Information we know is wrong still influences us. Well, it also turns out that the information’s emotional context also influences us. Chris Mooney, in his article “Science of Why Comment Trolls Suck” (Mother Jones) cites research from George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication concluding that inflammatory website commenters (nefarious referred to as “trolls”) will cause us to hold onto our views more strongly.
In other words, if we agree with the commenter, we become more adamant about those views. If we disagree with the commenter, we become more adamant about our opposing views. Thus, highly inflammatory views can serve to increase the group’s cohesion and help to make it impervious to opposing ones, making cooperation with the opposition tougher. While this might seem obvious, the inflammatory views influence us too, making us less likely to cooperate with the group.
As a result, the leader asserting these views accomplishes two goals. First, there is the obvious one of immunizing his group from our overtures. Second, there is the subtle one laying the groundwork for justifying the extreme views and actions he advocates. This arises because if we become extreme in our views, we become more likely to take extreme actions. It’s these actions that he will then pose as evidence justifying his position and approach.
We see this commonly played out as “trash talk” in sports, a technique players use to rile opposing ones into committing a flagrant foul. Trash talk not only incurs in sports, websites and politics but business too.
To protect ourselves, we need to remain consciously aware that inflammatory or extreme views asserted by other employees, including managers, can influence us to take inappropriate or disadvantageous actions. This means stepping back and reviewing what the company and we are trying to achieve.