At the training I went to last week, one of the things we talked about was a phenomenon known as the Abilene Paradox. It can be applied to so many situations that I was kind of surprised I hadn’t heard about it before.
It was coined by management expert Jerry B. Harvey, and the general idea is that a group of people can end up going along with a decision that nobody likes – because each person thinks that they’re the only one with a problem. (You can read a good summary on Wikipedia, or watch the video trailer on YouTube.)
Another way of putting it is that problems can stem not from conflict but from agreement. If everybody bites their tongue – suppresses conflict – in the interest of promoting group harmony, sometimes you end up in a place where nobody wants to be.
The basic lesson is that instead of saying “Sure, that sounds like a great idea!” when you’re really thinking “That’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard!” take a minute to think about your reasoning and then don’t be afraid to speak up. Chances are somebody else agrees with you.
It also applies to asking questions in a class or meeting. You might be afraid to, for fear of looking stupid. But I bet if you just ask, at least one other person – if not the whole room – will say “Yeah, I was wondering about that too.” (Even if they don’t say it, I guarantee somebody is thinking it.)
I can think of a few times when I’ve been to Abilene, or when I’ve watched other people go to Abilene – how about you?