Whether large or small, all groups will experience some level of conflict at some point during their existence. Conflict within a group is inevitable and unavoidable, especially when the membership of the group is culturally diverse. More homogenous groups will experience less conflict, but there will still be differences of opinions between the members. Conflict management techniques allow the successful group leader to resolve conflict and move forward towards a rational, workable solution.
It is when conflict is completely avoided that we need to be concerned, because avoiding conflict entirely is a symptom of groupthink. When groupthink has taken hold, the group becomes severely dysfunctional. The group assumes an “us versus them” stance, declares themselves morally superior to others, and sacrifices rational thinking in favor of appearing unified. The members of the group will withhold dissenting opinions in favor of preserving the semblance of agreement within the group, falsely believing that consensus is more important than examining an issue thoroughly. Some members of the group will even censor information coming into the group to prevent conflicting opinions from being heard by members of the group.
During one of the group discussions in my Speech Communication class, I fell silent after discovering that I was the only dissenting member in the group. My interpretation of what was acceptable speech was broader than that of the other members of the group, but I did not wish to push the issue to the point of argument. Essentially, during that discussion, I fell victim to groupthink. I cannot speak for the other members of the group, but I censored my opinions to conform to the majority. Had I spoken up during the class discussion, I might have presented a viewpoint on language and free speech that the group and the class had not considered or heard before. I allowed others to think that I felt the same way they did about the issue when in fact I did not agree with their conclusion.
Dissenting opinions are vital to rational thought and decision-making. When a group falls into a pattern of groupthink, their decisions become less rational over time because they go unchallenged. The members of the group begin to feel invulnerable and will go to extremes to defend their stand on an issue. It is essential to recognize when you are succumbing to groupthink and to not allow it. We must all learn to speak up, but we must also learn to listen to dissenting opinions and give them consideration and not dismiss them outright. The first amendment to the US Constitution recognizes the need for dissenting opinions among the citizenry as well as the allowances made for dissent within the governing bodies.
There is still merit in that tired old cliché, “Look before you leap.” By becoming aware of the symptoms of groupthink, we can avoid the “disease”. A good group leader should encourage rational thinking by seeking out dissenting opinions and hearing out alternative solutions. All options are to given a fair hearing and examined thoroughly before dismissing any as impractical or unworkable. Choosing to back a single option to create consensus, without having considered alternatives, is something to avoid. Do not be afraid to express your opinion if it deviates from the majority opinion. It is important to resist the urge to “jump on the bandwagon”, especially if it is heading for a cliff.