Herd mentality can affect us, both in business and in life. And it shows up in many ways. In this guide, you'll learn what herd mentality is and how it can be harmful. We'll share some examples of herd mentality in the real world, and you'll learn how to avoid it in business.
What Does Herd Mentality Mean?
Before we get into herd mentality examples, let's start by examining what herd mentality really means. According to Merriam Webster's herd mentality definition, it's the tendency of the people in a group to think and behave in ways that conform with others in the group rather than as individuals. In other words, it means adjusting your personal views to fit in with the group.
There are many other names for herd mentality, which also give an idea of what it is. These include:
- herd behavior
- group mentality
- mob mentality
- pack mentality
One of the examples of herd behavior in humans is peer pressure. It's the feeling that you've got to behave the same as other people your age or who are in your social group in order for them to like or respect you. Though people often associate peer pressure with teenagers, this desire to conform can happen to people of any age.
There's also groupthink. That's the term used by psychologist Irving Janis in the 1970s. It identifies the biases that happen within groups which lead to conformity with perceived group values and ethics.
Where Does Herd Mentality Come From?
In the mob mentality examples above, the prevailing value is conformity with the group regardless of a person's own views or values. As it turns out, herd mentality is wired into the human brain to some extent.
Making decisions based on others' actions is normal animal behavior, and that includes humans. As PsychCentral reports, it only takes 5% of people to influence the direction of a crowd. The rest of the crowd will follow without even realizing they've been influenced.
And herd behavior doesn't just happen in person. It also happens in online group interactions and other online interactions. Online retailers and marketers play into this trend by using social proof, such as evidence of follower and subscriber numbers or how many people have enjoyed a particular product, to influence others to sign up or buy.
In many ways, herd behavior isn't rational. Instead, it's more emotional. Many studies suggest that when acting in groups, we're likely to be influenced by the prevailing thought. And in business, herd behavior can affect decision-making. It leads people to go along with decisions or make different decisions based on the group rather than the decisions they would make if they were left to make them on their own.
Signs and Examples of Herd Mentality
So, how can you tell that herd mentality is operating in your group, workplace, or environment?
One of the clearest examples of herd mentality in the real world is what can happen at protests and marches. They can be peaceful, but when a few people start acting violently, the mood of the group can change seemingly instantly.
Or, to take an example from literature, most of the boys in William Golding's Lord of the Flies are easily influenced by one strong individual to become a murderous mob. And if you're walking along a street and see several people going in the opposite direction, as if something major is happening, you might be tempted to follow the crowd.
Other herd mentality examples that we often don't think about are the tendency of those in a social group to do the following because that's what the majority of group members do:
- prefer certain locations over others for socializing
- to watch and value the same TV shows
- to prefer certain food or drink
Within a work setting, you'll often find that members of a group or team interact mostly with each other. That makes it more likely for mob mentality and herd behavior to take over. You can spot this if the group tends to be in general agreement on most decisions, with few or no dissenting voices. Another sign is that there isn't a clear decision-making process, with the most intimidating and loudest voices holding sway.
Another sign to pay attention to is that those who are subject to herd mentality are more likely to believe that everyone is generally in agreement. Even people who aren't fully in agreement might rationalize their opinions and still go along with the crowd. Some people may not fully express themselves and may censor their own feelings to go along with the crowd. And they're likely to believe that the standard set by the group should apply to everyone.
Disadvantages of Herd Mentality
So, is herd mentality a bad thing? Of course, if the group or person who holds the most influence has good intentions, herd mentality can be positive. For example, when people come together to make a major change in society.
In contrast, if the group or person influencing behavior has bad intentions, the negative consequences can be huge. If you look back in history (and even recent history), there are several examples of charismatic leaders who influenced society negatively. And their charisma meant that most people rationalized terrible actions and behaved in ways they wouldn't previously have thought possible.
Herd mentality can also have negative consequences in business. For example, it can lead to less creative thinking, as when people are afraid to stand out from the group, they're not going to put out dissenting ideas. And so, the pool of creative thought that the group has to choose from is much smaller. That also has a knock-on effect, in that less varied input can result in poorer decisions.
How to Fight Herd Mentality: 7 Tips
If you want to make sure that herd mentality doesn't take over in your organization or company, there are several ways to interrupt the tendency.
1. Identify Common Groups
A good starting point for fighting her mentality is to pay attention to who is always grouping together and acting together. It's a natural tendency. Ever noticed how people usually return after breaks to sit with the same people at training courses and events, even if they've never seen them before that day?
If you notice that the same people are always working together, consider breaking up the groups and creating cross-functional teams. That'll lead to more creative inputs and the avoidance of siloed thinking.
2. Acknowledge Existing Biases
Another step is to acknowledge the biases that exist in the room, whether they're your own biases or other biases within the group. When people identify these, then they can actively work to avoid them, making it harder to fall into groupthink. Learn more in:
3. Encourage Self-Awareness
Related to that, encourage people to be self-aware. This is key because it's important for members of the group to realize whether they've got a tendency to go along with the herd. Once they're aware they can actively work to disrupt that way of thinking in themselves.
4. Welcome Challenge
Next, allow for disagreement and challenge within group settings to avoid falling prey to herd behavior. It's something good leaders should welcome. Be sure to let your group or team know that it's okay to challenge, disagree, or share their honest opinion. That means that you'll get a wider range of inputs before making any decisions. Related to that…
5. Create a Psychologically Safe Environment
People talk a LOT about psychological safety, particularly in relation to diversity, equity, and inclusion. But it also has a role in helping to undermine herd mentality. People have to know for sure that they won't be stigmatized or punished for raising ideas, questions, or concerns that are relevant to work, for making mistakes, or for disagreeing. It's important to be positive about all contributions, whether they fit in with the group or not.
Aside from leaders modeling this behavior, consider mechanisms that allow people to contribute individual inputs, such as anonymous feedback or asynchronous communication. Doing this makes it clear where there really IS consensus and where issues are still up for discussion. More importantly, it avoids the issue of herd mentality.
6. Ask Clarifying Questions
Sometimes disrupting herd mentality can be as simple as asking questions or clarifying questions. This means:
- inviting people to express something differently
- asking what they mean
- or simply making sure that you've understood what they've said
You can also ask questions designed to get to the heart of the matter, such as requesting someone to expand on a particular point, give an example or justify a decision. This encourages individual input rather than groupthink, and so disrupts herd mentality.
7. Recognize Manufactured Consent
Learn to recognize manufactured consent. That's when the norms and values within a group are controlled by what people are exposed to. When you've got many information sources or inputs, then that can challenge the prevailing perspective. It can also make you clear on why you believe what you believe and make it easier to communicate that.
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Make Better Decisions by Fighting Herd Mentality
You've seen how herd mentality operates in people and some of the big disadvantages of mob behavior in everyday life and at work. We've also shared some ways to interrupt and disrupt herd mentality to make your workplace more creative and make better decisions. Now it's over to you to put those tips into action.