Get Out of Your Echo Chamber
by Frank L. Williams
Oxford Languages defines an “echo chamber” as “an environment in which a person encounters only beliefs or opinions that coincide with their own, so that their existing views are reinforced and alternative ideas are not considered.” Dictionary.com offers a similar definition: “an environment in which the same opinions are repeatedly voiced and promoted, so that people are not exposed to opposing views.”
Whether in business, government, non-profit organizations, politics or any other setting, far too many leaders operate in echo chambers.
I’ve seen numerous leaders surround themselves with “yes men” and “yes women” who tell them what they want to hear, not what they need to hear. I’ve observed others create an environment in which their team members are not comfortable speaking up and sharing differing viewpoints for fear of retribution or isolation.
As individuals, we have a tendency to talk with people who think like us, read or watch media that reinforces our preconceived notions, and join groups where we fit in. We are not naturally inclined to venture out of our comfort zones.
Leaders who live in echo chambers have a distorted view of reality. Their view of the world is skewed toward their preconceived notions. Their blind spots are amplified by a chorus of agreement and “atta-boys.” Consequently, their decisions may be based on incomplete or inaccurate information or ideas that have not been properly vetted.
People who hold positions of responsibility should strive to make informed decisions that are rooted in reality, not twisted by their own biases and those of their inner circle.
If you are a leader in your business, community, home, or any other organization, you would be well-served to get out of your echo chamber and develop a greater understanding of others’ differing perspectives and how they arrived at those views.
Here are a few ways you can get out of your echo chamber:
- Establish a strong inner circle comprised of other leaders with diverse backgrounds and experiences, not just a group of like-minded followers. As John C. Maxwell says, “A leader’s potential is determined by those closest to him or her.”
- Create an environment in which others are comfortable sharing ideas and opinions that may conflict with your own and with those of other members of your team. If they are still hesitant to speak up, find ways to push them out of their comfort zones.
- Conduct research to gain an accurate understanding of how key publics and stakeholder groups perceive your organization and your issues. This could range from simple customer satisfaction surveys to focus groups to full-fledged public opinion polls. You may be surprised by how different key stakeholders’ opinions are from what you though they would be.
- Monitor social media and other public forums to gauge what is being said about your organization or your issues. As an aside, you should learn to identify trolls and take their comments with a grain of salt.
- Study the communications distributed by other organizations, especially those with opposing views.
- Make it a point to talk with people whose perspectives and views are different from your own.
To be clear, I’m not encouraging any leader to betray his or her principles simply to get along. Mature, reasonable adults can respectfully disagree on complex, even controversial, issues. We can talk with – and listen to – each other, even if we hold differing opinions and fundamental beliefs.
Leaders can, and should, be intentional about developing a complete, clear and accurate understanding of the issues they face. Failure to do so is akin to walking through a minefield blindfolded.