We all influence other people in several ways. There is no right way or only one way. But how can we change what a group thinks?
We have all had days working with teams that we felt that we had done the “right things”, but the group although showed interest and understood the need of changing did not engage and eventually did not change…
A group, for example, your team, often acts like a herd. Being part of a group is a social need that affects our decision making, our attitudes, and even our private tastes, as research by psychologists has shown. This is because of social norms. Norms are a basic human social function, helping us distinguish who is in the group and who is an outsider. So behaving like the group is an indication to others and to ourselves that we belong to the group. But being too much part of a group may decrease one’s ability to think in a different way, to develop a more critical approach and to introduce change. There is then the well-known quote:
“Where all think alike, no one thinks very much.” Walter Lippmann, US author & journalist (1889 - 1974)
Actually, research has shown that new ideas and innovations are introduced to the group by individuals that are in a way isolated from the group. But still the introduction of a new idea will not change the group thinking and acting.
But then how can we shift attitudes and change behaviors at less cost in effort and resources in this group?
In order a new idea to be adopted by the group three main conditions need to be met:
1. The new idea evokes emotion.
As an example of how important evoking emotion is, Jonah Berger, marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, studied with his team 7,000 newspaper articles in the New York Times and found the articles considered most popular on the newspaper's website were those that aroused more emotions, particularly happy emotions but also anger or anxiety.
2. The new idea creates a bonding link among the group members.
This is even more important when working with teams towards a goal, as the goal itself is a bonding link. The bonding link reinforces the group identity and triggers a common attitude towards change. Bonding links can be also created when team-building activities are linked to the new idea.
3. The new idea is recognized by a key member of the group that has more connections than the outsider - introducer of the idea.
The introducer of the new idea could be us working as a coach, trainer or mentor with a group. However, this third condition could be quite challenging as research has shown that the group leader, unlike innovators tends to be a conformist representing the group's most typical characteristics. At this point, we will need to use our individual influencing skills. A good starting point is to follow some of Carnegie’s tips (from his “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, first published in 1936), which underline the importance of communication. Some of them can be easily adapted and you can start with showing genuine interest in someone else, listen carefully, make someone feel important and smile.
In order to influence a group we need to introduce an idea that evokes emotion, creates a bonding link and is recognized by a key member.
Overall group dynamics are complicated to be easily changed, but still we can establish these 3 conditions as a basis for group change, especially when working with teams for a significant period of time. Finally, observation of group reactions over change and the importance of effective communication are useful for our next steps, two important issues that we will explore in our next group influence articles.
Influencing a group is challenging!
Do you manage, train or coach groups? As we all learn and develop from each other I would appreciate if you shared your views and experiences below.
About the author
Eva Stavrinaki is a Business Development Mentor and Teacher. After more than 15 years of corporate experience, she explores the new paths of cross-professional development through mentoring, teaching and coaching.