Enjoying Your Work

Richard Brislin

Group collaboration
can make risks more

When people interact in groups, their initial attitudes and preferences are often intensified. For example, individuals might examine the possibility of purchasing a franchise that is part of a successful restaurant chain. After extensive research, they decide that the restaurant has a reasonable chance of success but still have doubts about investing their time and money. Then, these individuals discuss the franchising possibility with other knowledgeable people. The potential buyer and the others meet as a group. If the individuals were leaning toward purchasing the franchise, they will be more likely to follow through on their intentions after the group discussion.

Researchers who have investigated this type of communication and decision-making first called it "the risky shift phenomenon." Individuals are more likely to make risky decisions after interacting with others and engaging in a group discussion. One reason for the risky shift is that more information becomes available during the group discussion. One group member may tell the investor, "Even if the restaurant is not successful, you will learn a great deal about starting your own business." Another might say, "The restaurant chain already has ads on TV, and people in Hawaii have seen them." A second reason is that group members remind the potential investor about values that are commonly held by members of the larger society. Risk taking and entrepreneurship are highly valued in the United States, and the presence of others reminds the decision-makers that risks can lead to rewards.

After the initial studies carried out in the United States, researchers investigated decision-making in other countries. In some traditional African cultures, there is value placed on tradition and to the conservative norms that have led to success and survival in the past. In these cultures, children are taught to admire people with traditional knowledge. For example, there may be elders who know of edible plants that are not tasty and that are not part of people's everyday diets. However, knowledge of these plants is very useful when other food is unavailable and people face starvation. In these traditional cultures, individuals often make more conservative decisions after discussions with group members.

Researchers then made adjustments to the language used to summarize their findings. They changed the term "risky shift" to "value shift." If a culture values risk, this will be the direction in which group decisions move. If a culture values conservatism and tradition, this will be the direction that groups take.

The change to value shift suggested that researchers should look at different areas of decision-making within a country. On issues of personal safety, for example, Americans are likely to avoid risks. Few people would accept the removal of today's elaborate screening procedures in airports. They will not be influenced because statisticians argue that the risk of terrorism is low on any one specific flight. When a danger is clear in people's minds, the traditional wisdom captured by the term "safety first" guides decision-making.

When risk is discussed, its relation to gambling becomes a topic of conversation. In next week's column I'll present some views on risk and gambling.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

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.

Richard Brislin is a professor in the College of Business Administration, University of Hawaii. He can be reached through the College Relations Office:


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