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Groupthink is a sociological and psychological phenomenon in which members of a group will conform to the majority opinion for the sake of harmony. “Groupthink” means that the majority always controls the outcome. It happens when a group of people comes together to think collectively with one mind. The group is more concerned with unity when reaching a consensus.
Groupthink tends to conform members into agreeing to a decision rather than objecting and risking the group’s harmony. Members of the group remain silent and lend their support in most cases. It values cohesiveness and harmony over the right decision. Groupthink doesn’t care about whether a decision is correct or not as it focuses on what decision maintains peace and orderliness within the group.
Groupthink examples are not far-fetched. Have you ever thought of correcting a friend, but you don’t want to appear unsupportive? You might have been a victim of groupthink. Groupthink erases effective thinking. In a group that prioritizes harmony over the right decision, members with a different opinion will remain silent. It doesn’t matter what decision has been made; members of the group must conform.
The desire for harmony drives the intention of the group. Problem-solving and decision-making have been made to maintain peace. In this kind of situation, the majority opinion takes the stand. Irrespective of how valid the decision is, the minority opinion is swept under the carpet. The desire to maintain peace and cohesiveness prompts the group members to agree to the decision made at all costs. Groupthink omits critical evaluation of matters when deciding.
Sentiments come into play in a group where groupthink is prominent. The majority group tends to lure support out of what benefits them and not the right thing. People who are opposed to the most popular opinion generally remain silent. They prefer to keep the group peaceful rather than disrupting the uniformity.
Group dynamism plays a vital role in some decisions we make in our lives, especially in a workplace or group we belong. For instance, you are in your workplace, but you do not want to oppose a senior colleague’s opinion. Or you don’t have the courage yet to start opposing the majority. This affects the decisions we make and the consequences that follow. Although, a senior colleague might not want to consider your opinion due to pride, ego, or personal benefits.
Groupthink tends to ignore individual voices and appreciate popular opinions. Unpopular opinions don’t stand a chance in groupthink even though it brings a different view to a problem.
Causes of groupthink
A powerful and convincing leader: Groupthink in most cases occur when a group has a powerful and convincing leader. If a group has a leader that they fear and wins the majority to himself, groupthink is inevitable. A feared leader imposes on his followers. In most cases, followers wouldn’t want to offend the leader by opposing his opinion.
Leaders have a lot to decide when making decisions. A leader might want to consider other people’s opinions or stick to his own opinions. A leader can, because of his sentiment and ego, throw away a good idea. He can similarly consider a person’s idea based on likeness and not validity.
A high level of group cohesion: A high level of group cohesion brings about groupthink. Every member of the group prioritizes peace and harmony. Even if you have a conflicting opinion, you will have to keep it to maintain peace. Have you ever tried to challenge a popularly accepted opinion, but you couldn’t because every other person feels happy and satisfied with it?
Intense pressure to make decisions: This can also trigger groupthink. When there is intense pressure on the outside to make quick decisions, group members tend to stick to a popular opinion. It can also happen when there is little or no time for considerations. Once a person drops an opinion and the majority sides with it, it becomes the group’s decision.
Imbalance in the level of knowledge: An imbalance in the level of knowledge of the group members will strike groupthink. A section of the group might be more educated than the others; their take on issues is more serious. A person lower in education or knowledge might have a better view of things, but they will not be considered because they believe they know more.
Indications of Groupthink
This happens mostly among friends. The rest of the peers try to convince a friend with a conflicting opinion into compliance. This might come with threats of you being left out of the group. Peer pressure forces opinion on people. It makes us do things because others are doing it. Research shows that peer pressure played a key role in youth influence. Youths have a high tendency of being influenced by their friends. The kind of company a person keeps affects what he does.
This occurs when the sources of the opinion have been successful in the past. The sources boast of an excellent track record. Members of the group tend to comply because of past successes. If a counter opinion comes from other sources, the members then compare using their track records.
Rationalization means to bring into agreement something that seems reasonable. Team members convince themselves that despite a piece of contrary evidence, they are sticking with an opinion. The majority feel others have not sizably researched about a problem like them.
Each member of the group sees themselves as morally upright. The standard for their decision-making is a moral standard. No member of the group would want to be perceived as immoral, so they agree to opinions. Decisions made under this standard are seen to be the perfect and correct decisions.
The more a group becomes uniform in their views, they see outsiders as people with a bad or inferior opinion. They look for negative characteristics in others and use them to discredit them. They don’t want to share their opinion or have anything to do with them.
There are several examples of groupthink in the world today. For instance, a group of people or a racial background will want to impose on another group. The group might come to hate or distrust the other group just because they don’t understand them. They create a significant margin between their group and the other group to maintain moral superiority. This still happens in some parts of Africa. Some ethnic groups are not allowed to marry from other groups or a specific ethnic group. Probably because their moral standard doesn’t meet or they know the other group for one perceived negativity.
Another example of groupthink can be seen in politics. Members of one political party support the party even if the ideals are wrong. They do so just to remain in power or gain grounds. Such people see only see the good things that are done by their parties and neglect the bad things.
Moreover, groupthink is not an abstract concept or an isolated philosophy. There are real-world examples that we can see. These examples show how destructive it can be to follow groupthink without questioning it. Let’s take a look at the examples:
The bombing of Pearl Harbour:
Many superiors at Pearl Harbour didn’t heed warnings. They believed the Japanese would not risk having a war with the Americans. Japanese messages were intercepted on several occasions about a potential attack. The superiors at Pearl Harbour ignored the strong warnings.
The Bay of Pigs invasion:
The United States, under the Kennedy administration, accepted plans to attack the Cubans in 1961. Rather than querying the Central Intelligence Agency information, he accepted stereotypes against the Cubans. The attack was unsuccessful.
The mass resignation of the Major League Umpires Association: The members of this association resigned to get better leverage while negotiating. They overrated the unity of the members and their position in the Major League Baseball in 1999. It led to their unsuccessful effort.
The collapse of Swiss Air: Swiss Air was a financially stable airline. It was nicknamed the flying bank in those days. The airline eventually went bankrupt when they felt they were immune and invulnerable. That led to poor administration and management.
How to avoid groupthink?
The bigger challenge rests on the leaders as they determine how decisions are made. In situations where the stakes are high, they must make sure they are making the right decisions. It is important to understand the risk of groupthink. There must be necessary steps in place for checking the validity of every assumption. This will help to evaluate the risks and assist when making decisions. To do that, you must:
- Examine ideas and expectations
- Analyze alternatives
- Evaluate risks
- Sample beliefs
- Compile appropriate information from external sources
- Have a contingency plan
- Motivate objectives to be questioned without bitterness
Groupthink can be defeated by brainstorming. Brainstorming allows the group members to voice out their opinions. When they do, you should give reasonable thought to their opinions. You could seek external validation if necessary. For more information, join us at The Black Sheep Community today.