Somebody Should Speak Up, This Is A Bad Idea

Have you ever been with a group of people who do not speak up? Maybe one of the members suggests an idea, then the others agree with the idea, and then a plan of action is taken, but in truth no one likes the idea. This is called the Abilene Paradox, and it was discovered by Jerry B. Harvey.


Excerpt from Jerry’s article on the Abilene Paradox:

“On a hot afternoon visiting in Coleman, Texas, the family is comfortably playing dominoes on a porch, until the father-in-law suggests that they take a trip to Abilene [53 miles north] for dinner. The wife says, “Sounds like a great idea.” The husband, despite having reservations because the drive is long and hot, thinks that his preferences must be out-of-step with the group and says, “Sounds good to me. I just hope your mother wants to go.” The mother-in-law then says, “Of course I want to go. I haven’t been to Abilene in a long time.”

The drive is hot, dusty, and long. When they arrive at the cafeteria, the food is as bad as the drive. They arrive back home four hours later, exhausted.

One of them dishonestly says, “It was a great trip, wasn’t it?” The mother-in-law says that, actually, she would rather have stayed home, but went along since the other three were so enthusiastic. The husband says, “I wasn’t delighted to be doing what we were doing. I only went to satisfy the rest of you.” The wife says, “I just went along to keep you happy. I would have had to be crazy to want to go out in the heat like that.” The father-in-law then says that he only suggested it because he thought the others might be bored.

The group sits back, perplexed that they together decided to take a trip which none of them wanted. They each would have preferred to sit comfortably, but did not admit to it when they still had time to enjoy the afternoon.”

I find the story humorous and exhausting, like a large project at work that nobody thinks is a good idea, and nobody will speak the truth. The Abilene Paradox can be found within any group of people: friends, co-workers, board meetings, etc. Speaking up when the group seems to be going the other way can often save many from a frustrating journey.

Being polite is important, but learning how to speak up and be polite is even more so.

Question: Have you experienced the Abilene Paradox?

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