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Is everybody crazy? How to manage groupthink in your new environment.

Is everybody crazy? How to manage groupthink in your new environment.

How is it possible that intelligent, thoughtful people participate in bizarre patterns of behavior and judgment? The answer: Groupthink

Groupthink is a term that was made famous by Irving Janis, a psychologist at Yale University in the 1970s, to describe how a group of people can collectively make irrational decisions without anyone contradicting the faulty thinking. Below is a general overview of Janis’ theory:

Groupthink happens when a group of similar, very close knit people are overly concerned with maintaining harmony that they fail to weigh all their alternatives and options.

Groupthink members see themselves as part of an “in-group” working against an “out-group.”

A group suffers from groupthink when:

  • the group overestimates its immunity or high moral stance;
  • the group collectively rationalizes its decisions;
  • the group demonizes or stereotypes the “out-group” and their leaders;
  • the group has a culture of conformity where individuals edit and repress themselves and others to maintain a façade of unity and harmony; and
  • the group has members who, on their own accord, work to protect the group leader by managing information.

Groups that have groupthink tend to make faulty decisions when compared to the decisions that could have been reached using a fair, open, and rational decision-making process. This happens because groupthinking groups tend to:

  • fail to adequately determine their objectives and alternatives,
  • fail to adequately assess the risks associated with the group's decision,
  • fail to cycle through discarded alternatives to reexamine their worth after a majority of the group discarded the alternatives,
  • not seek expert advice,
  • select and use only information that supports their position and conclusions, and
  • not make backup plans in case their decision and resulting actions fail.

Group think easily plays out in an expat community because it is easy to divide people into “us” (foreigners) and “them” (locals). The “us” group is generally clustered together in various ways and places based on their specific needs. In order to create a bond amongst all of the expats, the group looks for ways to create unity. Groupthink can be one of those ways.

When faced with a group that is using groupthink, a new arrival will have to determine what level of involvement they desire and/or need to participate at. Sometimes there isn’t much of an option to choose. Therefore, strategies to manage the situation can be helpful.

Here are some ways to help survive and perhaps modify groups that are caught in groupthink.

Getting the assistance of the leader is a great help in implementing these strategies:

  • Encourage members to raise objections and concerns;
  • Request that leaders refrain from stating preferences at the beginning of the group's activities;
  • Propose that the group be independently evaluated by a separate group with a different leader;
  • Suggest splitting the group into sub-groups, each with different chairpersons, to separately generate alternatives, then bringing the sub-groups together to hammer out differences;
  • Ask to collect feedback on the group's decisions from those affect by the decisions of the group;
  • Recommend input from experts outside the group;
  • Ask for one or more members to play the role of the devil's advocate;
  • Propose that the group develop multiple scenarios and create a backup plan for each scenario; and
  • Ask for a meeting after a decision is reached in which all group members are expected to review the decision before final approval is given.

Most important to remember is that groupthink does not have to define you as a person. Groupthink is a result of people wanting to fit in at any cost. For the groupthink members, being part of the group is more important than what the group does. Additionally, the group is creating an in-group and an out-group to define them and give them importance.

You don’t have to buy into that type of thinking. If you are feeling that way in the group, surely others are also feeling it. Using the strategies above will help you identify other members who are uncomfortable with groupthink and allow you to find pockets of sanity to feel comfortable within the group.

For more information on Pockets of Sanity, please read «Can’t take it anymore? 4 Steps for creating Pockets of Sanity».


  • Janis, I. (1972). Victims of Groupthink. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Janis, I. (1982). Groupthink: Psychological studies of policy decisions and fiascoes. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Knowledge is Power

What new information did you learn from this posting? Did it help you identify something in your family you would like to change? Share your experience below and what steps you plan on taking to guide your family.

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Saturday, 19 October 2019

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Dr. Deanna Marie Mason

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