Good Comms

The dark side of belonging

I’ve often written about the advantages of a sense of belonging. One of the questions I received about this topic is: “Does it also have a dark side?” Belonging is an integral aspect of human existence, providing us with a sense of identity and support. Yet, there’s a complexity to group dynamics that often goes unaddressed. This post aims to explore the challenges that come with group membership, including the phenomenon of misinformation.

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Dark sides of belonging

  • Conformity and loss of individuality. Groups exert a powerful influence, often demanding conformity at the expense of individuality. This can suppress personal values in favor of group norms, leading to a uniformity that diminishes diversity of thought and expression.
  • Groupthink. The desire for group harmony can result in groupthink, where critical evaluation is overshadowed by the urge to maintain consensus. This can lead to poor decision-making and overlook valuable dissenting opinions (Asch, 2016).
  • Exclusion and discrimination. Groups inherently create boundaries, leading to the exclusion of non-members. This can foster discrimination and prejudice, contributing to the marginalization of individuals based on their group status. In my LeanIn Circle itself, we share a common ground that all members are parents. This might look like excluding other women who are not parents. In her book Leading Below the Surface, LaTonya Wilkins wrote, “We exclude to belong.”
  • Conflict and division. Belonging can also breed conflict, pitting one group against another, exacerbating divisions, and promoting an ‘us versus them’ mentality that undermines social cohesion. 
  • Spread of misinformation. Our need to belong can contribute to the dissemination of misinformation. Studies show that social pressure within groups can motivate individuals to spread fake news, aligning with the group’s beliefs or narrative, even at the cost of factual accuracy. One example of this is how disinformation is used to sway voters during elections Philippines politics (Lees, 2018; Ong 2022).

“We exclude to belong.”

– LaTonya Wilkins, Leading Below the Surface

So what can we do?

Preventing the downsides of belonging and fostering healthy group dynamics requires thoughtful awareness and proactive efforts. Here are some strategies to help mitigate the potential negative consequences of belonging to a group or community:

  • Promote open communication. Encourage open and honest communication within the group. Create an environment where individuals feel safe sharing their opinions, even if they differ from the group’s consensus. This can help prevent groupthink and promote diverse perspectives.
  • Diversity, equity and inclusion. Embrace diversity within the group. Actively seek out members from different backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives. Promote inclusivity and ensure that everyone feels valued and respected, regardless of their differences.
  • Critical thinking and autonomy. Encourage critical thinking and independent judgment. Teach members to question assumptions and think critically about group decisions and norms. Foster a culture where individuality and personal growth are celebrated.
  • Establish clear values and norms. Define and communicate the group’s values and norms clearly. This can help prevent conflicts arising from misunderstandings or differing expectations. Ensure that these values align with principles of fairness and respect.
  • Conflict resolution mechanisms. Develop effective conflict resolution mechanisms within the group. Provide training on conflict resolution skills and procedures to address disputes or disagreements constructively.
  • Privacy and boundaries. Respect members’ privacy and personal boundaries. Create guidelines for data sharing and online behavior, particularly in digital communities, to protect individual privacy.

Remember that the specific strategies to prevent the downsides of belonging may vary depending on the type of group, its goals, and its members. The key is to create an environment where individuals can feel a sense of belonging while also maintaining their autonomy and individuality. It’s an ongoing process that requires active engagement from all members to ensure a healthy and supportive group dynamic.#

Want to learn more?

References

    • Asch, S. E. (2016). Effects of group pressure upon the modification and distortion of judgments. In Organizational influence processes (pp. 295-303). Routledge.

    • Lees, C. (2018). Fake news: the global silencer: The term has become a useful weapon in the dictator’s toolkit against the media. Just look at the Philippines. Index on Censorship47(1), 88-91.

    • Ong, J. C., & Tapsell, R. (2022). Demystifying disinformation shadow economies: fake news work models in Indonesia and the Philippines. Asian Journal of Communication32(3), 251-267.

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