How Leaders Can Escape Outdated Ways of Thinking and Responding

Did you ever stand at the mouth of a cave and shout out “Hello” delighted to hear your own voice echo in response “hello, hello, hello?”

An echo chamber is an enclosed place where sounds reverberate in a hollow enclosure.

In today’s world, there’s another version of this boomerang that plays out in the media, at work, at home, and in the community. It’s a metaphorical description of a situation where information, ideas and beliefs are amplified and emphasized, over and over and over and, etc.

Echo chamber. That’s where ideas become stale and old patterns are reinforced. In a time where diversity is critical for growth and business success the “Echo Chamber Effect” demands leadership attention.

What is said in an echo chamber is repeated until it soon becomes fact. That’s how we get stuck in old, outdated ways of thinking and relating. You hear it enough it’s got to be true. Right?

Ever wonder why we buy into this type of thinking?

Here’s how it begins. There’s a natural conflict of desires between differences and sameness. We want both. We love the security of pattern repetition, knowing what to expect. And we love the vitality of searching for what is new and unique, the thrill of the unexpected.

Trouble is, we want both at the same time.

And more of the time than not, the winner is…sameness!

Why? It’s easier to agree than disagree. It’s easier to feel comfortable with what we have grown up with that’s kept us safe. It’s easier to be liked than go through the hassle of finding new ways of talking and responding.

Let me use the family as an example. When children become adolescents, something happens. Not just the physical changes, the emotional changes. And often parents are at a loss as to how to handle the growth right in front of them.

It becomes a battle of holding on and letting go.

In a coaching session, a CEO of a large company talked with me about his son. With great annoyance and the voice of defeat, he mused, “Trouble is, he has a mind of his own!”

“Well yeah.” I said.

He responded “I keep telling him the right things to do and he isn’t listening”

“He’s out of the echo chamber” I countered. And a new way of thinking was launched.

Take this type of thinking to the work world.

Next time you are in a team meeting pay attention to when there’s agreement and when there’s disagreement. Notice your physical responses. When the tension of disagreement enters the room, does your stomach get tied up in knots? Heart beat faster? Hands or armpits begin to sweat?

Now think about when everyone’s on the same page and you all simply want to support each other. Notice how the muscles in your face and shoulders relax. Your breathing is deep and regular. And you feel happy and comfortable.

Group think is one of the biggest downfalls of healthy teams.

How to avoid it and get out of the echo chamber? Cass Sunstein and Reid Hastle in the Fortune 2015 article on how to defeat group think, offer excellent suggestions that include: building a critical thinking culture and encouraging leaders to wait till later in discussion to offer their point of view.

I suggest having a team meeting to discuss group think and how to develop an echo chamber free culture. Ask each participant to do some research on the benefits and detriment of conformity through history in various cultures. Develop your team to become “social explorers” and lifelong learners.

As you broaden your discussions at work you’ll be amazed at how this larger perspective also adds to specific problem solving, higher productivity and more creativity in your organization.


Originally published at Inc