Jeremy Dean over at PsyBlog has a series of articles about the psychology of groups which are the usual great collection of nuggets of insight into how groups work. Why should you care? Because you’re a part of groups throughout different areas in your life — at work, among your friends, even at home. While a lot of the information he discusses applies primarily to groups in a working, school or project environment, there’s still things you can glean from the discussion that can be applied to any group.

Group psychology falls under the purview of social psychology, the study of how individuals within groups interact with one another.

The first article, 10 Rules That Govern Groups, includes common rules taken from research findings on group interactions, such as:

  • Groups breed conformity
  • Learn the ropes of the group or be ostracized
  • Leaders gain trust by conforming
  • Groups can, but not always, improve performance
  • Groups can breed competition

In How Newcomers Can Influence Established Groups, Dean talks how someone new to the group can upset the delicate balance of power of the group, resulting in automatic hostility toward the newcomer (no matter what they say or do). A newcomer can reduce this hostility by distancing themselves from their old group and embracing the new:

Whether consciously or not, people want others to value their group as much as they do. When newcomers distance themselves from an old group, it increases their perceived allegiance to the current group.

The last article, Fighting Groupthink With Dissent talks about ways to overcome groupthink — when the group decision making goes wrong by coming to an early consensus and putting aside opinions to the contrary. He suggests three methods:

  • Play Devil’s advocate, spotting holes in the decision-making process of the group
  • Use authentic dissent, someone who actually believes their criticisms to be true (but it requires someone to overcome the power of groupthink in the first place)
  • You can encourage authentic dissent by nurturing it through the leader facilitating and encouraging dissenting views in the group to be expressed without negative repercussions

As Dean summarizes,

For their part the majority has to fight its instinct to crush dissenters and recognise the risk they are taking in being critical of the majority opinion. Although the majority consensus may well be right, it can be more secure in its decision if dissent is encouraged and all the options are explored.

Interested in learning more about the rules of groups, how groups treat newcomers, and how to overcome the groupthink process? Want to learn more about how to make your group healthier? Check out the three articles above, they are well worth the read.