Groupthink: Everything You Need to Know

Groupthink is a phenomenon that happens when well-intentioned individuals make bad judgments because they feel pressured to fit in or think it’s impossible to disagree. Group members may value harmony and coherence over critical thinking, resulting in a problematic or premature consensus indicative of groupthink.

Groupthink’s Causes

Irving Janis, a psychologist, coined the phrase “groupthink” in the November 1971 edition of Psychology Today. On the subject of collective decision-making under pressure, Janis has done a lot of studies.

Since then, Janis and other researchers have discovered that people tend to hold back on sharing their doubts and opinions or disagreeing with the consensus in situations that might be described as groupthink. Members may also choose to disregard moral or ethical repercussions to make a choice that advances their group’s agenda. Groupthink may also apply to subtler forms of social or ideological conformity, such as taking part in bullying or justifying a poor decision made by one’s friends, even though it is often used in geopolitics or inside commercial groups.

How does groupthink start?

Groups that emphasize group identification and treat “outsiders” with hostility may be more prone to groupthink. Groupthink is more likely to occur in workplaces when disagreement is actively discouraged or publicly penalized. High stress and the need for quick judgment due to time constraints are other primary causes.

Why may groupthink be harmful?

Groupthink causes poor judgments or essential facts to be ignored, even in minor situations. Groupthink may have far worse effects in fields with high stakes, such as politics or the military, where it can cause people to disregard morality or ethics, focus only on one objective while ignoring other unintended consequences, or, at its worst, cause death and devastation.

Is there ever good groupthink?

By its very nature, groupthink leads to reckless or irrational decisions. However, teams may function well and with minimal conflict when making choices, which is not always a sign of groupthink. While disagreement may and should exist in effective teams, polite discourse is the antithesis of groupthink.

Are conformity and groupthink the same thing?

Groupthink and conformity are two different but related ideas. Groupthink explicitly refers to a decision-making process; it may sometimes be driven by a need to fit in, but it’s not usually. Contrarily, conformity refers to those who (consciously or accidentally) alter their actions, looks, or beliefs to fit in with the groups.

What are a few prominent instances of groupthink?

Groupthink is often used to describe dangerous or catastrophic military operations, such as the Vietnam War’s expansion or Iraq’s invasion. The Bay of Pigs assault in 1961 was a period of groupthink that Janis noted in his original paper.

How to Identify Groupthink and Prevent It

Recognizing the circumstances where groupthink is most likely to develop can help you identify it. Groups may adopt a staunch “we against them” mindset when they feel threatened, physically or via challenges to their identity. Members may be more willing to accept collective viewpoints, even if they don’t exactly coincide with their own. Rushing to choose may also lead to groupthink, which can sometimes have negative results.

It’s crucial to allow adequate time for topics to be thoroughly examined and for as many group members to express their opinions as possible to reduce the danger. Groupthink is less probable when disagreement is valued. Groupthink could be less likely if people knew common cognitive biases and how to recognize them.

What signs of groupthink are there?

One possible indication that the group may engage in groupthink is when individual members of the group self-censor, particularly if they fear rejection or mockery for voicing their minds. Groupthink may also be present if individuals who do disagree are coerced into retracting their opinions or adopting the prevailing viewpoint. Groups that openly mock “outsiders” may be more susceptible to victimization.

How can you prevent groupthink the most effectively?

It may be advantageous for the leader to briefly stand aside and let members discuss the topic individually since groupthink often emerges because members fear differing with the leader. The “devil’s advocate” on the team will provide an opposing viewpoint to the consensus to draw attention to any possible weaknesses.

Why is allowing disagreement beneficial?

In companies, healthy disagreement has been associated with more innovative thinking and, ultimately, higher creativity. One method that is helpful against groupthink is to ask one individual to purposefully play the role of the devil’s advocate and challenge the solutions put forward by the majority.

Diversity, does it protect against groupthink?

Diversity has been found to lessen the likelihood of groupthink, including demographic variety and opinion diversity.  Different origins, ideologies, or personality features among group members may all lead to original ideas that spur creativity. But it’s crucial that everyone in the group—regardless of their role or demographics—be allowed to participate in collective decision-making.

How can businesses foster critical thinking?

Organizations should first promote a culture where disagreement is accepted and encouraged if they wish to inspire critical thinking, creativity, and innovation. They should encourage taking chances, be receptive to suggestions from all group members regardless of their backgrounds or positions, and often provide opportunities for people to express their thoughts, both large and small.

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