Sunday, February 19, 2017

The awkwardness of agreeing with others when you really do not agree

Human behavior can be quite fascinating at times; we sometimes can take something that is so simple and make it exhaustively complicated.  

Have you ever sat in a meeting, restaurant, etc... with a group of people and a decision has to be made…but instead of stating what you really think, you (and everyone else) reluctantly agree on a path that almost everyone in the room silently does not agree is the correct course of action?

One of my favorite examples of this awkwardness dates back to a study conducted in 1974 by management expert Jerry B. Harvey:

On a hot afternoon visiting in Coleman, Texas, a  family is comfortably playing dominoes on a porch, until the father-in-law suggests that they take a trip to Abilene [53 miles north] for dinner. The wife says, "Sounds like a great idea." The husband, despite having reservations because the drive is long and hot, thinks that his preferences must be out-of-step with the group and says, "Sounds good to me. I just hope your mother wants to go." The mother-in-law then says, "Of course I want to go. I haven't been to Abilene in a long time."

The drive is hot, dusty, and long. When they arrive at the cafeteria, the food is as bad as the drive. They arrive back home four hours later, exhausted.
One of them dishonestly says, "It was a great trip, wasn't it?" The mother-in-law says that, actually, she would rather have stayed home, but went along since the other three were so enthusiastic. The husband says, "I wasn't delighted to be doing what we were doing. I only went to satisfy the rest of you." The wife says, "I just went along to keep you happy. I would have had to be crazy to want to go out in the heat like that." The father-in-law then says that he only suggested it because he thought the others might be bored.

The group sits back, perplexed that they together decided to take a trip which none of them wanted. They each would have preferred to sit comfortably, but did not admit to it when they still had time to enjoy the afternoon.

This “Abilene paradox” moment is both fascinating and scary, all at the same time.    This example could apply to a number of different situations and dynamics at the workplace.  

Everyone knows it is the wrong decision but since no one is really comfortable with each other, there is an unspoken air of uncertainty (or awkwardness) once the decision has been made for the sake of being "nice".  
The truth is - if you are experiencing this kind of behavior on your team, it is a clear sign of distrust amongst each other or as a collective team. 

It doesn't matter how strong each individual team member is - teams that do not trust each other will never reach its full potential.  

The truth shall set you free – work on building trust amongst each other. Avoid making "nice" decisions that can be a waste of time, energy, and resources for everyone involved

Collectively, we can stop the madness!   

What can you do to make sure you do not have an Abilene paradox moment on your teams this year?