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Groupthink and Foreign Policy Research Paper

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Updated: Apr 8th, 2019

Such a phenomenon as groupthink occurs in organizations because people are unwilling to express the opinions that may contradict the views held by leaders or the majority. One can mitigate its effects only by creating an environment in which individuals are not restricted by the fear of disapproval or punishment from those officials who occupy higher positions in the hierarchy of an organization. It is particularly important for people who develop foreign policies of the state.

Many scholars and researchers believe that to a great extent groupthink originates from peer pressure and people’s willingness to conform and avoid conflict (Sims 651; Hook 411). This is why leaders should remember that disagreement does not necessarily lead to poor results. In fact, very often it helps people find the most optimal solution. One of the solutions is to introduce a position which is often called the devil’s advocate (Sims 658).

This person will have to question the decisions taken the majority and find possible flaws in the plans and decisions. This role should be played by someone who is respected by group members and who is not afraid of criticizing leaders when they act in a biased way (Kassing 190). This requirement is very important because very often many people only pretend to dissent, but they give no real critique of group decisions.

By adopting this strategy, groups can minimize the risk of overconfidence. Certainly, this solution has a limitation; the thing is that decision-making process may take much longer. Moreover, foreign policy planners often have to act under time pressure and there may be no time for long debates. However, this limitation can be accepted given the dangers of groupthink, especially the belief that a leader is always right and that his or her decisions should not be criticized by the subordinates.

For instance, one can mention that in 1938 the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Neville Chamberlain tried to appease Hitler by yielding to his demands; at that time, many people criticized this policy, but no member in Chamberlain’s cabinet openly questioned his decisions (Sims 652).This is why a devil’s advocate is necessary in the organizations where decisions regarding foreign policy are made. Such a person will help decision-takers be more aware of their limitations and biases.

Secondly, scholars suggest that leaders can divide the group into several small subgroups (Whyman, Wynne, and Ginnett 14). The thing is that people tend to be more outspoken when they are working in smaller groups in which the majority opinion does not play a dominant role. In this setting they can put forward original ideas. This strategy will enable leaders to see dissenting opinions and evaluate the options that are available to them. Certainly, there are potential disadvantages.

The problem is that group members may become too competitive, suspicious, or even hostile to one another. This is why group leaders should explain why people have to work in different teams. For instance, a leader may ask one team to provide evidence in support of a policy, while others will need to focus on its drawbacks. Additionally, a leader may ask subgroups to evaluate both advantages and disadvantages of plans and decisions. This approach will bring greater diversity into discussion.

Certainly, group brainstorming is an important part of decision-making; however, it can be fully effective only if some precautions are taken. For example, the leader may ask each member of the group to assess the advantages and disadvantages of specific plan, decision, and policy. Such evaluations should be made individually and submitted to the leader.

When a person is not influenced by peer pressure, he or she is more likely to be objective and unbiased. Later, it will be easier for the group to discuss a certain issue or problem. Main decision-takers will be able to attract the attention of the group to various aspects of foreign policies. This is the main benefit of this approach.

There is another issue that should not be overlooked. People, who work on the development of foreign policies, think that they will be blamed for their suggestions and recommendations. Therefore, they tend to favor the views of the majority. A leader should assure that people they will not be accused if a specific policy or plan does not succeed (Renshon and Renshon 521). In fact, such an approached was taken by George Bush when he and his cabinet discussed the foreign policies of the United States after 9/11 attacks (Renshon and Renshon 521).

Thus, the main decision-takers should ensure that their advisors are confident enough to express their opinions. Thus, it is important that foreign policy planners are not driven by fear since it hinders every form of debate or discussion. Leaders should encourage their subordinates to be open and objective. Unfortunately, it is possible only a person has already showed that he/she can take responsibility for the decisions of the group.

The solutions that have been described reduced the risk of conformity, self-censorship, and fear in the groups. They will make decision-making more open and diverse. It should be taken in account that many leaders are not accustomed to dissent and conflicting opinions. They feel more comfortable when the group members are unanimous in their views.

These people should remember that in any case they will bear the burden of responsibility for the foreign polices of the country. However, without groupthink they will better evaluate different alternatives. In other words, they will make fully informed decisions that are based on objective assessment of the situation.

Moreover, many of decision-makers are very authoritarian and reluctant to accept criticism in any form. However, they people have to understand that the so-called unanimity can be explained by fear of sharp criticism, rather than respect for their authority and competence. Autocratic leadership contradicts the very purpose of group work and people, who are in power, should establish more egalitarian relations within the group.

As it has been said before, disagreement should not be confused with conflict or hostility. It may simply mean that colleagues look at the same problem from different perspectives. So, the mane task is to make sure that different voices are not silenced by peer pressure or authoritative leadership.

Thus, the strategies that have been described are aimed at creating an atmosphere in which people are restrained by peer pressure, conformity, or over-confidence in the leader’s competence. Although, they may lead to some disadvantages such as slower decision-making and risk of conflicts within the group, they are likely to benefit the organizations that develop foreign policies of the country. Yet, these solutions can bring success only leaders are able to accept dissenting opinions and sometimes even criticism.

Works Cited

Hook, Stephen. U.S. Foreign Policy: The Paradox of World Power. Washington: CQ Press, 2010. Print.

Kassing, Jeffrey. Dissent in Organizations. New York: Polity, 2011. Print.

Renshon, Jonathan, and Stanley A. Renshon. “The Theory And Practice Of Foreign Policy Decision Making.” Political Psychology 29.4 (2008): 509-536. Print.

Sims, Ronald R. “Linking Groupthink To Unethical Behavior In Organizations.” Journal Of Business Ethics 11.9 (1992): 651-662. Print.

Whyman, Wynne, and Robert Ginnett. “A Question Of Leadership: What Can Leaders Do To Avoid Groupthink?.” Leadership In Action 25.2 (2005): 13-14. Print.

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