By Kerry Patterson
here!" someone shouted as I walked across campus. Solomon Asch, the
renowned social scientist, was going to give a speech. Excited about the
prospect of listening to one of the true pioneers of the field, I skipped class
for a chance to hear what he had to say. Ray Price, a fellow doctoral student at
Stanford, arranged for a babysitter so he could attend. Another student called
in late for his lab job. People all around campus and across disciplines dropped
whatever they were doing and like groupies hearing about an impromptu sighting
of a rock star, they all rushed to hear from the master.
gotta be around a hundred!" I suggested to Ray.
do you think he's going to talk about?" Ray wondered aloud.
it has something to do with the line study," I responded. After all, that
famous study was his thing. In the study, he drew three lines of different
lengths for his research subjects to see. He then drew a fourth line that was
exactly the same length as the second line and asked a group of people seated
around a table, "Which line is this fourth most like—one, two, or
three?" Obviously it was the same as the second line. Anyone could tell.
then something really weird happened. The first person suggested that the line
in question was the same as the first line. What a moron! Maybe this person had
a vision problem. And then the second person said the same. What?! How could two
people be that wrong? Of course, the answer to this question is now part of
social science history. They were both dupes who worked for Dr. Asch. They
purposefully gave the wrong answer to see if they could get a genuine subject to
agree with them.
help nudge the findings, Dr. Asch had a total of eight people (all dupes) give
the same wrong answer. Then the ninth person, the only actual subject, would be
asked the question. As you might suspect, nearly three-fourths of the subjects
gave the same wrong answer. When they were interviewed after the study was
completed, all the subjects said that they knew they had given the wrong answer,
but they didn't want to go against the crowd.
particular compliance study has been shared in every introductory psych class
ever since. It laid the groundwork for a whole series of conformity studies,
including the famous Milgram studies.
to hear the latest word about these fascinating conformity studies, we sat in a
crowded classroom eagerly waiting for Dr. Asch to appear. Ray and I were in the
front row. Eventually, Dr. Asch was escorted to the front of the room. He was
indeed old and, as it turned out, he wanted to set the record straight. He
tottered to the front of the room, paused to steady himself, and then spoke but
sat there in silence as Dr. Asch waited for the dramatic pause to work its
effect. Finally, after what seemed like ten minutes, he explained. "When I
conducted the original studies, I wasn't studying conformity, I was studying
independence. I was interested in the one in four subjects who spoke their minds
even when confronted with eight other people who disagreed with them. I was
interested in those who had the guts to stand up and speak their mind in the
face of adversity. And yet to this day my work is known as the first in a long
series of 'conformity' studies."
was really all the esteemed scholar had to say that fall morning in 1977, and to
be honest, it didn't have much of an effect on me. Who cares if the research
topic is independence or conformity? Toe-MAY-toe, toe-MAW-toe; half-empty,
half-full—it's all the same.
course, how this transformation from independence to conformity took place is
easy to understand. Implying that humans are easily turned into sniveling
yes-men and yes-women is far more interesting that focusing on a handful of
independent cusses. Suggesting that humans are like lemming and would willing
plunge with the masses off a cliff just because everyone else is doing it—now
a nutshell, conformity is fascinating; independence—not so much. So Asch
returned to Stanford in 1977 to set the record straight. He wanted the next
generation of researchers to study the less fascinating folks, the independent
ones. And true to form, I didn't care.
later I found myself conducting a series of one-on-one interviews with employees
who worked for a company that was in a lot of trouble. Profits were down,
quality was failing, customer satisfaction was plummeting, and if things
continued, they'd all be out of work. As I talked with people, most complained
about a poor work ethic. Nobody said anything to anyone, but they hated the fact
that so many people got away with not doing much. They were about to lose their
jobs, but nobody had the courage to speak up.
then I ran into someone who frequently spoke up. Maybe he was one of those guys
Dr. Asch was so interested in. To start things off, he looked weird. His socks
didn't match, his hair was out of control, and he bore an untamed and spaced out
expression. This social deviate quickly pointed out to me that he was surrounded
by a bunch of slackers and losers and that he was constantly prodding them to
get back to work. His reminders often resulted in screaming matches, but
according to him, he was the only person with any integrity.
now for the bad news. While it was true that this offbeat fellow was speaking
his mind when others weren't, he was really bad at it. In fact, he had no
discernable social skills at all. He was a low self-monitor—one of those
people who don't care if they fit into a social niche and who often speak their
minds in a way that offends others.
didn't know what to think. I did have a question though. If you're the kind of
person who speaks up after eight people share a different and obviously wrong
opinion, do you have to be a low self-monitoring weirdo with an ax to grind?
Which brings me to Solomon's original question: Who were the 25 percent who had
the courage to disagree, and what made them tick? And if you're going to be the
kind of person who speaks out against the vocal majority, do you have to wear
mismatched socks and sit at the lunch table by yourself for the rest of your
let me put this issue in perspective. I ask this question because the cost of
not being able to speak up in the presence of opposing views can be horrendous.
Let's jump to the present. Last week at the World Business Forum, Tom Peters
suggested that companies are too old and stodgy and vulnerable to new ideas that
are coming at us at a breakneck pace. He's been saying this for years. In his
words, we need to nurture and promote the "weird." My thoughts turned
to the wild guy with the mismatched socks. Although he didn't say it in so many
words, Dr. Peters also wants to hear from the 25 percent who have the courage to
speak when others toe the party line. Dr. Asch would have wanted to kiss Tom
got it right. Speaking up means a whole lot to most companies. Colin Powell, who
spoke later that day, said that anyone who didn't have the courage to disagree
with the boss when he or she thinks the boss is wrong doesn't deserve to be a
leader. This statement was followed by thunderous applause.
put this all in Solomon Asch's language. What does it take to say, "I think
it's the second line, not the first one"? Now, let's put this in my words.
Can a person whose socks actually match and who often takes the road more
traveled speak up and be heard and encourage others to do the same? Or are the
25 percent who muster the courage to say "I disagree" to a whole crowd
the "weird" people that Tom Peters lauds and the rest of the world
makes fun of and ostracizes? Because if it's true that the vocal few are mostly
geeks, I'll clam up and stick with the majority thank you very much.
turns out there's hope. Not everyone who speaks up is weird. I learned this
encouraging fact a few years back when I left the wild guy with the mismatched
socks and started studying influence masters. These were people who were picked
by their peers as the most influential people in the company. We followed
employees who had been identified by as many as seventy people as those people
were most likely to listen to. We watched them on the phone, in meetings, and in
the heat of a debate. We didn't learn all that much until we found ourselves in
a real-life Asch experiment.
were sitting quietly in a meeting when the big boss made a really stupid
suggestion. "What do you think?" the boss asked, and everyone sat
there mum—except for the influence master. He opened his mouth and spoke his
mind. Better still, he spoke in a way that didn't insult or cause offense.
Others quickly chimed in and the issue got resolved in a healthy way.
fact that a skilled and influential person spoke up was quite heartening because
until this point I had seen only two kinds of outspoken folks. The geek I
referred to earlier and normal people who had become so upset that they could
stand it no longer and moved from silence to violence. They spoke up alright,
but were either out of control or angry or both. And then we discovered the
influence masters. Unlike many of the 25 percent who speak out against the
majority or the authority, they don't act whacked-out or toggle from silence to
violence. Influence masters deal in healthy dialogue.
are four things they do that make it safe to speak out against the majority.
First, they don't become righteously indignant and call everyone else idiots.
Instead, they maintain a more humble stance. They say something like: "Hmm,
I guess I see things differently—and in this case I'm the only one." Two,
they often ask for permission to speak their opinions. "Would it be okay if
I shared a different view?" Three, they speak in tentative language,
leaving room for disagreement. "I wonder if this is what's going on
here." Four, and most important, setting all of their other ways aside,
they always find a way to say something that indicates they disagree. They say
something. They speak up.
guess what happens when one person finds a way to say that the emperor has no
new clothes? The same thing that happened when Asch himself inserted one person
to disagree with the majority before the actual research subject was polled. The
subjects now expressed their honest views far more frequently because they were
no longer alone. One candid, forthright, and skilled person makes it safe for
everyone. One person strengthens the entire team, family, or organization.
contemporary scholars are calling for people to muster the courage to speak
up—particularly when they hold a strong but different view and they're facing
a great deal of social pressure or formal authority. Solomon Asch was interested
in studying people who did just that. Our findings have been that many of the
people who strike out against the masses do so in a way that doesn't make it
safe for others to follow. They're either low self-monitors who don't care if
they fit anywhere or they're angry people who can no longer sit in silence.
Nobody wants to be like either. Weird and angry don't work.
there's a group out there among the 25 percent who speak with skill—and in so
doing limit the risk to themselves and to others. They aren't as much courageous
as they are able to speak with both confidence and skill. They're masters of
crucial conversations. Learn what these folks do, teach it to others, and the
number of people who will comfortably speak their minds (no matter how
different) will grow from a small minority to a point where virtually everyone
feels empowered to express his or her views. And when this happens, just think
of what the world will be like. Not everyone's socks will match, but we'll hear
a lot of new views—and that can only make things better.
one of the authors of Crucial
Conversations, and Crucial
posting this article online, I received an indignant email from somebody via
my feedback form. The author states:
>I am one of those
>mis-matching sock-wearing geeks, and I don't intend to put on any
>airs or lose any integrity or have to put any purple fluff into my
>wierd views. People should have the open-mindedness to listen anyway.
Is it just me, or does this author seem mis-typed? I have yet to meet an
INFJ so arrogantly dismissing social convention (much less boasting about
being outright "weird"), and declaring people should just "be
different" for his sake. Those sound a lot like introverted Feeling
values to me (taking precedence over the shared social values of extraverted
remark reminds me of an anecdote Dr. Beebe once shared, of a colleague who
proudly boasted he never wears deodorant. Beebe asked whether his
patients were ever offended, and the colleague had apparently never considered
that. Beebe cited that as an introverted / extraverted Feeling
difference. Folks with extraverted Feeling *always* consider others,
even before they consider themselves (if they ever do consider themselves).
a nutshell, I have NEVER met an INFJ accused of suffering from Aspergers
Syndrome the way folks with introverted Feeling preferences often are.
I'm not making him "wrong," by the way -- just remarking on what I'm
noticing in type terms.
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