Group Influence Is Power
It used to happen all of the time in publishing. I’d set up one-to-one meetings with key individuals to discuss product prototypes. They’d offer their candid feedback. I’d incorporate what I’d learned into the next iteration of the prototype and do it again, until I was certain I had all of their concerns ironed out and a strong version of the proposed product ready for review.
At the review meeting, the same people would gather to discuss the “final” version of the prototype. I’d begin by stating the history of how the prototype was developed, who had participated, and what sorts of input had been gathered. We’d walk through the features and benefits of the product and open the floor to discussion.
The guy with the most powerful voice would say something like, “I’m not sure that cover works for me,” though he’d loved the cover the last six times he’d seen it. The person next to him would tilt her head and say “It’s always bothered me, too.” And suddenly, the entire group was agreeing that the cover — which each of them had discussed and signed off on individually — was a disaster.
Influence: Do You Know the Value of a Single Dissenting Voice?
Anyone who’s managed a focus group knows that they’re serious business and even with the most practiced moderator, the group can easily go off track – to offer up information that reflects something in the group dynamic rather than a true representation of how each individual thinks about a given question.
What happened in the meeting I described that made every person see the cover differently? How had the power of the group influenced their thinking? Did the individuals believe what they were saying? Had they forgotten their original opinion? Were not invested before or had they changed their minds?
What makes us not see what we see and know what we know when we’re alone become something different when we’re together?
I learned a little about this sort of influence a few years ago … from a psychologist who taught at Loyola University. âIn the 1950s, Dr. Solomon Asch of Swarthmore College asked groups of students to participate in a “vision test.” All but one in each group were confederates in the experiment (the confederates knew what was going on). Asch was testing how likely individuals are to conform with a group opinion even when the group is obviously wrong.
The method of the Asch test:
- The participants were all seated in a classroom.
- The group — one real participant and the confederates — were asked questions about the lines on two cards. Possible question might include:
- How long is line A?
- How does the length of line A compare to the length of [everyday object]?
- Which line is longer than line A?
- Which line is the same length as line A?
- The group announced their answers aloud.
- The confederates were provided answers, always answered before the study participant, and always gave the same answer as the other confederates.
- Confederates began by answering a few questions correctly. Later they offered unanimous incorrect answers.
The experiment tested number of confederates necessary to induce conformity. They studied the influence of voice to fifteen.
The experiment varied the degree unanimity of the confederates.
The control group, the hypothesis, and the results:
In a control group, designed without pressure to conform, only one subject out of 35 gave an incorrect answer.
Solomon Asch had hypothesized that the majority of people would not conform to something obviously wrong; however, when surrounded by individuals all voicing an incorrect answer, participants provided incorrect responses on a high proportion of the questions (32%). Seventy-five percent of the participants gave an incorrect answer to at least one question. — Wikipedia
The results indicated that …
- One confederate offering a wrong response has virtually no influence — people will give their own answer.
- Two confederates have only a small influence.
- Three or more confederates make the tendency to conform relatively stable.
Three or more people who see things differently comprise a powerful influence toward conforming.
If out of a group, even only one confederate voices a different opinion, participants are far more likely to resist the urge to conform.
This finding illuminates the power that even a small dissenting minority can have. Interestingly, this finding holds whether or not the dissenting confederate gives the correct answer. As long as the dissenting confederate gives an answer that is different from the majority, participants are more likely to give the correct answer. — Wikipedia
What Does this All Mean?
Unconsciously we lean toward silence if our opinion differs from the accepted group belief. Silence, often interrupted as agreement, can be simply a lack of contribution. How can we manage against losing the honest voices that choose not to speak?
Often “teams players” are defined as like-minded thinkers — possibly because such a group is easier to manage. Yet leadership depends on free flowing solid information. If we define “team players” as having deep connection in maturity and values, we can reach for a range of world views and ways of thinking — inside the box, outside the box, bottom up, top down, intuitive, data driven, idealistic, realistic, risk taking and risk averse thinkers.
Valuing a dissenting voice can raise the participation of an entire team. Though the conversation might become more complicated, the result will be a stronger, more honest exchange of higher quality thinking. When differing points of view are respected trust grows naturally.
That single dissenting voice gives the entire group permission to see what they see and know what they know — the power of honesty.
Have you experienced the value of a single dissenting voice? Have you had to be one?
–ME “Liz” Strauss
Work with Liz on your business!!