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Thursday, February 12, 2015

How Social Position Empowers Our Opinions



Sharing knowledge and information is an important part of learning and development in society. Active members improve upon the social construction of knowledge. The same process occurs in all groups regardless if it is a network of friends, a classroom, or on a macro social setting. A study in the Academy of Management Learning & Education brings forward the idea that social position determines whether or not we participate or withhold information in discussions (Yi-Shun, et. al., 2014).

Think for a moment how we sit among our friends and discuss life events and seek to create social agreement on those issues. Sometimes these may be personal issues while at other times they are more functional in nature like business or politics. Providing information and sharing perspectives is a natural part of that process as each member evaluates this information and comes to a conclusion.

Eventually a shared coconscious will evolve where negotiated understandings solidify into a shared perspective. Without full participation in the group only a few perspectives will rise to the top and this can derail reality construction that applies to all members. Withholding or stifling information can have a negative impact on how groups perceive information and the type of conclusions generated.

As more vocal members push for the acceptance of their perspectives and other members fall silent the creation process is thwarted. Group think starts to skew the understandings of people as they remain silent and accept the status quo of consensus. Their own personal misgivings begin to lessen as group think forms around newly developed shared principles that may not be accurate.

Those willing to stand up and disagree have a confidence and empowerment level that minimizes the destructive effects of group think. The study helps show how people who are socially connected are also more likely to stand up and state what they believe while those who are less confident in their social impressions are less likely to stand up or voice their opinions.

The findings are important for the management of teams. It is beneficial to ensure that all people feel that their opinions are valued and an integral part of the overall group process. If negative or bully behavior in a group occurs other members will be prompted to not bring up their opinions or ideas that limit the functionality of the entire group. Socially connected people with higher levels of empowerment are more likely to voice their opinions than those who feel they are at a lower social status. Providing opportunities for all members to voice their opinions develops higher levels of decision making. 

Yi-Shun, W., et. al. (2014). What drives students’ knowledge-withholding intention in management education? An empirical study in Taiwan. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 13 (4).

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