Underlying Causes of the Abilene Paradox

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Underlying Causes of the Abilene Paradox
Anneke Zwart, Student (University), Netherlands

One of the underlying causes of the Abilene Paradox is CONFORMITY, which refers to behavioral change resulting from real or imagined group pressures. Indeed, such pressures are likely to move groups or individuals in another direction than the one they really desire. Therefore, it is important to get a better understanding of conformity. Conformity basically consists of three levels:
  • COMPLIANCE: this refers to the act of behaving according to the desires of the group – due to social pressures – while personally disagreeing.
  • OBEDIENCE: this refers to behavioral change resulting from pressures from authorities.
  • ACCEPTANCE: this refers to the act of behaving according to group desires AND personally agreeing with this behavior.
All of these 3 levels have in common that there is a coercive effect of group pressures that influence individual behavior; a loss of individual’s distinctiveness in groups.
Harvey, J.B. (1988) “The Abilene Paradox: The Management of Agreement” Organizational Dynamics, pp 17-43
Powerpoint “Social Influence: Conformity”

⇒ Do you know of additional factors contributing to the Abilene Paradox?

Factors Causes of the Abilene Paradox
Anneke Zwart, Student (University), Netherlands
Two important factors that influence the degree of conformity, obedience and compliance and as a result influence the Abilene Paradox are normative influences and informational influences. They trigger the desire to act according to group pressures.
  • NORMATIVE INFLUENCE: the strength of this type of influence arise from the need for social beings for companionship and association. In other words, it influences individuals to behave according to group because they want to be liked and accepted by the group.
  • INFORMATIONAL INFLUENCE: this type of influence assumes that surrounding individuals are more acknowledged about the situation than oneself and thus are assumed to behave correct in given circumstances. As a result, individuals will act according to the group so as to reflect correct behavior for given circumstances.
Source: Social Influence: Conformity.

Abilene Paradox
Maria Elena Hoffmann, Management Consultant, Venezuela
I enjoyed reading your explanation about Abilene, agreeing with you. Call my attention "acceptance" description maybe because I relate it with conscious agreement being in contact with own beliefs and values of individual, is it like that? Also I think about the impact of Abilene paradox in a type of external locus of control and organizational socialization, with its strengts and weaknesses. Is there any relationship?



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