We are social animals. We behave differently in groups because we want to be liked and accepted by others. Now nothing wrong with that except that, sometimes this can become dysfunctional. Today's lesson is a cautionary tale about being too social. Let's start with a simple thought experiment. Have a look at the line at the extreme left of this image. Now look at the other three lines on the right. Which of these three lines is the same length as the one on the left? A, B or C. Chances are you'll say B. But under some circumstances, you are likely to say A or C. Now how could this happen. It happens when you're under pressure to conform. This is the classic stimulus used by Solomon Asch. A social psychologist in his famous study carried out in the 1950s. This is what he did. Between five and nine participants would get in a room for a test of visual acuity, all the participants were accomplices except one, which was the real subject. The experiment was designed so that all accomplices deliberately gave the wrong answer, and did so unanimously. The real test, was to see whether the subject would conform to the majority decision even though it was patently wrong. This is what happened. Everyone accomplices and subjects alike, was shown a series of test stimuli like the one you just saw. One by one, each participant would shout out the answer A, B or C. In the first few trials, all participants gave the right answer. But then, as the experiment progressed, the accomplices started deliberately giving the wrong answer. Believe it or not, about 37 percent of the time, the subject yield to the wrong answer. I guess it's not a surprise to hear that we all behave differently when we are in a group. But what is quite surprising, as Asch so dramatically demonstrated, is that social pressure can be so strong that we are even willing to lie to ourselves. This is the power of normative social influence. Guess what? Participants do not even have to know each other for the effects to be observed. They conformed because they want to be accepted by the group, not necessarily because they actually believe what they are saying. So the question is, why do we behave so differently in groups? Now, we can put it down to herd instinct, and that being social animals, we feel safer in groups, but the explanation is a bit simplistic. How about we look at it in another way? Many years ago, Erving Goffman, an American sociologists, need the acute observation that human beings are, but social actors. Depending on the situation, we tend to put on different performances for different audiences, a key to putting on different masks. He argued, that as social actors, we are compelled to play our part as if we're actors at the front of stage. There is a script that we all have to follow including fellow actors. But to do this well, we all have to accept our roles in that particular situation, so as not to embarrass ourselves or others. Therefore, to Goffman, the greatest fear in a context of everyday social interaction, is the fear of embarrassing ourselves or others. This fear then compels us to conform to social norms, which can be very powerful as demonstrated by Solomon Asch. Or to put it in another way, in order to stay together, group members need to have some level of agreement on how to behave and relate to each other. Now, here's the irony. Sometimes in wanting to stay together, group decision-making becomes dysfunctional. One such phenomena is groupthink, coined by Irving Janis, an American social psychologist. He observed, sometimes group members are more keen on maintaining harmony than carefully analyzing the problem at hand, which could lead to differences in opinion and hence conflict. In other words, there is a tendency to minimize conflict and reach consensus without sufficiently evaluating and testing ideas. This tends to occur when a group's exposure to other information is limited, and they feel that they can do no wrong, leading to mess rationalization for their decision. Usually, the first decision made by the leader is adopted especially when alternative options are not clear. Group members who disagree maybe ridiculed, stereotyped by others. Very often, group members censor themselves or/and suppress their own doubts. They don't want to descend for fear of being ostracized or punished or fired. But all these create an illusion of consensus. This blind commitment leads to overconfidence and creates a feeling that the decision is ultimately justified. But the price you pay is that decisions tend to be uncritical, unchallenged, conformity-driven, uncreative, leading to poor outcome. So here's the challenge. What should a leader do or say to avoid groupthink? Here are some tips. Ask all group members to study the problem carefully and to critically evaluate all decisions. To remain unbiased, the leader should initially refrain from giving any opinion, the leader should simply state the problem, outline the boundary conditions, and explain the resources available to solve the problem. If necessary, break into smaller groups without the leader present at these meetings to avoid being unduly influenced. Discuss the solution with people outside the group to get an impartial opinion. If necessary, call in an outside expert to moderate group discussions or have someone play the devil's advocate in the meeting. To prevent group members from saying things that a leader wants to hear, signal that it is okay to be critical. In summary, we behave differently in groups because we want to be accepted. This creates subtle pressure to conform, which can result in dysfunctional group decision-making. To get the best out of group members, a leader should always try to harness the collective knowledge and diversity of ideas group members bring to the table to solve a problem.