We’ve all been there. You’re at the bar, and you’ve been looking forward to diving into your White Hawk IPA, but when you order it after someone else, your friends give you a hard time. “Come on, that’s no fun. Try something new,” they say. So you order something else simply to seem compliant and adventurous. Or, perhaps it’s even more likely that you hear your friend ordering the same brew as the one you wanted, but you want to be distinct, so you change your order before speaking. Who wants to look like a copy-cat? And so you act like the drink you’re ordering is something you actually wanted.
There’s actually a solid psychological explanation for why you begrudgingly shell out cash for a drink you don’t even want when you’re with your friends. Consumer psychologists Dan Ariely and Jonathan Levov recently conducted an experiment in which they studied the way other people’s decisions within a group influence the individual’s decision in the context of ordering drinks. They gave patrons the option to try one of four types of beer: a lager, wheat beer, amber ale, or pilsner. Some groups ordered verbally, while other ones wrote down their orders on a piece of paper. Ariely and Levov found that the people who wrote down their orders were much more satisfied with their beverages, while those who ordered aloud were less happy—they had forgone what they really wanted in order to differentiate their drink from the others.
So why do we make decisions that we aren’t even happy with? The group believes that each consumer’s decision is interdependent on the others’ decisions and influences the collective enjoyment of the group. Ariely and Levov state that this ambivalence “is a consequence of the recognition by both the group and the individual that they are interdependent for mutual goal satisfaction, and that this interdependence represents a conflict that necessitates compromise.”
But this group psychology isn’t limited solely to selections made in a bar or restaurant. This kind of decision making spills over into any sort of group context, including business interactions. It’s normal to make distinctive decisions just because you want to be positively viewed, but are you hurting your business by doing so?
Maybe you give into a deal you aren’t 100% sold on because a few competitors have declined it and you just want to seem fresh and different. Perhaps you’re offered a solid contract, but you pass on it because everyone else is doing that sort of thing and you just want to stand out. Look back over some of the mistakes you’ve made in your business, and ask yourself if you made these choices due to an interdependent group psychology. Stick to your gut, it’s a strong indicator of what your work really needs.
If you do find yourself making choices you are totally sold on, don’t beat yourself up, because it’s perfectly normal, but by trying to identify group think and the way it might hinder rather than help, you can learn to trust your instinct and help your business flourish even more.
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