Nominate a designated dissenter

Social influence is particularly potent in group settings, so teams must proactively manage it in meetings. “There’s a fine line between the wisdom of crowds, where groups make better decisions than individuals, and groupthink, where individuals blindly follow a prevailing opinion,” says Jonah Berger. “Someone suggests doing X, and the next person, who might’ve been thinking of Y, will tend to go with X as suggested by the first person, especially if that person is senior. Even if they’re on the fence or have valuable input to share, they’re more likely to go with X, especially in a group context.”

To avoid the tendency to follow others’ opinions by default, nominate a designated dissenter. “Everyone eventually tires of the self-proclaimed devil’s advocate, so the designated dissenter needs to be identified at the start of the meeting and given the proper framing. The person should not be the most senior or junior person. The lead of the meeting should say that the designated dissenter’s job is to disagree, regardless of her actual stance,” says Berger. “This does three things. First, it protects the designated dissenter from disdain as it’s her role to play not necessarily her actual style or personality. Second, it gets that person to inject dissenting ideas into discussion. And, third, it frees up everyone else up to share their own independent thoughts. Even if they don’t agree with the dissenter, the fact that there is dissent makes it no longer a matter of right and wrong but a matter of opinion. And when it’s a matter of opinion, everyone feels more comfortable sharing their own perspective.”

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