When Opinion By Committee Can Lead You Astray

I Am Public Opinion

Last night we went to a local chain restaurant.

It wasn’t great. It wasn’t bad. It was average at best.

After our meal, I told others about my visit. My relatives all had an opinion about the restaurant. So did my spouse and my friends. I started to post a comment in Facebook to ask others about their thoughts. Then I wondered “Why am I asking for their opinions?”

Our Need For Others’ Opinions

Why do we want others’ opinions so much?

I wondered why I needed others’ opinions of the restaurant after I had already visited it.

I consider myself an independent thinker. So why did I place so much value on another’s beliefs?

Hardwired For Peer Power

According to neuroscience research and cognitive psychology, we are hardwired for interdependence. We need others to survive.

Contrary to my personal beliefs, I am not completely independent. We do not live on one-way streets. We are constantly influenced and counterinfluenced by others says author David DiSalvo.

A Harvard University research team of psychologists and neuroscientists studied how peers influence our values. They discovered that our neural wiring that guides our needs for food, water and reproduction also cause us to confirm to others’ opinions. The brain interprets the opinions of others as a signal that we need to adjust our thinking. So we do.

We often think, “If it’s good for them, perhaps it’s good for me.”

Our Brains Outsource Their Work

Our need for others opinions is normal. It’s part of the biology of our brain.

The brain appears to offload the burden of figuring out the best decision when given an expert’s advice. When the expert’s advice is available, the person’s brain simply did not have to work as hard, so they don’t.

When an external resource is available, the brain is happy to accept that advice instead of burning through internal resources.

However, there are challenges with taking an expert’s advice. We copy them and don’t spend time thinking about the context of our situation. And we often don’t understand the issue underneath their advice so we fail at implementation. Then we blame the expert for bad advice.

When Opinions Lead Us Astray

However, outsourcing thinking and asking for others’ opinions can also lead us astray.

“Without checking ourselves, continual reliance on others to form our opinions and make our decisions is damaging, principally because it prevents us from reaching—taking psychological risks that are important to the formation of character and strengthening personality,” says DiSalvo

Similarly, if another person’s opinion is easy to accept and understand. We believe it. It fits nicely into our current belief system.

However, if the message is difficult to process and takes considerable amount of energy to understand we are less likely to believe it. And when it is contrary to our current thinking, we refuse to accept it as truth.

The truth is like a mirage and changes dependent upon our amount of effort needed to understand its outcomes.

Beware Of Committee Opinion Echo-Chamber

When we are designing a conference or planning the next steps of an organization, we need to be aware of the challenges of relying only on the opinions of a committee. Especially if everyone on that committee has the same belief. We need to seek diverse thought that challenges our conventional thinking. And encourage honest open discussion.

We should stop and ask ourselves, “Is this opinion keeping us from taking a calculated risk that can reap rewards? Is our need to be safe and do what we’ve always done stopping us from growing?”

We have to remember that many of our decisions, opinions and judgments are affected by a great range of influences.

How can the opinions of a committee damage a conference planning process? What type of steps should we take to keep us from seeking the advice of others that only agree with us?

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1 comment
  1. Steps? Q-storming(TM) and any form of Question-Thinking. It changes the perspective and the outcomes. Always.

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