Tag Archives: group polarization

Racism: How Can We Influence Change?

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It’s taken me a while to write this blog about racism because I really didn’t know what to write.  I had so many things to say but I was afraid to say the wrong thing.  I am not alone.  I hear this a lot, especially among white people who are in support of black people.  Speaking up these days seems to be very risky.  People are losing their jobs, being shot at, and receiving death threats on social media for stating their opinions.  A person is convicted before being heard and people immediately call for expulsion before engaging in dialogue. “You’re either with us or you’re against us.”  There is no gray area, no room for compromise, no room for mistakes.  And when I say “people” in this instance, it’s people of all colors on all sides.

There are a few social psychological principles that help explain what is going on here.  The first is group polarization.  This occurs when like-minded people collect in a group and individual members want to stand out as being very supportive of the group’s position and they take more extreme positions.  The group gradually moves further away from its original viewpoint to a more extreme version of it.  This is what has happened to both Democrats and Republicans in America today; they both have moved further away from the center.

The second principle in effect here is groupthink.  There are many aspects of groupthink, but the driving force is cohesiveness.  People within the group feel the need to agree with each other unequivocally to keep the peace in the group.  People in the group think they are morally superior to the morally inferior people outside the group and they shut themselves off from dissent and from outside opinions and data.  They get caught up in their own self-righteousness and begin to think they are invincible, and they make irrational decisions that tend to be one-sided and lead to costly mistakes.  The mishandled Bay of Pigs invasion is the most famous example of groupthink.  It happens in the business world too, with the collapse of Swissair being one of the quintessential examples.

How do we avoid these costly group tendencies?  We must not only embrace but seek out different opinions.  If we only stick to what we know and people who make us feel comfortable, we will not grow, and we will likely fail.  We have to prepare ourselves to be uncomfortable and help others around us understand they will need to be uncomfortable during disagreement and change.  We have to stretch the boundaries of safety to be vulnerable, to be hurt in the process, and to be resilient enough to get through it.  Running to safety is not going to help.  This is where I diverge from a number of my peers who are also trying to support black people.

My father once gave me some very sage advice.  He said, “You don’t want to marry someone you never argue with.  You want to marry someone who you can work through your arguments with.”

I did my master’s thesis on dissent.  I looked at how true conflict was necessary to change other people’s beliefs and that just taking the position of the Devil’s advocate was not enough.  You need to rock the boat, to create discomfort, and get people to start questioning what they are seeing as the truth if you want them to change their minds.  There is a ton of research on productive conflict that will tell you it is uncomfortable and you may run into friction with others, but the key is to keep the disagreements on the issues and not turn them into personal attacks. 

This brings us to another place where I diverge from current trends.  I believe that to make positive change, it is imperative to forgive mistakes along the way and learn from them.  There is an abundance of research that shows behavior change is a process and we usually don’t get it right the first time.  Think of how hard it was to adjust to the world of COVID-19.  How many times did you reach out to shake someone’s hand, touch your face, forget to bring your mask, or mess up a zoom call?  Now think about what it was like to adapt to the sexual harassment laws.  It was confusing at first and people wondered, what is okay to joke about?  Can you compliment someone’s new clothes?  Can you hug a coworker?  Is it okay to ask someone you work with out on a date?  All of us had to shift our thinking to adapt to this new way of being and it’s clear that we are still in the process.  The same is true for extinguishing racism.

If we are all putting up walls and are refusing to listen to “the other side” and are incinerating people who disagree with us who are on the same side, we will fail to make progress.  Let’s continue with Martin Luther King, Jr’s dream and employ dignity, respect, discipline, and nonviolent debate to mobilize our society to make change.

Stop and Think

by Joanie Connell

stop and thinkThe downside of operating at lightning speed is that we don’t have time to reflect on what we’re doing. We respond to challenges with knee-jerk reactions and leap onto the bandwagon without ever stopping to question whether this is the right way to go. We think it is right because everybody else is doing it and we don’t want to get left behind.

In today’s world, we are all under an enormous amount of pressure to do things quickly. We need to keep up with minute-by-minute stock prices, what is “trending now” on social media, whose kid is participating in the most extra-curriculars, which traffic lane is going the fastest, and what emails are already stacked up in our inboxes. It’s exhausting! Yet, we don’t stop. We keep running faster and faster, managing more and more information.overwhelmed

Ironically, the need for speed is slowing us down. Really. It. Is.

How could that possibly be? It is because we aren’t taking time to stop and think. When we run at full speed, we make careless mistakes. When we do too many things at once, we make haphazard decisions. When we feel pressure to keep up, we mindlessly follow the pack. If we don’t take time to stop and think, we may end up losing the race—remember the tortoise and the hare—and trampling others along the way.

CARELESS MISTAKES

Typos, bugs, and safety recalls are often caused by careless mistakes. We are racing to meet deadlines, under pressure to get torace car print or to market quickly, and we work fast without checking it over. Careless mistakes cost us time and money. For example, the most common reason for the IRS to reject an income tax return is because of a careless mistake, like the person forgot to sign the form. A rejection is usually accompanied by a fine. Thus, slowing down to proofread your tax form could speed things up and save you money.

As much as we like to think that we are good at multitasking, the evidence is to the contrary, especially when it comes to complex tasks. Of course, doing a load of laundry while you are washing the dishes is fairly benign (unless you forget about the laundry). Texting while driving is not. At work, we read email during meetings and wonder why our meetings are so ineffective. At home, we do our homework while instant messaging. It’s hard to concentrate on more than one thing at a time. You can shift back and forth, but even then you may lose time reintegrating yourself into each task. Often, completing a task before you move to another can save you time.

CROWD MENTALITY

Much of our world is online and crowd driven. Add time pressures to the mix and we end up with impulsive, irrational decisions that are made carelessly, without contemplation. Stock market crashes, fads, and riots are caused by a crowd mentality. We lose ourselves in the presence of a crowd. It’s called “deindividuation” in social crowdpsychological terms. When we get caught up in the excitement and momentum of a crowd, we lose our judgment and do things we wouldn’t normally do on our own. Riots after sporting events are a good example. Most sports fans would not smash car windows and set fire to things on their own, but when they get caught up in the post-game fury of a stadium full of fans, they can find themselves doing extreme things. The same is true in business.

Online interactions have a similar effect. People deindividuate when they are online. For example we’ve all seen people post comments on blogs or send emails that they would never say in person. We feel less personally accountable online, similar to when we are in a crowd. And what are we doing online? Creating crowds! People these days define their value by their numbers of followers, friends, likes and retweets. The news reports on what is “trending now” on social media to acknowledge what the largest numbers of people are doing and saying. It may be “trending” but it doesn’t mean it is a good idea.

SOCIAL COMPARISON

People feel better about themselves when they are better than someone else. When you get a B on a test, you feel better when you find out someone else got a C. Social comparison is a way to feel better about yourself by thinking or saying negative things about other people. Gossiping is the quintessential example.

The flip side of putting others down to make ourselves feel good is to compete with others to do better. To feel good, we want to outdo our neighbors, coworkers, classmates, FB friends, and Tcompetitionwitter followers. For example, if my friend is taking 4 AP classes, I should take 5. If the competitor is decreasing costs by 5%, we should decrease by 10%. If my coworker works 10 hours a day, I should work 12. If my teammate runs 12 miles a day, I should run 15. This also manifests with opinions and positions. If others in my political party are moderately liberal/conservative, I will be more liberal/conservative to show I am better or more committed to the group. After enough people do that, the party is broadcasting extremist statements. This is called “group polarization.” We all know what calamities that can lead to.

It’s tpauseime to stop and think.

It’s time to slow down and check our work to avoid careless mistakes. It’s time to pause and make well thought-out decisions to make sure we are doing what we want to do. It’s time to question the crowd to see if it is going in a direction we think is valuable for us to follow. The cost of not thinking is far greater.