Avoiding groupthink

How many people do you know who can –

  1. Identify the biases they bring to the table and understand how they can be used (for good or bad)?
  2. Listen to and respect all views while recognising ideas are not equal?
  3. Bring others along but not at the cost of sound decision-making, even when that means standing alone?
  4. Encourage a style of dissent that does not veer to chaos or produce fake consent?

Coherence is so strongly associated with survival and its value so deeply embedded in management practice that we would rather deal with the future consequences of a bad decision than the discomfort of going against the group here and now.

This is called groupthink and it’s what happens when members of any in-group try to minimise conflict by agreeing to something without critically evaluating alternatives.Disagreement is often perceived as disloyalty, rather than as a path to better decision-making.

Groupthink has been implicated in many disasters, from the Bay of Pigs to the GFC. What has emerged in much of the research that follows these events is that many people had doubts about what was happening but did not speak out, sometimes to remain ‘in’ but also because of an understandable concern they might lose their jobs.

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What jealousy can teach you

We’re told that jealousy is bad and we should rise above it so people deny or suppress the feeling.

The problem? They are still jealous but now feel guilty and ashamed too and are no closer to understanding why the jealousy emerged or what they can do to manage the discomfort.

But if you really want to know what you value, then jealousy is a merciless guide.

Nothing cuts through the theoretical idea of what you think you value to what you actually value faster. Learning to read it is invaluable.

For example, tell me about a runner who broke the world record for the 100 meters and while I am glad for them I am otherwise unmoved. The same can be said for the Oscar winners, Grand Prix drivers, math geniuses, amazing business people or International Most Fabulous Persons Of All Time.

But mention a 20-year old novelist who has managed to shortcut the tortuous path to publishing and create an immediate best seller and that gets the heart pumping.

Why? Because my path to publishing has been long and at times tortuous. Apart from the published works I have 11 unpublished novels, umpteen plays and short stories in the drawer (of my Mac that is).

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What is trust?

If I offer you my trust am I –

  • Agreeing with you?
  • Doing what you ask of me?
  • Offering robust feedback?
  • Protecting your feelings?
  • None of the above?

What is considered a sign of trust to one may appear as a betrayal to another.

We cannot define the minutia of every interaction, but without a shared understanding of what trust means it becomes another meaningless word on the annual report next to ‘integrity’ and ‘collaboration’.

And yet, because trust is vital to personal and professional life, we need to understand what it is and how to build it.

One way to understand trust is as a set of agreements about how we will behave towards one another. These agreements may be implicit or explicit and, over time, they may change.

For example, an implicit agreement is that parents feed their children. While parenting obviously requires more than this, a child’s dependency demonstrates the way in which obligations emerge by virtue of the type of relationship that exists.

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What values drive you?

The issue of self, as discussed in an earlier post, may be complex but we can understand a little about it.

Whatever we think we are, or say we are; our own and others’ perceptions largely result from: what we do.

That is why it’s important to act from our values.

Of course, we are not wholly defined by behaviours nor should we be.

Sometimes life demands we reveal only a sanctioned side of ourselves, such as in an oppressive regime or unsafe family/relationships where it is prudent to keep parts tucked away.

We’ve probably all been in states at some time or another where we’ve acted ‘out of character’. A normally loving parent may lose their temper, a trusted colleague unable to hold their ground might kowtow to a decision they do not like, a partner forget to call the other to advise of a change of plan.

But the very expression suggests that these are anomalous events that do not reflect the way we normally behave. Want to know what truly drives someone? Listen to the words but pay acute attention to the patterns that appear in their lives. These are the shape of accumulated choices, some deliberate, others not, and a powerful narrative.

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