Group Think and the link to chronic stress

The importance of allowing dissenting agreements into my life increases each day. Where I used to look for agreement in those around me, I no longer do and instead, I welcome non agreement too, because that is where I learn the most.

What becomes noticeable though, is the tendency for others to search for ways to agree rather than not. I try not to encourage this. I see this in my clients too. I am invited into businesses and speak to the leaders and their teams and sometimes, notice the pressure they are under to think a certain way. No wonder there is struggle and suffering. No wonder there is a reluctance to speak up when the culture of the organisation is pointing towards thinking the same way.

Group Think, although it can be comforting to those around you who think like you, for those who don’t and believe me, they’re there, it can be isolating and is the killer of so much creativity, flair and innovation. New ideas don’t get put forward, for fear of saying something new and different. What we fail to notice about Group Think and it’s unhealthy vibe is that it is less about keeping a culture alive and more about fear of rejection.

No one really wants to keep alive an unhealthy culture, but very few dare to speak out against it. Speak to any whistle blower about their experience and they will likely have a story about rejection, isolation and no longer fitting in, even when they were thanked for being the courageous human who told the truth.

The most common misunderstanding that arises with Group Think, is that the leadership team mistakenly believe they have loyal employees, employees who are just like them, think like them, speak like them, act like them. This, they believe, is what every healthy business needs, to find and employ people just like them. The reality is far from a healthy culture. Rather, it is a culture not built on values, but built on mistrust.

Values are verbs, not nouns. Values are who you are being, not what you are doing. Here is an example:

All of your employees think like you and behave like you, yet in reality, they feel stifled, unaccepted, afraid to put forward new ideas. They are not heard and they disengage. The values here are the verbs verbs; they’re not being open and honest and accepted. They’re not engaged or allowed to be engaging, they’re disconnected and disconnecting. Yet, with the focus on what they’re doing, rather than who they’re being, no one notices the problem. The leadership team ponder the problem of staff retention, productivity and staff sickness.

Now imagine this:

You have a culture based on core values of openness, honesty and loving kindness. This means that people can speak their opinion, test it out, discover whether it’s useful and not be concerned that they will be rejected. New opinions and ideas, rather than being met with scrutiny, are met with curiosity and a willingness to explore and discover something that perhaps before, they had not known. Somehow, in this organisation, along with the encouragement of allowing and accepting, comes the doing more, the exploring more, the creating more to explore. Employees are engaged, feel they have a purpose and are far more resourceful. They are part of a community.

It is not difficult to imagine how, with the first example, people lose interest in their role. Maybe during the interview, they were full of promise and enthusiasm and as a leader, you are left wondering how you misread them. I expect they are asking themselves the same too. However, in a society where on one hand, we speak about acceptance and on the other, still fail to accept, it is no wonder that leaders are left confused on how they can lead their teams successfully.

It’s also not difficult to understand why chronic stress is on the rise. With their imaginations stifled and their flair and innovation stunted, it becomes increasingly difficult to enjoy their job. Thought speeds up as people try to change what they think to match what sothers believe or are told they should think and with that, clarity and calm are buried and are merely a distant memory.

Feelings of Stress arises when the system senses danger, it is a biological hack that humans are gifted in order to keep them safe. Now of course, rarely are there tigers and bears in the workplace and so usually, the need to fight or flee can be ruled out as the cause of stress. So, in the absence of actual physical danger, what information is stress trying to convey?

The answer is really very simple; the feeling of stress is an indication that the recipient is having stressful thinking. Stressful thinking is thought that is trying to pass through but is not being allowed to. In other words, a light is being shone on particular thoughts. Importance and relevance is being given to thoughts that are actually not so important and are possibly irrelevant. The stressful feeling is making an attempt to alert us to this fact.

Stress is the management system of our human experience and yet, not only are we not taught this, we are also not encouraged to allow the system to do it’s job. This is especially the case when we are operating in a culture where we are being encouraged to think like others. Trying to change our thinking is the hardest job in the world, In fact, it is one of impossibility and when we set about trying to do so, our stress management system alerts us to the fact.

If you are wondering what you can do to help your employees, your teams to experience less stress, then start here. Start by realising that you can foster a culture of acceptance, openness, trust and individual responsibility, that is inclusive, kind and cares about each other and notice how when you do this, stress becomes less of an issue.

For a conversation or to find out what else you can do to support you and your teams to wellbeing, contact us at