Conflict Happens

Feb 10, 2021

(and if you’re a leader looking to grow your Diversity, Equity & Inclusivity skills, we have a Masterclass just for you)

Don’t you wish you knew how to say the right thing at the right time in any situation? Especially, how to be smarter when tumultuous situations happen and everyone’s feelings are running high constantly. We all want to move forward with ethical decision making but don’t always have the tools we need to stay on track and break the binding spell of conflicting points of view and confirmation bias. This article takes a short dive into the concepts of groupthink and confirmation bias, and how they manifest in conflict.

When we push aside unpleasant conversations that we fear will lead to conflicts in the workplace, we create more and more problems for ourselves. Responsible Leaders know better, what they often lack the tools to DO better. It’s not enough to want to have a happy and safe workplace. Everyone wants to run and experience an inclusive organization, where anti-racism is more than just trendy words. Yet, the reality is that all organizations have issues that occur when people work with others. We’re all human, diverse and bring our unique skill sets and talents to the benefit of the group. We also bring preconceived assumptions and points of view. This leads to groups with multiple biases.

Confirmation Bias is one of the biggest pitfalls of moral and ethical decision making. Without acknowledging and addressing it head on, we continue to put ourselves into precarious situations that put the organization and the people in it at risk. It could be health endangering situation vs expediency situation, for example; which usually sets us up to make decision based on what we believe to be a beneficial outcome at the time.

When we don’t address unpleasant issues and ignore the tough conversations we open ourselves to risks we’d likely rather avoid: moral, legal and financial. We can often see these situations around us, see the cycle of bad decisions pile on in other organizations but we usually opt out of taking the same critical eye to our own companies. There is a reason systemic racism and discrimination are rampant in ALL organizations, and that is the lack of structure to support moral and ethical decision making.

Avoiding dealing with confirmation bias can lead to “groupthink”, a point of view that places the perceived group harmony above all else. In other words, we do anything to avoid rocking the (leaking) boat. What’s more, when we fall into the trap of groupthink we place this group is a stasis state of mind, making any true innovation and breakthrough nigh impossible. This group is not built on a foundation of ethics, making the group always remain mediocre in its value to the organization.

A whole organization can fall into that same trap, and more often then not- it does. If the words “be a team player” are used in a group and organization, then you have groupthink. Individually, most people also consider themselves “nice and easy to get along with”, overestimating their social skills. For example, 25% of all people believe they are in the top 1% in their ability to get along with others. Is this your experience?

Confirmation bias and groupthink often “devolve into reduced versions of thermonuclear war, with all parties equally individual positions are “right.” Who is right and how much, is easier to figure out from the outside, not from within; where you are part of the organization. When there are many sides to any story and everyone is “right”, the Responsible Leader looks into adapting their mindset, and you can start by asking yourself the question: “How can we meet our mutual needs?”

2020 has shown us what happens when we don’t address the issues of confirmation bias and groupthink. Everything is always uncovered and becomes known, putting the organization and its entire operation at risk, instead of racking in the financial rewards. Ethical decision making is an art and a commitment.

Have you experienced groupthink and confirmation bias? Have questions? Want to know more about groupthink? Send us an email or book a discovery call.

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Anna Robson.