Groupthink and minimal group identity have always fascinated me.
Minimal group identity is when we identify with a group based on something really small and sometimes even insignificant. Minimal group identity, unfortunately, is something that we can use to judge or discriminate against others.
And groupthink, which often goes along with minimal group identity, is “a phenomenon that occurs when a group of individuals reaches a consensus without critical reasoning or evaluation of the consequences or alternatives.
Groupthink is based on a “common desire not to upset the balance of a group of people.”
Here’s an example of minimal group identity.
Years ago, I was teaching a two-day course on Workshops that Work. I was surprised that only about half of the registered participants had shown up. Undaunted, I started the class. That is until my attention was drawn to some animated discussion in the hallway outside the classroom.
It turned out that the class had been advertised on two different posters with two different rooms. So that other half of the participants? They were sitting frustrated, waiting for their ‘late’ instructor in a whole other room.
Fortunately, I turned it into a learning moment and, when we were all assembled in one room together, taught the group about minimal group identity.
What had each participant (minimally) identified over? A very small but significant thing …. what room they had been in.
Before the other half of the group joined us, I took the opportunity to ask the folks in ‘my’ room to put an empty chair in between each person so that we could alter the minimal group identity and so that everyone could feel welcome. What I didn’t want to happen was to have each of the original group room ‘members’ divide themselves into two groups.
Ideally, we would have all gone to a third ‘neutral’ space but a) when I teach in person, I tend to have a ton of supplies, which would have been hard to move, and b) there wasn’t another empty room.
Minimal group identity and groupthink affects our decision-making, what we see, hear, and even what we smell.
It’s shocking how much group identity (bonding over something really small) and groupthink (when hive-mind takes over and critical thinking vanishes) affects our behaviour without us even being away of it.
For example, when asked to sniff dirty sports clothes (I know gross, right?) folks thought they smelled worse when they were told the clothes were from an opposing sports team than when they smelled the same dirty clothes but thinking they were from their home team.
The challenge with minimal group identity and groupthink is we “bask in reflected glory” of our identified group. In other words, we think we’re right, “normal,” good and glorious, and the other group is not.
Using my two classroom mix-up example, the group in the other classroom was feeling righteous indignation (how could the instructor be so disrespectful and rude to not show up). They had gotten the ‘right’ room. ,
What’s worse though is “having an in-group means we have to have an out-group which can lead to xenophobia, tribalism, and even war. To classify ourselves in the in-group means by definition there has to be an out-group.
“Humans don’t have claws, wings, poison, survive by cooperating.” So we’re primed to take the easy way out and identify with our group.
Unfortunately, though, the “trend is towards outgroup hate vs in-group love.” In other words, instead of focusing on appreciating the groups were in, we face outwards and turn frustration, dislike, and sometimes hate on others who don’t ‘belong’ to our group. This affects how we vote, donate money, etc. (Source: Hidden brain podcast, Group Think).
So what’s a human to do? Take a few minutes to reflect on what minimal group identity you are currently using to identify yourself. And then reflect on if your minimal group identity is causing you to groupthink.
Now go on and learn, laugh and lead
- Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work is so important to combat outgroup judgment, hate, and intolerance. I’ve signed up for Patti Digh’s course (see below for more information) and am reading the prerequisite X. Kendi’s How to Be an Anti-Racist. Take a look and take a read.
- Check out this “I am Canadian,” Molson Canadian Beer commercial. Notice the identification as a Canadian based on what he’s not. And yes, as a Canadian I find this rousing!
- Join me and sign up for Patti Digh’s Hard Conversations: Whiteness, Race, and Social Justice.
Have you RSVP’d yet for this week’s free Learning and Development Roundtable on Ten Easy Peasy Tech Tools to Save Your Sanity?