March 25, 2019

Fostered by social media, online bubbles and niche targeting, echo chambers can do wonders for your business, but within the four walls of an organisation, they may not be as propitious. In a firm full of yes men and women, there’s no diversity of opinion. Whatever the management says, the employees agree without question or pushback. While the head honcho has every right and authority to make the final call for key decisions, “mother” doesn’t always know best. Even the wisest minds are bedevilled by blind spots and blinkered views.

That’s why no man is an island. Your workers aren’t here just to offer their technical expertise, but their professional advice as well. Yet, most of them may nonetheless shy away from doing so for fear of getting their ideas shot down from the cradle, or starting unnecessary altercations that risk ruining workplace relationships. After all, it’s only human to want to be liked, and the easiest way to be liked is to be agreeable at all times. So how do you prevent your company from being stuck in an echo chamber while keeping the peace?

Encourage critical thinking

Critical thinking places objectivity above emotion when it comes to making decisions and solving problems. Regardless of whether a piece of information came from a superior or subordinate, a critical thinker judges it fairly and questions it without fail. This type of employee doesn’t take the CEO’s word as gospel. Rather, they prioritise objective analysis in search of the truth.

A skill that ought to be part of every staff member’s arsenal, it allows us to see the possible ramifications and perspectives we’re blind to when in an echo chamber. It also raises our emotional intelligence by encouraging healthy detachment, so that our ego, biases and personal opinions won’t get in the way of those potentially multi-million dollar decisions. Patience, discernment and open-mindedness are also chief in developing a more critical mind.

Build a culture of open communication

Allowing for more open communication between the management and the employees will create a culture where even your intern would point out your mistakes, and challenge your judgment to your face. The opposite scenario paints a sour picture of the staff gossiping behind your back, and complaining about your poor leadership skills and inefficient choices—all while keeping you in the dark about their concerns, much like witnessing a blind man walk into a drain.

At the same time, such strong rapports don’t just form overnight. It’s one thing to be open, frank and easy-going with your employees. It’s another thing for your employees to feel comfortable enough to reciprocate. A good way to remedy that is to outright incentivise and reward dissenting voices—although to clarify, it should never be arguing for argument’s sake, but offering intelligent, thought-out albeit unpopular input.

Surround yourself with diverse employees

Diversity, in this case, goes beyond gender and ethnicity. Instead of being in a room full of mental doppelgangers who will simply echo whatever you say, collect a group of people from all walks of life to bounce off ideas with. Ideally, each person should hold a distinct point-of-view, informed by their distinct set of experiences. Yet, they should also be open and calm enough to consider the views of others, lest a discussion escalates into a heated row. Still, whether or not conflicts arise, you’ll know the eventual decision or idea is bulletproof, having gone through a rigorous vetting process.

Look to your external network

When internal discussions aren’t diverse enough, get a second opinion from an outsider or two, people who are not worried about compromising their promotion prospects or pay cheques. You don’t necessarily have to be on the lookout for people with the best ideas. Rather, this strategy calls for the pooling of a vast variety of views, so you can sift out what resonates with you or makes the most objective sense. Find the sweet spot, where there aren’t too many or too few voices to consider. When in doubt, all you have to do is notice when every opinion sounds homogeneous. It’s a pretty reliable red-flag indicator of being in a yes-man environment.

An echo chamber may serve as a comfort zone, an idyllic utopia where there’s never any friction to deal with, but it leads to tribalism and the rejection of growth. As you take some time to observe how your staff responds to your ideas, don’t forget to keep your ego in check, invite opposition, and prepare to jettison action plans that feel right but clearly aren’t.