Do You Dare to Speak Your Mind? The Abilene Paradox & Managing Agreement

In the pre-corona times, when office parties were a thing, our team was trying to find a place to hang out. As we were going through options, somebody suggested a very hip pub nearby.

Everybody agreed immediately, but surprisingly not a single soul walked towards the dance floor the entire evening. While all of us assumed, that rest of the group wanted to ‘party’, everybody was too tired and just wanted a nice, quiet place to chill.

You must’ve faced similar situations, right? Going with the flow to be the ‘sport’?

This is the classic case of The Abilene Paradox.

The Abilene Paradox occurs when a group of people collectively decide on a course of action that is opposite to the preferences of many of the individuals in the group.

Jerry Harvey, a management expert, used the term Abilene Paradox to describe ‘the false agreement’.

He states in his paper, The Abilene Paradox, “Members of a group fail to communicate their individual beliefs to the group. This lack of communication facilitates false agreement and results in the group taking action contrary to the organization’s intent.”

This is the inability to manage agreement.

In the typical corporate setup, when the boss throws an idea, the group immediately agrees. This is because everyone in the group thinks they would look stupid or will be labeled as a killjoy. After all, no one likes to be ‘that guy, right?

But as dreadful as it sounds, standing out as a lone voice is not as embarrassing as you think it is. As the propagator of individualism, famous author Ayn Rand says,

“If we have an endless number of individual minds who are weak, meek, and submissive, who renounce their creative supremacy for the sake of the ‘whole’ and accept humbly the ‘whole’s verdict’, we don’t get a collective super-brain. We get only the weak, meek, submissive, and impotent collection of minds.”

What’s the way out?

In a professional setup, it’s the responsibility of a leader to create a safe space where people do not fear voicing out their opinions. A leader should actively ask for suggestions from the team. Appreciate those who dare to speak up. Listen to the feedback and create a system where giving an opinion is easy, rather a part of the routine decision-making process.

As cliché as it may sound, communication is the key. Speak up, and help others to do so.
Don’t get stuck in the Abilene Paradox. Listen to your heart, and the right decisions will follow.