From a social psychological perspective, group participation is an interesting thing to watch, or not watch in many cases.
I say not watch, because most people DON’T actually participate in group settings (or participate very little). They don’t engage, or even so much as display appropriate non-verbal communication letting the speaker know they’re with them; that they’re present; that they’re connected and tracking with what the presenter is saying. Even smart, talented, and confident people seem to struggle with this at times. They just do not throw in despite a leader’s urgings while creating an inviting, safe, and comfortable environment to do so.
I’ve never fully understood it because I always participate. Even when I don’t feel like it, I contribute to the conversation in some capacity. I do so because I believe it’s an appropriate and professional obligation to assist the group facilitator to FACILITATE the group. For the betterment of the group as a whole. I feel it’s a common courtesy, and I feel bad if I don’t. I feel like I’m letting the leader and the group down by being a fucking stick in the mud and not helping to move things forward. I’m a professional speaker and presenter myself, so this is likely why and how I frame this sort of thing.
People get weird about “participating” when others are “watching” them. Why? Fear… That’s the answer. It’s fear and ego that drives most human behavior and that drives me nuts. But, I get it. People are fearful of so many things, but the biggest and most pervasive fear is the fear looking bad in front of others… i.e. not being liked. Though many claim they don’t care about being liked, they do. We all do to some extent. The loudest opponents of this psychological phenomenon are those who REQUIRE others’ approval the most, to quiet the voices in their neurotic little heads. Not a judgement; not a personal indictment; just an observation. And an observation with consequences. Negative consequences very often.
A-players participate proactively and lead or co-lead, even in the midst of their own insecurities. It’s truly what separates them from everyone else. The big take-away: either side is highly recognizable to other leaders, players, and movers and shakers. And getting recognized for being an A-player is the most difficult thing of all in today’s attention-deficit society.