Are You one of the 10% Who Thinks For Yourself or one of the 90% Who Suffers From Groupthink?

Have you ever had this experience?
You start working at a new workplace and an employee quickly wants to tell you what they think about other employees who work there?
The worst part is that they strongly try to suggest that you should also think that same way about them, even though you haven’t even met those employees yet.  It might sound like this:

“Watch out for ………..She’s lazy…He won’t help you…He knows nothing…Don’t even bother talking to her….Stay clear away if you know what’s good for you!”

This is someone who is trying to influence you by sharing their opinion of a worker (or a supervisor), and suggesting that you could save yourself a whole lot of time and effort if you just simply accepted their opinion about that person(s) as fact.
Why do I bring this up? If we allow ourselves to listen and be influenced by that person, we run the risk of engaging in Groupthink.

“Causing individual members of a group to unquestioningly follow the word of the leader and strongly discourages any disagreement with the consensus.”

In our Respectful Conduct in the Workplace (ZERO Tolerance) workshops, we run a little exercise to demonstrate how often we are susceptible to the phenomena of Groupthink.
Here’s how it works:
I tell the participants that I want them to subconsciously write down the answer to a question that I ask them in relation to a word I quickly flash on a screen beforehand.  I’ll do this with three different words. It is stressed that I do not want them to sit there and brainstorm with each other what they should answer – I want them to immediately come up with their own answer and write it down.
Are you ready to test yourself?

Take the Test

First, get a pen and a piece of scrap paper.
As soon as you see the word that I am going to show you, write down the answer to the question that you’ll see immediately below it. Remember, don’t try to overthink this….

Here is the first word….

COLOUR
Question: Write down the name of a colour.

Here is the second word….

FURNITURE
Question: Write down the name of a piece of furniture

Here is the third word….

FLOWER
Question: Write down the name of a flower

If you have played fairly, you should have three subconsciously thought-up words written on that piece of paper in front of you.

In our workshops, when I have ensured that every participant has three words written down, I announce that I am going to ask them something and that I want them to be very honest with themselves (and me). I then ask these questions with regards to those three words:

Raise your hand if you wrote down either RED or BLUE for the first question.
Raise your hand if you wrote down either CHAIR or COUCH for the second question.
Raise your hand if you wrote down either ROSE or DAISY for the third question.

So, how did you do?

In the workshops, 90 % of the participants consistently raise their hands to every single one of those questions.
90%!

However, in a workshop I conducted yesterday, a lady kept her hand down the entire time (a definite rarity).
Her answers?

YELLOW (her favourite colour)
ARMOIRE (just finished refinishing this piece of furniture at home)
FOXGLOVE (the first flower to bloom in her garden each year and a sign that winter is behind them)

If you find yourself amongst the 90% of us (who wrote down one of the first batch of answers…red, chair, rose etc.) you might be sitting there wondering: What is the harm in thinking like everyone else?

The answer is that there is no danger– provided your answers really are your answers.

But so often we engage in Groupthink as a result of our environment, our peer group, or the culture of where we find ourselves…and yet, when we really sit down and think about it, had we had time to consider our answers before committing them to paper, would we have chosen differently? Maybe something that better reflected what we would have preferred to answer?
This should give you something to think about the next time someone asks you what your opinion is.
Also remember that social networks reinforce groupthink, and in the context of workplace relationships and the importance of how we treat each other, our own opinion based on our own experience (not someone else’s opinion) is vital.
It was William Shakespeare who wrote: This Above All: To Thine Own Self Be True (Hamlet)
Smart man…