Ever notice how some folks in a group will always wait to see how others react before they do? It reminds me of watching television with my parents when we were kids and if they laughed at the scene, we would too. It is because we took our cues from them. That was how we learned.
We are grown up now and as we sit in meetings with other adults it is still happening! Some folks are followers and others lead. Those followers may look to the leader or the loudest one in the room and follow him blindly. Why? It may be politically unwise to agree with an outrageous idea if it did not come from the boss. Or, maybe someone is not as plugged- in to the office politics as others, so they hang back and do more observing that contributing in meetings. Whatever the reason, it can be really frustrating if you are trying to gain agreement from them. You may wonder, why did this person who I thought was on my side of the issue, change sides? What happened? He is acting like a lemming.
First, a refresher on lemmings. It is slang word for a person who blindly follows others. The term comes from the small short-tailed furry-footed rodents of the arctic that are notable for population fluctuations and recurrent mass migrations. In other words, when one decides to move to a new area to eat, they all flock together in a mass.
Here is what it may look like in selling an idea. People who you thought were on your side suddenly are against you. There may be many reasons: Maybe you never sold them in the first place, you got a soft commitment which was compliance instead. Or, they noticed that some key people in the room have more power than they do and they have learned to go with prevailing thoughts, the flow. Or they just don’t like to rock the boat.
If this happens to you often, you may want to consider a few strategies:
- Get those key stakeholders in one on one meetings first to present your idea and gain support from them individually. In the big meeting with all, you then can say, “Peter, Jack and I agreed to this plan.” That will help the rest see you have support and your idea has been heard and accepted by others.
- Never embarrass the leader in public. If you disagree with the leader, go to them privately and have your discussion. That person will be more comfortable in a private setting most likely and they may tell you where they stand. You may decide not to bring something up in the group based on how the one on one went.
- You may need more credibility. Work with your mentor or a trusted ally in the office to work on this. Determine what is valued in your organization and deliver it. Over time you will have earned credibility.
- Never surprise the group with anything bad. Do that in a small setting and figure out how to present. It is like the mustard coming out of the small package. Surprises make a mess, leaving a stain and that mustard cannot go back in the package.
- Rather than go down negative thinking path of what- ifs, check in with trusted colleagues and find out what they think. Test out your hypothesis.
- Learn how to read people better. Take an emotional intelligence assessment and do some reading in this area. It will pay dividends because the better you can read others, the smarter you will be in one on one situations and in groups.
- Those who know how to read the room and how to sense what and when to bring things up will be successful. I you are not that person, find someone who is and study them, or get to know them and ask how they do it.
Bottom line, If you are in a position where you are trying to sell an idea, concept, or project, make a better plan. Be prepared for this group-think phenomena to avoid the mass flocking of lemmings away from your idea.