The first person to speak has the most influence.

The first person to speak has the most influence.

Imagine you are waiting to give your view on a subject. You are pretty sure of your conviction that “A” is the best course of action for the group. The first person to speak, perhaps the leader, surprises you by advocating “B”.

The next person in line around the table also says “B”.

And the next.

And the next.

You are fifth in line. Everyone so far has said “B”, followed by nods and grunts of approval from the leader and others.

Do you still have the courage of your convictions? Do you go against the flow and risk approbation and disapproval by saying “A”?

Of course, this is a rhetorical question. The answer would depend on what paths A and B are, and your perceived consequences of either, as well as the dynamics within the group and how much is personally at stake for you.

However, I’m sure you can see how much pressure there would be on you to go along with everybody else and say “B”, despite your internal beliefs.

It is entirely possible that everyone around the table except the first to speak thought the same as you. Perhaps the second to speak was not all that sure though, and went along with the first just to fit in. And that added pressure on the third who did the same. This produced what is known as a “reputational cascade”. This is when each person goes along with the leader, or the first speaker, to avoid the hostility or bad opinion of the rest of the group.

It is easy to see how this could happen. It can be avoided by the leader not giving their views first and by stressing that they want everybody’s honest opinion, regardless of what it is.

 

Find out more about how the mind plays tricks on you and how your memory works by reading my books, Bias Beware and Memory Matters.

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