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Others Might Be Irrational, but Not Me!

We would all like to think of ourselves as rational, logical beings. In reality, we are at the mercy of hundreds of biases that can influence our thought and decision-making processes.

If you're are reading this, and thinking: "No way. Others might be irrational, but not me!", then I have some bad news for you. You have already fallen prey to the 'blind-spot bias', which is when you don't think you have bias, even though you clearly see it in others.

In times of organizational change where emotions run high, team members are on the receiving end of instructions for change are vulnerable to cognitive biases. Here are a few that we think are particularly relevant:

1. Bandwagon Effect

The bandwagon effect is the phenomenon whereby the rate of uptake of beliefs, ideas, and trends increases as more people adopt them. As more people come to believe in something, others hope on the bandwagon even if there is contradictory evidence.

For example, Sally from the IT department might spread the idea that the new change initiative of introducing new software is going to cost everyone in the IT department their jobs. As more and more people become convinced, others start to follow along even when they have limited information about the software. For example, Andy might have no clue what the software actually does, but he might succumb to the bandwagon effect and protest against the change mindlessly. This causes irrational resistance against a change because the team might not even know what exactly they are resisting against!

2. Groupthink

Groupthink occurs when people make dysfunctional decisions in order to maintain conformity and harmony within the team. Members of the team might feel peer pressure to go along with the crowd, and might even self-censor their speech in order to avoid being accused of disagreeing with the rest.

As such, even if Sally and Andy's coworker, Mary, was to do the proper research into the change initiative, and find that the software wouldn't make their jobs extinct, but rather help them work even more effectively at their jobs, she may not speak up. The social pressure caused by this bias will act as a hindrance to change initiatives.

3. Reactance

Reactance is when people do the opposite of what we're told, especially when we perceive the instructions to be threats to our personal freedom. As we have probably all observed before, a parent tells a child not to scribble on the wall, and what does the child do? Scribble on the wall!

In change management, this is observed in our human nature to rebel against authority, where team members refuse to comply with what their supervisors or managers tell them to do. This is especially prevalent in cases where the supervisor offers no explanation for the change and simply demands that the team does what they say. However, as the saying goes, don't take the wrong side of the argument just because your opponent has taken the right side.

Knowing about the cognitive biases that can cloud our judgements as humans, it is important to educate ourselves, especially if you are a leader, and become more aware of why your team might be resisting change. By identifying the problem, you can then address the problem.


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