We tend to follow decisions we have made before because it is more efficient, so that if a situation arises that is similar to one we have previously encountered, we default to the road travelled. The first time a compromised action is taken, it may have been discussed, agonized over and been made reluctantly. But we don’t cope well with cognitive dissonance – trying to hold conflicting views simultaneously – and we are therefore very good at justifying to ourselves the actions we’ve taken. The seal has been broken and from this point on, we tend to follow our decisions again and again. Aside from never crossing the line, what can you do to stop the self-herding cycle? Two things.
First, you need a circuit breaker and this will often come from outside the work culture in which you are operating (after all, that’s where the behavior began). A mentor, friend, confidante will help you by giving you fresh perspective on your situation and your options, one of which may very well being changing your employment circumstance.
And second, take yourself back to the first time you made the decision. What were your choices and how do they compare to subsequent decisions? We can easily fall into the trap of thinking situations are the same because we have a tendency to apply unconscious short-cuts and rules of thumb to fast track decision making, so by forcing our decision-making back to conscious deliberation we can interrupt self-herding.
As for cognitive dissonance, recognise why you made the first decision and why it made you uncomfortable. Use the sick feeling in your stomach as mental fortitude to not take the action again.
Whereas self-herding tackles our propensity to replicate decisions we have taken, herding is about following the actions/decisions/values of others. This is where the culture of an organisation can become absolutely toxic if morally ambiguous behavior is tolerated (let alone encouraged) within a business because more and more staff will be swayed to act in the same way.