To illustrate groupthink, let me paint you a picture:
You’re in a group of people and someone throws out a preposterous idea, something that just makes no sense, and you chuckle to yourself thinking, “no one is going to go along with that”. And yet somehow, to your utter disbelief, everyone starts nodding in approval?
In your head, you’re screaming: “Are these people nuts? Why is anyone agreeing with this?”
And then something weirder happens.
It’s now coming to a vote, and before finalizing the motion, they ask: “Does anyone have a problem with this?” Everyone is silent, and all of a sudden you choke.
You totally don’t agree with it, but for the strangest reason, you keep your mouth shut, and the vote passes.
How on earth did this happen? Explearners, this is a classic example of groupthink.
In this lesson, we’re going to unpack what groupthink is and how to prevent it from happening.
What is groupthink?
The social psychologist, Irving Janis coined the term in 1972 to describe the psychological phenomenon where people in a group are so eager to reach a consensus that they’ll rush into making a poor decision.
So the need for conformity is so great, that people will forgo voicing their own dissenting opinions and beliefs to adopt the opinion of the group instead.
At first blush, this might seem ok. Right? There’s certainly harmony here. Keeping the peace is important. But when you think about it, is it a group decision if your voice wasn’t heard? And if you disagree with it, chances are other people disagree with it too. So really what’s happening here is a decision is being made without people’s thoughts being heard.
Instead of a group decision, it kind of becomes an individual’s decision. Whoever proposed the idea.
That’s a problem because one person is benefitting at the expense of many.
Now, before we talk about fixing this, let’s look at why groupthink happens.
Groupthink occurs because, as social creatures, we are programmed to conform with the predominant views of the group. If you don’t conform, you stand out, and potentially risk being ostracized if your dissenting opinion is rejected. So if we have a different opinion, we’re less likely to voice it for fear of rocking the boat.
No one wants to be voted off the island, so better to just keep a low profile.
For this reason, group think is more likely to happen in groups (1) where the members are more similar to each other and (2) where there is a dominant voice leading the charge.
Let’s talk about how to prevent it from happening. And at the end of this lesson, I’ll share the best way for voicing your opinion without fear of rejection.
Onto strategies for minimizing the effects of groupthink:
(1) The loudest voice speaks last
Whether there is designated leader in the group, or an unofficial one (that is, the person with the loudest, most dominant voice), that person should hold off from expressing their own opinion or ideas until all the other voices have been heard.
If that person is incredibly influential, to the point where that person has the power to bend everyone to his or her will, it might be best for that person to not express an opinion at all.
(2) Rock the Boat
Don’t make a decision until there’s been some conflict.
Now, I don’t mean “conflict” in a combative way. I mean it in the sense of creating an environment that invites countering opinions. Conflict is conducive to problem-solving. It creates opportunities to view a topic from a fresh perspective. In fact, if everyone agrees, then Houston, we have a problem. Chances are, someone is keeping their mouth shut when they shouldn’t be. So make it a priority to welcome dissenting opinions.
A great way to do that is to play devil’s advocate. That means deliberately taking an opposing view to the common consensus, even if you don’t actually agree with this opposing view. This forces a conversation to defend the consensus and disprove the opposing view.
The reality is that often, people are just too afraid to speak up. But when you bring in the devil’s advocate, that all changes. Suddenly people feel compelled to support their position. And if there are people who have other opinions, this gives them more space to share their ideas because the devil’s advocate already took the heat.
(3) Don’t rush it
In today’s world where everyone is busy and everything feels like a priority, there is pressure to make every decision a quick one. And sometimes, decisions do need to be made quickly. But be warned that rushing a decision is often a tactic by the organizer to get something passed that shouldn’t be passed, or that they don’t want to be scrutinized.
Important decisions that involve many people should never be made on the fly. Too much is at stake. As the carpenter says, measure twice, cut once. One bad decision can lead to an endless slew of problems, causing far more delay than the time it would have taken to make a more thought-out decision.
So if you’re in a situation where an important decision is being rushed, it is absolutely appropriate to step in and compel the group to slow down. Remind them of what is at stake and apply steps 1 and 2 to ensure that all opinions have been heard.
(4) Be Careful with Data
At Explearning, we’re big fans of backing up our statements with data. That said, data is a double-edged sword. It can be very useful for understanding why things work the way they do. But statistics can also be easily manipulated and misrepresented, and thus used to persuade others into making decisions that don’t necessarily benefit them.
Be careful of using data from studies with small sample sizes, built-in biases, and ones that haven’t been replicated or peer reviewed by reputable organizations. Even with the best intentions, such studies often lack sufficient credibility to be used to influence an important decision.
And look out for studies that have been funded by the organizations the studies benefit. This is very common in industries that are involved with health and policy.
Ok, now for making it this far in the video, you’ve unlocked our bonus strategy: multiply your personality.
If you’re too afraid to share your opinion, then don’t. Seriously.
Instead, share your avatar’s opinion. This is your alter ego. Let him or her take the stage. By imagining it is your avatar speaking, you’ll be able to exit the box of your mind and step into the shoes of someone who is slightly different than you, and that will allow you to think more creatively.
You may not be 100% sure of the avatar’s view, and that’s okay. You can phrase your statement like this: “Another way to look at this problem is this, and I can imagine there’s even someone who could view it like this”. Secretly, that “someone” is your avatar.
Even better, by using this kind of language, you’re not necessarily staking your reputation on this dissenting view. You’re simply suggesting possibilities that prompt the group to think more broadly. And who knows, that just might give someone else the courage to speak up as well.
So now that I've shared our thoughts, I want to hear about the last time you experienced groupthink. What other strategies can you share with the Explearning community to help mitigate the effects of groupthink?
Share those two things with me in the comments below.
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With that, have an awesome week, Explearners.
See you next time for your next Explearning lesson.