Groupthink and the Conflict of Ethics

 The power of suggestion is a notion that leaves people unsure of the ethical practices behind public relations. Though public relations practitioners know that the dark truths of being a ‘spin doctor’ aren’t necessarily valid, what happens when an individual’s balance of right and wrong becomes blurred by the opinions of the rest of their group?

The concept of ‘groupthink’ is more common a situation than you might think, and it is something to be watchful of if you are working within public relations. Essentially, ‘groupthink’ occurs when a desire to make your ideas and beliefs coincide with those of the other members of a group. The individual finds reasoning in ‘groupthink’ in order to avoid conflict, and reach a decision without a strong evaluation period.  This practice often results in an incorrect or unethical outcome.

‘Groupthink’ usually occurs in crisis situations and involves people of power. As public relations professionals, it is important to understand the effects and consequences.  For example, in the case of George W. Bush’s search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that eventually led to a second military assault by the U.S. against Saddam Hussein, no weapons were found, and no evidence that there ever were any weapons was found.

Most people have considered the former President’s actions unethical due to the lack of proof he had in leading an assault, so why didn’t his advisors avoid the resulted outcome?  Bush’s power and control of the U.S. was strong, and his beliefs were even stronger. To be one of his advisors at the time, going against him could have been career suicide.  By following the President’s lead, despite any personal beliefs, a decision was quicker to pass, and internal conflict was avoided within the group.  After all, it is easier to swim with the current than against it.

As hard as it may be to stand by your own ethical beliefs in a group situation, to find the best outcome in a crisis situation, or any situation for that matter, it is important to have your voice heard.  Public relations professionals act as the voice of the masses, and a thorough evaluation of the situation at hand is necessary in order to come to the best solution.  If you are in jeopardy of sacrificing your beliefs in order to meet the approval or decisions of the rest of the group, perhaps it is best to find a way to remove yourself from the group all together.

— Eli Duern

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