Whispering in Cyberspace: The Effects of Private Communication on Decision Processes in Distributed Groups
28 Pages Posted: 19 May 2005
Date Written: June 1, 2005
Members of decision making groups often fail to share unique information, preferring instead to discuss information already held by others in the group. One explanation for this is that groups exert normative pressure, which increases group members' desire to validate their views and feel part of the group, often at the expense of decision quality. We report the results of an experiment using geographically distributed groups, which provide an innovative research paradigm. Working in electronic chat-rooms, distributed groups had access (or not) to a "whispering" feature that allowed for one-on-one conversations between group members unbeknownst to the rest of the group. This created a viable tool for overcoming social concerns, and enhancing information sharing and decision quality. As predicted, whispering groups shared more critical (unique) information and made better decisions than did non-whispering groups. Whispering technology helped the flow of unique information, especially conflicting information, which is often suppressed in discussions because of its potential to engender conflict within the group. Additionally, whispering worked indirectly; instead of whispering about unique facts, group members whispered about non-task topics, which serves a social function and supports relationships and interpersonal connections. Results are discussed in light of implication for theory, research, and practice.
Keywords: Negotiation, groups, technology
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