Enjoying Your Work
Nonconformists sometimes valuable to a group
Most people have been in a social situation where they have to make a decision about whether or not they will disagree with others.
For example, they are at a meeting either at their business or in their community as part of volunteer work. Eight people are in attendance. One of the people, a woman with great deal of experience related to the issues under consideration, has a very definite opinion about what direction the business or volunteer organization should take. This person is the seventh individual who would be speaking at the meeting.
The first six people all have clear and well-formulated positions, and their opinions are at odds with those of the seventh person. Now it is that person's turn to speak. Does the speaker stick with the arguments that she has already planned, or does she become a nonconformist who is willing to challenge the consensus established by the first six people?
Even if they don't change their original position to be consistent with the other group members, most people are very uncomfortable in social situation of this sort. They begin to fidget, they sweat more, and their blood pressure may rise.
People do not enjoy the reputation of being group deviants. There are social sanctions that are directed at nonconformists. They find themselves uninvited to social gatherings.
At work, others go off to lunch in a group and leave the nonconformist behind. Even if their ideas are good, group deviants find that no one is willing to speak out to support their proposals.
In extreme circumstances, sanctions are directed at the nonconformists' children. All readers will remember how important it was to be accepted by others during their junior high and high school years. Imagine the unhappiness of students if they find no one to eat lunch with in the school cafeteria.
If this dreaded occurrence is due to the outspokenness of their parents, then family strife is certain. Many parents have given in at this point.
"I can take being treated like a pariah because of my opinions, but I cannot stand to see my children being the targets of social rejection."
So what are the possible decisions facing people who have opinions that differ from group norms? Should they just go along with the group, or should they stick to their opinions?
While there is no piece of advice that will be helpful to everyone, here is a suggestion that may sometimes be of use:People can consider making contributions to the group that are independent of the disagreements that led to the original conformity pressures.
Let's use the example of disagreements concerning how a volunteer organization is to use its funds. Most members want to spend excess funds on a college scholarship. One person, Angie Chen, speaks in favor of donating the money to a private elementary school that assists disabled students.
Angie will get a better hearing if she has made previous contributions to the group. She may have organized fundraisers, headed recruiting drives for new members and volunteered for cleanup duty as part of the group's yearly banquet.
To use a phrase coined by the social psychologist Edwin Hollander, a person who contributes to a group builds up "idiosyncrasy credit." That is, contributors build up good will through their actions. If a time comes when they feel that they must be a nonconformist and must argue against a group consensus, then they are given some slack. Their nonconformity is seen as an idiosyncratic or odd act which does not merit rejection since they have made so many group contributions.
Efforts on behalf of the group have another advantage. Members might say, "Angie has done a lot for the group and clearly values her membership. She disagrees with us on this issue, but we should respect her and listen to her ideas."
The purpose of this column is to increase understanding of human behavior as it has an impact on the workplace. Given the amount of time people spend at work, job satisfaction should ideally be high and it should contribute to general life happiness. Enjoyment can increase as people learn more about workplace psychology, communication, and group influences.
is a professor in the College of Business Administration, University of Hawaii. He can be reached through the College Relations Office at firstname.lastname@example.org