This post was originally published in french on my blog skwi.fr.
Man is by nature a social animal — Aristotle
As human beings, we are driven by a need to belong to a community. This need is so important that there are specialists in a field called Tribal psychology (mainly studied regarding our behavior about politics).
Studies in this field had shown that our need to belong is unconscious and systematic. It can be triggered by any way to differentiate two groups of people, may it be as trivial as over- or under-estimating the number of dots on a page. When people are told that the are over-estimators (may it be true or not) they immediately act in opposition to under-estimators.
In our line of work, this group segmentation can be seen between production teams vs. support teams, designers vs. developers or, more recently, backend developers vs. frontend developers.
Fortunately, in most companies, the pseudo-antagonism between these tribes is not a major issue, and it’s often “just” a little humor.
But making fun of socio-professional traits is not that innocent. Studies have shown that once this tribe feeling is set in our mind, it can trick us into seeing the same truth, the same facts, in two different ways, depending whether we belong to a tribe or another. If it’s true for a proven truth, you can imagine how tribe conflicts can escalate when they are about intangible facts (should we talk about mobile OS preferences?).
What’s even worse is that our need to prove the superiority of our community is so real that we are able to accept a bad situation for our group if it’s means that the opposite group will know an even worse situation. This is true even if there is a third situation, a good one, that both group could benefit on the same level.
As irrational as it seems, that's the way we are. We are likely to shoot ourselves in the foot if it can show that our group is more valuable than another.
The first way to limit the impact of this bias in our work environment is to be aware of it, and to try to identify it within our behavior and the behavior of others.This can seem easy and obvious but it’s not. We easily behave in a way that divide groups, sometime just for fun, without any intent to harm.
It’s also important to create an environment that reduces group formation by encouraging diversity and mixing groups in a physical and/or a timely way (try to avoid having “the sales team office”, “the Chicago guys”, or the “our R&D team”).
My last piece of advice is more general, but be kind to others, and try to walk in their shoes when interacting with them.
Ideology, motivated reasoning, and cognitive reflection - Dan M. Kahan
Experiments in Intergroup Discrimination (1970) - Henri Tajfel
Claude Charbonneau - Checkmate
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