When members of a crowd believes something is wrong, but don’t say anything because they think everybody else believe it’s right, they’re pluralistic ignorant. In the corporate world, as an example, a group of engineers might see a design is outdated but keep quiet as they believe their peers believes it’s still the right design

Pluralistic ignorance is when members of a gang keep quiet against violence because they think everybody else think it’s okay. Another scary example is the fact that many Germans privately believed Hitler was a barbarian but pretended to support him as they falsely thought that they were alone with their views

Pluralistic ignorance is peer pressure with added irony

This is, of course, far worse than a product not being replaced but stresses the damaging impact pluralistic ignorance can have to people and organizations. I always welcome ‘fresh blood’ into older organizations as new colleagues come with a fresh view on the world and sees whatever the organization is doing in a new perspective

This fresh view should lead to a series of healthy discussions on the company’s performance, strategic direction and choices, current processes and operations – but unfortunately this happens much less than it should. Because of pluralistic ignorance. When the new employee enthusiastically presents views on the organization, markets, future and vision, the reaction will in many cases be a modest acceptance – or even in some cases resistance

The reason that pluralistic ignorance is happening can be many, ranging from people being afraid of their positions in the company over feeling they don’t have the skills or competences to deal with ‘the new’ to simply wanting to follow what the leader does and says. No matter what, when you’re facing this, you will need to understand that this is indeed what’s happening and then begin to gradually remove the resistance to talk

Removing pluralistic ignorance in an organization requires lots of talks done in a very gentle way. Remember, you’re dealing with people that think they’re alone with their point of view. You must tread carefully when speaking to your colleagues trying to understand what they really believe is true. You can, of course, also be blunt and repeatedly point out ‘the elephant in the room’ and openly speak about what you believe is right. Chances are, if you do this enough and follow up on your talks with one-on-one conversations again promoting your view, your colleagues will gradually open up to you

The best colleagues are the ones who speak their mind and the best organizations are the ones who reward employees for doing so

Remember that it’s most often peoples’ own insecurity that stops them from stating their point of view – we all have a desire to belong to a group and we can be afraid of being expelled from our peer groups which, I believe, is one of the driving factors behind pluralistic ignorance in organizations. But I also believe the best colleagues are the ones who speak their mind and the best organizations are the ones who reward employees for doing so. I’m also experienced enough to know that this isn’t always the case

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