How Pluralistic Ignorance Is Killing Innovation In Your Company
Even though you might not have heard of it, you've undoubtedly encountered it in some form in practice. In social psychology, the term Pluralistic Ignorance refers to the false belief that we are the only ones who disagree with something. Moreover, coupled with the fact that instead of verifying the facts, we only build upon our assumptions that others are in agreement. Thus, we don't speak up and keep our potential disagreement to ourselves.
This can lead to a situation where all people or the majority disagree with something, but because of the belief that everyone is alone with their disagreement, nobody says anything. Thus, something is tacitly approved or tolerated that individuals disagree with, but are afraid to express their disagreement out loud.
A beautiful example of Pluralistic Ignorance is the fairy tale The Emperor's New Clothes, in which everyone, except for a small child, was afraid to say out loud that the Emperor was naked and extolled the virtues of his new clothes, lest they be considered fools by others.
Pluralistic Ignorants are blamed for several undesirable social effects - from perpetuating outdated prejudices and stereotypes to stalling useful change, to making policy decisions and strategies contrary to the wishes of the majority.
Ignorance in any form is not limited to a single aspect of life, and we also encounter it at work or in schools. For example, imagine a situation in which a leader talks at length and in complexity in a meeting about the vision for the next year - most of the participants are confused, they do not understand what exactly most of the things mean, let alone what is expected of them. When the director asks if anything is unclear and if there are any questions, everyone looks around and remains silent. They assume that since the others don't ask, everything is clear to them. And let's face it - who would want to be the only person asking questions, looking stupid and incompetent.
How to prevent Pluralistic Ignorance?
The good news is that Pluralistic Ignorance can be mitigated by education. What can help?
Teach yourself and those around you that having different opinions is nothing wrong - on the contrary - it can be very beneficial. Encourage diversity of opinion, and alleviate fears of expressing a different opinion than the assumed majority opinion. Appreciate the courage of others to speak up and be courageous yourself, and don't base your opinions on your assumptions but rather ask others for their opinions, individually, outside the wider group. Create a safe environment for expressing personal attitudes and opinions, e.g. through anonymous engagement surveys.