When you’re the boss there’s something you have to understand to be able to do your job well. Most people are followers. They are susceptible to peer pressure. Not many of them have enough self confidence to go against the group. In most cases falling in with the group mentality is not a conscious thing. People do it without thinking. Most people are social animals. They want to be part of the group. They don’t want to be different so they do what the group does.
This can cause problems if there is someone battling you for control of the group. I’m referring to the Pseudo-Boss here. But even if you personally are not battling for control this follower mentality can be problematic in other ways. There will always be stronger and weaker members of the group. When you have a conflict between two of your stronger employees the weaker members of their groups fall in behind their chosen leader. Hypotheticals of what can happen will get confusing so let me tell you of something that did happen.
I’m going to refer to the pseudo-boss as PB, the followers as F and the victim as V. A PB was targeting a non-group member V that she didn’t like. PB and all of her followers wrote up complaints against V. PB and her followers claimed very similar stories. Not so much in how they wrote it but in what they all knew had happened even though the things that supposedly happened were over a several month time frame. This didn’t make sense to me. Were they all there watching V every single time something happened? Not likely. I brought each F in one at a time to question the F’s claims.
Each F acted like they had personal knowledge of the claims made but when I questioned them further, asking specifically if they had seen or heard the things they were alleging each one ended up backing down from most, if not all of the claims they had made. Were they lying? Yes and no. The Fs listened to the PB’s constant complaining about the V. They heard it so much they began to buy into the story. These are followers. They want to be part of the group. They began to believe they too knew the accusations were true.
Then the PB encouraged the Fs to write complaints about what they “knew”. At first, when I spoke to them, they insisted what they had written really happened. Once I started forcing them to think about it by questioning whether they had personal knowledge and if they felt they did, making them give me details by asking them to describe what they were doing when it happened, how did they happen to see or hear what they were alleging and so on, they realized they couldn’t answer.
Now don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t mean their minds were suddenly opened up to what had actually happened. Remember, they’re followers. They may have realized they didn’t have the answers but they were still 100% positive it had happened because that’s the way it was portrayed when the group spoke about it.
The point I’m trying to make for the bosses out there is that you can’t count on volume as a definitive indicator of what happened. You need to look at things logically. In my example, was it logical to assume that when each and every alleged incident happened that every member of the group complaining happened to be right there to see it even though the members of the group have different days off and get assigned to different work stations? The probability of that happening was pretty low. Something else was up.
For fairness’ sake and to stop bullying you have to investigate and you have to be aware of the dynamics of peer pressure. Want another example? Watch this great video Prudential put out as one of their advertisements. I’m not hyping Prudential but the video is definitely worth watching to get an idea of how easily people can be manipulated without even realizing that is what is happening.