual aid, another can take notes, but no matter what, everyone can take turns bringing the snacks.
4. Make time to socialize.
This might not work every single time, but if you can find a common interest or a block of free time, put in effort to get to know one another. You could see a matinee movie, get a bite to eat or simply use a lapse in work time to talk to each other about life, love and your obnoxious professor. The American Psychological Association says that while being friends with co-workers can have drawbacks, it can also improve productivity. You might not stay best friends forever or find your maid of honor, but no matter what, you'll have another friendly face on campus.
5. Lift each other up.
Belle Beth Cooper, a writer at Fast Company, reports that our brains are more likely to have an inclusive focus when positivity is added to our environment. This one is easy: constantly encourage people!
When you send an email, add a compliment before your usual closing statement. Make a point of showing your gratitude whenever something gets accomplished or a member of your group goes out of their way to print off copies or get supplies. Spreading kindness will not only feel good on your end, but set a tone for the rest of the group that tearing each other down is not tolerated and good work is celebrated.
6. Get organized.
You will want to prepare the entire project from the get-go. Even if one person is delegated as the organizer, make sure you have a set schedule and a time that you can all get together to work. Make your own little syllabus schedule if it's a long endeavor, or just make sure you jot down all your checkpoints and due dates in your planner or calendar. Neuroscience professor Daniel Levitin even recommends writing your to-do tasks on separate 3x5 index cards to organize and prioritize when necessary, so that's an option, too!
7. Say what you need to say.
If a member of the group is self-sabatoging and adding stress to everyone else, don't be afraid to speak up. Mind your manners and stay respectful, because according to Gregg Walker from Oregon State, focusing your concerns and issues is better than pinning the issue on the other person's behavior. However, know that it helps everyone when you stand up for yourself and for the success of the project. People can definitely be difficult, but if you establish a baseline loyalty to the task at hand, there's nothing that can't be fixed.
8. Keep tabs on each other.
Obviously, communication is key, but it helps to all be on the same page during your meetings. Discuss your progress and check-in with one another in and out of class to continue motivating one another and making sure things get done. Henrick Edberg from The Positivity Blog suggests using written notes to keep track of your goals. It also helps to send reminders about meetings and important dates, as everyone has different, busy schedules and someone is bound to lose track of the little stuff. Especially the one specific person who always runs late.
9. Turn your work sessions into something a little more fun.
Whether this means making a group jam session playlist — which is known to elevate productivity — scheduling a morning meeting over coffee and donuts or coordinating your outfits and color schemes for the day of the presentation, add a little flair to something that's usually mundane and dreadful.
10. Celebrate when it's over!
Even if you're celebrating by yourself because you're finally away from those people, do it! Amy Morin at Forbes knows that self-compassion increases motivation, so allowing yourself to celebrate will make future projects even easier. Treating yourself is an art, and the best time to learn it is in your college years. Hopefully you'll be able to meet up with your group again and get some ice cream (or legal drinks), but if you're more on the introverted side, take some time to recuperate and do something for you. You've all earned it! (Except for maybe that one person who didn't do their portion of the project and the professor will definitely hear about it in the peer reviews.)
Moral of the story is: be the best version of yourself when working with others. Being nice is definitely a cornerstone in these situations, but also learn how to hold your ground and be productive. Although some people are too cool to show it, we all just want to make friends and get an A.
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