Communicate on the Same Wavelength



How does a sense of uncertainty affect team relationships?

Soft power tactics (which promote flexibility and openness) can have a negative impact on those employees who are uncomfortable with uncertainty (Bélanger, Pierro, Kruglanski, 2015)

What is the need for cognitive closure?


In the past few years, a sense of uncertainty has accompanied us at almost every step. The pandemic and the war in Ukraine are unusual challenges that have forced organizations to seek and test new solutions. One that will not only maintain good financial performance, but also take care of the mental health of employees. 


A lack of orderly reality, decisions that require weighing numerous pros and cons, or questions that do not have a quick and clear answer… Such a set of variables can certainly knock all engaged leaders off balance. 


There are also leaders for whom the tension of perceived uncertainty is so strong that it leads them to accept any solution and any answer, as long as they meet the minimum criteria. All this is done to make the world a bright place again, governed by defined and understandable rules.


The second tendency described is the result of a strong need for cognitive closure (Webster, Kruglanski, 1994). It has a significant impact on how communication takes place in a group. Leaders who do not like to experience uncertainty tend to opt for so-called hard power tactics – in order to obtain quick agreement, they avoid long and open discussions (Bélanger, Pierro, Kruglanski, 2015). They are not only resistant to any attempts at persuasion (Kruglanski, Webster, Klem, 1993), but also ignore any opinions that are different from their professed beliefs or acquired knowledge. This mechanism limits employees’ freedom of expression and perpetuates a simplistic view of reality.


Why is the need for cognitive closure important?


In a team whose members feel a strong need for cognitive closure, there is a lot of pressure associated with the need to unify the thinking of the entire group (De Grada, Kruglanski, Mannetti, Pierro, 1999). 


One strategy to bridge the differences of opinion among employees is to expect others to change their beliefs to resemble ours. 


This strategy – typical of people whose judgments and positions are strongly held – increases the overall asymmetry between employees. It makes the team begin to resemble an authoritarian system (Pierro, Mannetti, De Grada, Livi, & Kruglanski, 2003), in which the opportunity to exchange ideas and opinions is limited, and discussions are subordinated to the opinions of those with the most power. This is especially true when there are employees on the other side with an equally high need for cognitive closure, but who are uncertain of their own views – as these readily succumb to the persuasion of others, adopting their opinions as their own. (Kruglasnki, Webster, Klem, 1993). 


The negative effects of the pursuit of cognitive closure can be seen especially in international work environments, where it reinforces cultural conformity that is unfavorable to company innovation. It manifests itself in the fact that employees coming from different cultures give up the expression of different experiences, and consequently narrow the horizon of the search for out-of-the-box and creative solutions. Similar conservatism is then revealed among, “locals”, who lose motivation to explore unfamiliar cultural areas (Chao, Zhang, Chiu, 2010). The result is that it becomes impossible to effectively implement foreign talent into the organization’s structure.


How to deal with the need for cognitive closure?


Employees with a high need for cognitive closure have been shown to be most productive when they perceive their leader as a person of integrity (Pierro, Giacomantonio, Kruglanski, & Knippenberg, 2013). But leaders’ use of hard power tactics also proved to be an important factor in their productivity. 


This means that in difficult, uncertain situations, leaders should forgo open discussions in favor of specific guidance on how to perform tasks. Such an absence of ambiguity and the uncertainty experienced with it lowers stress levels and reduces the risk of burnout among those in whom the need for cognitive closure prevails (Bélanger, Pierro, & Kruglanski, 2015). 


However, it is important to remember that applying such a strategy to employees with a low need for cognitive closure will make them feel limited, and many of their good ideas will never see the light of day. In their case, it is worth betting on an open conversation that takes into account differences of opinion among group members. An empatyzerr will certainly help, providing practical advice on what to do and what to avoid in communicating with a particular person.


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