Group Mentality: Productive or Damaging?

Have you ever just ‘gone with the flow’ despite feeling uncomfortable? Has it ever felt useless trying to voice your opinion? When we’re young, we think of this as a product of peer pressure. As we get older, this can still happen in situations when group mentality takes over.

Group mentality (also labelled as group-think or mob mentality) emerges when people with a shared goal, grievance, or belief come together as a single unit working towards a desired end.

This often happens at the expense of individual power and rational thinking. But why would we ever give up either of these priceless personal commodities?

Our tendency to go with the flow and accept others’ opinions as our own is perhaps largely driven by our need to feel connected and accepted by those around us, something social psychologists keenly investigate.

While group mentality conjures up images of rampaging crowds with irrational and perhaps even aggressive behaviour, riots in the workplace aren’t a real concern. So it’s more productive to think about group mentality on the job as something that happens in more subtle ways.

In the workplace, it might manifest in a subconscious eagerness to join in whinging and cliquey behaviour. We may stop voicing our own opinions and yield to someone we feel commands more attention. Generating our own unique ideas may become less of a priority as a select few routinely take command.  

At the same time, people joining together is necessary for teamwork--an undeniably great feature of any workplace.

Collective thinking can be a precious resource, if done correctly.

When people come together as a team, they create a rich pool of different ideas and abilities. As long as individuality is encouraged and respected, thinking in groups can spark creativity and offer new problem solving methods. Bouncing ideas off of each other creates momentum and learning opportunities.

So how do we maximise the benefits of working in groups while avoiding the trap of group mentality?

Neurologist Mariano Sigman offers some great insight. After conducting experiments with thousands of people across the world, he found that the best collective decision making occurs when there is room for deliberation and a diversity of opinions.   

Here are some important things to keep in mind for successful group work:

  • Encourage discussion of ideas. If there are many people involved, split up into smaller groups that come to their own consensus to then share and debate with the whole.

  • Welcome any and all opinions.

  • Use critical thinking. Does the group consensus make rational and common sense to you?

  • Don’t ignore personal boundaries. Ask yourself questions such as: “ Do I feel comfortable with this decision? and “Have I had a chance to adequately express myself?”

It’s easy to lose ourselves in the crowd if we’re not careful. By bringing mindfulness to group activities we can take advantage of the benefits of working with others while preserving our own personal ideas and power.