Why you must avoid the hidden pit falls of group think when leading and speaking.

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One of the greatest dangers for a leader or speaker is to grow increasingly numb to the pit falls of group think within their organization and the speeches they deliver.

Today, the whole world is listening and the things you may think you are saying in confidence might easily show up on YouTube, Twitter or SnapChat. This does not mean you should be disingenuous when you speak, but it does mean you must consider the larger audience who might hear what you are saying.

Sometimes, when we’re in a like-minded group it is easy for us to become comfortable saying the things we’d like to say instead of the things we ought to be saying. This is a lesson learned painfully by many politicians, athletes and celebrities. Some professional speakers and business leaders are guilty of this as well.


Groupthink is a term coined by social physiologist Irving Janis in 1972 to classify a negative feature of people in groups. Group think is defined as a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an incorrect or deviant decision-making outcome.

Recently, while coaching a candidate for state legislative office we talked about speaking to audiences. My caution was to avoid the pit falls of group think by continually remembering that even people in your own party reserve the right to change their mind or to differ in opinion.

Group think has not only snared the famous and infamous, it also has a tendency to stifle open and honest dialogue between well intentioned people and among well-meaning groups.

Group-think is a paralyzing phenomenon predominately practiced from the halls of academia to the corridors of legislatures to conference rooms throughout the world.

In my own experience, while teaching Public Speaking at a college, I challenged my colleagues who were classifying Vocal Variety as verbal communication on the course’s rubric. When I pointed it out to them that even the text we were using classified Vocal Variety as nonverbal communication because it is paralanguage their response was, “Well perhaps we’ll call it Voice on the rubric instead.”

If ever there was a case of making a deviant decision, this is one. Instead of being concerned they had misinformed their students, they were more concerned with not being proved wrong. They were lock-step in the group think.

The Titanic struck an iceberg, but it was group think (this ship is unsinkable) that sunk it.

New Orleans was hit by hurricane Katrina, but it was group think (the levees will protect us) that cost the lives of so many people.

Enron may have been led by greedy dishonest executives, but it was group think (the belief that dissent is disloyalty or stupidity) that caused it to crumble.


There are a variety of techniques you can engage to help avoid group think. An article from Expert Program Management suggests the following:

  • The Nominal Group Technique: this gives group members the opportunity to contribute individually before group discussion begins.
  • The Delphi Method: this allows group members to contribute individually without the group ever having to come together. The individual may not even be aware of who the other members of the team are.
  • The Stepladder Technique: this starts with a group of two, and adds one member at a time to the group, allowing each new team member to express their opinion on the solution each time, before group discussion begins.
  • ·The Six Thinking Hats Technique: forces the team to look at a problem from different perspectives.

The clearest solution to avoiding group think may be found in a simple two-word slogan from Apple, “Think Different”. Regardless of how popular a solution or objective may be,  challenge yourself and your group to seek a different perspective on the idea. Examine it as if you are seeing it for the first time. Give it the old “water test”. If it doesn’t hold water, it probably will sink.


When you create a speech, you are your own group. You develop content out of your own passion, knowledge and experiences. You believe what you have to say is really, really important. While you have great, awesome and inspiring vision, what you may lack is perspective. And this can lead to group think.

A good many speakers get ensnarled in their own little group think. They have a passion for a topic, craft a speech with lots of real neato ideas, stories and witty phrases and then send it on its way. They forget to take the time to listen to what they are saying from their audience’s perspective. They forget to “eat their speech” and end up serving something that is totally indigestible. They hit their listeners with a fire hose when a sprinkler is what is they need to nurture the seeds they have sown.

The best way for a leader or speaker to avoid encouraging group think is to listen to what is being said. Measure it against what situation it is intended to solve. Before coming to the final decision, seek the input of a trusted, impartial outside source. Ask open questions designed to expand on the range of existing thinking. Be open to change and embrace it.

As Albert Einstein said, “If nothing changes, nothing changes.”

As always, please feel free to share this post with a friend or colleague. The best way for me to avoid falling into group think within this post is for my readers to chime in with their comments, opinions and suggestions. Please feel free to share your comments on this post or suggestions for future posts in the comments section below.

To Your Speaking Success.
The Speech Wiz