In 1951, psychologist Solomon Asch conducted his famous “conformity experiments.” Asch brought seven actors into a room and instructed them, when asked, to give the wrong answer to a simple question related to the vision test below: Which line on the right best matches the line on the left?
Asch then brought in an eighth participant who was unaware the others were actors. After hearing the “wrong” responses from the seven other subjects, the eighth participant was asked the same question: Which line on the right best matches the line on the left? Nearly one-third (32%) gave the wrong answer.
When asked in later interviews why they chose the wrong response, the subjects gave one of two reasons:
- “I wanted to fit in with the rest of the group.”
- “I became convinced the others were right and I was wrong, giving up on my own answer.”
How often do you give up on your own great idea or thought just to be part of the group?
Tips from the experts on how to avoid being a conformist during a meeting:
- Ask yourself: How strongly do I believe in what I am about to say? Am I willing to stand by it even if it means being vulnerable, alone or uncomfortable?
- Look around you. What are the potential cognitive, creative or social biases in the room? What are the real goals and desires of the other participants? Can you see those things for what they are?
- Act decisively, confidently, skillfully and respectfully. It takes courage to stand up for what you believe.
As Einstein once reminded us: “Be a voice, not an echo.”