Before we can make good decisions, we must first be aware of all the factors that can influence our thinking. To that end, Ethics Unwrapped from the University of Texas at Austin has developed an online video series that unpacks complex behavioral ethics concepts in a brief and accessible way.
This video explores conformity bias – our tendency to take social cues for proper behavior from the actions of others. Whether it be out of a desire to fit in or an aversion to standing out, conformity bias stifles the voice of the individual and eliminates diversity of thought. Also known as groupthink, studies have shown that this dynamic often influences groups to make more extreme decisions than individuals would even make on their own.
We in the DEI-sphere frequently see this concept at play. It could be in the boardroom where the majority doesn’t see the value of diversity and the dissenters don’t want to be seen as trouble-makers. It could also be in the break room where employees are laughing at a joke they know they shouldn’t laugh at.
It takes courage to be the stand-out and, in some cases, the consequences of our decision not to can be catastrophic. In this video, Ethics Unwrapped also references a number of corporate disasters where conformity bias potentially led to huge financial losses, a desecrated reputation, or even the loss of life.
So how do we push back against our hard-wired, natural tendency to please others? Like most things, it starts with self awareness. Even the most independent thinkers are susceptible to conformity bias. When you find yourself in a situation where your opinion makes you an outlier, be aware of the influences at work and remember that your thoughts and experiences are valuable. While the decision to speak up may be awkward (at the very least), the decision not to could have negative long-term effects for you as an individual, or your organization as whole.