Abilene Paradox - Why Do We Say Yes When We Mean No

The Abilene Paradox - the Bandwagon Effect

Why do we often say Yes when we really want to say No? It is a paradox that Jerry Harvey explored in his book, "The Abilene Paradox." The following is a synopsis of that paradox and why I believe it exists.

Picture a hot and humid Sunday on a July afternoon in the small town of Coleman, Texas. The temperature is 104 degrees - in the shade. A mother, father, their married daughter and son-in-law are sitting on the outdoor porch playing dominoes.

The father suddenly exclaims, "Why don't we all get in the car and drive to Abilene and have dinner in the cafeteria there?" The son-kn-law thinks to himself, "Abilene? That's 53 miles away in this dust and heat and the car air conditioner isn't working as it should."

But his wife, the daughter, chimes in, "That sounds like a great idea. How about you, dear?" she asks her husband. Since his preferences are obviously out of step with the others, he slowly responds, "Sounds OK to me, but does your mother want to go?" He is hoping she will say No. The mother-in-l.aw replies, "Why not, I haven't been to Abilene in a long time."

So they all pile into the old Buick and off they go to Abilene. It is brutally hot, the wind is blowing stifling hot air full of dust and the air conditioning is faulty. They arrive in Abilene after an hour and a half uncomfortable ride.

The cafeteria food is filling but nothing to write home about. Three hours and 106 hot miles later, the family is back in Coleman, sweating and exhausted.

The son-in-law says, sarcastically, "Great trip, wasn't it?"

His mother-in-law replies, “To tell you the truth, I really didn’t enjoy it that much and would have liked to stay home. I just went along because the three of you were so enthusiastic about going. You all pressured me into it.”

The son-in-law couldn’t believe what he heard. “What do you mean, ‘you all?’ I didn’t want to go; I only went to satisfy the rest of you.”

His wife looked shocked. “Hey, I just went along to keep the rest of you happy. You three were the ones who wanted to go.”

Then her father entered the conversation. “Well, I never really wanted to go to Abilene. I just thought you all might want to go; that you were bored just playing dominoes here. I would have preferred to stay home and eat the leftovers in the icebox.” (outdated term for refrigerator).

They all sat back in silence. Here they were, four reasonably sensible, intelligent people, who of their own volition had just taken a 106-mile trip across a godforsaken desert in furnace-like heat and a dust storm to eat unpalatable food at a hole in the wall cafeteria in Abilene, and none of them had really wanted to go in the first place. In fact, they had done the opposite of what they really wanted to do.

Could that be a recent political quote?
Could that be a recent political quote?

The Abilene Paradox involves the "management of agreement."

The above example took place in a family. But organizations occasionally take these terminal journeys to Abilene, too. The tendency for groups or teams to embark on excursions that no team member really wants is called the Abilene Paradox. The team members take actions in contradiction to what they really want to do and therefore defeat the very purposes they are trying to achieve.

Organizational theorists believe that managing conflict is one of the greatest challenges faced by any organization, but the Abilene Paradox states that the major source of dysfunction is the inability to manage agreement.

Here is a typical example in a business situation. The president of a small industrial company hires a consultant to help discover the reasons for the poor profits of the company, and the low morale and productivity of the employees. The consultant talks to the President, the VP for Research and Development, and the Research Manager privately and separately. Each one describes a sizable research project as an idea that looked great on paper but will ultimately fail for a number of reasons. Each individual also indicates that he has not told the others about his reservations.

The President tells the consultant that he can’t reveal his true feelings because abandoning this widely publicized project would make the company look bad in the press. The VP for Research says he can’t let the others know of his reservations because he would probably get fired for insubordination if he questioned the project. The Research Manager says he can’t let the President or the VP know of his doubts because of their extreme commitment to the project.

In meetings with each other, they all try to maintain an optimistic facade so the others won’t be worried by the project. The Research Manager even goes so far as to write ambiguous progress reports so the President and VP can interpret them to suit themselves. In a subsequent meeting, praises are heaped on the project and a unanimous decision is made to continue it for another year. The organization has boarded the bus to Abilene.

Succinctly, the Abilene Paradox is stated as follows:  Organizations frequently take actions in contradiction to the data they have for dealing with problems, and as a result, compound their problems rather than solving them. Why?

First Reason - Action Anxiety

Members of an organization take actions in contradiction to their understanding of the problem because thinking about acting in accordance with what they believe needs to be done makes them intensely anxious. As a result of action anxiety, decision makers may decide to pursue unworkable research projects or participate in illegal activities to avoid such anxiety. Why does this action anxiety occur?

Because of the next three reasons:

Second reason - Negative Fantasies

Team members have negative fantasies about what would happen if they act in accordance with what they believe needs to be done. They foresee loss of face, prestige, position, etc. if they confront the issues. Action anxiety may be caused by negative fantasies that members have about acting in accordance with their understanding of what is sensible. They also provide a psychological excuse that releases them from the responsibility of having to act.

Third reason - Real Risk

We do not know nor can we predict the outcomes of the actions we undertake. All actions have consequences and they may be worse than the evils of the present. Decision makers may decide to take their organization to Abilene rather than run the risk of ending up somewhere even worse.

Fourth reason - Fear of Separation

Ostracism is one of the most powerful punishments that can be devised. We have a fundamental need to be connected, engaged, related and not to be separated nor alone. The fear of taking risks that may result in our separation from others is at the core of the Abilene Paradox. It leads research committees to fund projects that none of its members want, and may lead White House staff members to engage in illegal activities (think Watergate) that they don’t really individually support.

Those who want to be effective leaders would do well to remember these two insightful quotes:

"Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things." - Peter Drucker

"Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall." - Stephen Covey

And I must add my own personal caveat: " When humor goes, there goes civilization." - Erma Bombeck

Copyright BJ Rakow Ph.D. 2010, 2011. All rights reserved Author, Much of What You Know about Job Search Just Ain't So.


Readers of my book say it enabled them to write a dynamic resume and cover letter, network effectively, interview professionally, and negotiate assertively. Includes a must-read chapter for older workers.

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Comments 121 comments

suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 6 years ago from Asheville, NC

Interesting. I believe people can be easily swayed. Now I know why.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Thank you, suziecat, you win the prestigious D.H.R.Award for being the first to comment. DHR? Discriminating Hub Readers, what else?

Yes, people can often be swayed or directed because of inner motives they may not understand or be aware of.

VioletSun profile image

VioletSun 6 years ago from Oregon/ Name: Marie

I learned something new today - had not heard of the Abilene Paradox as an explanation of why we are swayed at times. As I was reading, I remembered the times I have said "no", and how I had to deal with the discomfort of resistance from others because I said "no".

Enjoyed reading!

SilverGenes 6 years ago

This explains a lot. I'm reminded immediately of the teen years when 'something' is offered at a party and although perhaps no one really want to partake, they do because of this principle. You are absolutely correct when you talk about ostracism. I find it interesting to see how the media manipulates public opinion using this principle. Excellent article and I learned a lot. Thank you.

timorous profile image

timorous 6 years ago from Me to You

Verrry interesting. Yeah, it really goes back to being a kid, and not wanting to be left out. Kind of like a collective thinking (almost like animals), where one person may not consider partaking in some dangerous or illegal activity on their own, but finds more security in doing so in concert with others.

Excellent hub drbj.

psychicdog.net profile image

psychicdog.net 6 years ago

Thanks DRBJ, always enjoy your hubs because trually insightful and original stuff.

lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 6 years ago from Alberta and Florida

An interesting look at human behavior; all of which results from not being honest. Isn't that it? How often do we see ourselves as self-sacrificing, giving up our own desires for the happiness of others, instead of voicing our honest feelings -- the short road to Abilene. Thanks for this thought provoking read. Lynda

amillar profile image

amillar 6 years ago from Scotland, UK

Yorkshire (UK) people, who have a great tradition in sayings, say 'there's now't queerer than folk'. But I detect a bit of the herding instinct in this.

GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 6 years ago from USA

drbj - You can see a current case of this "Abilene Paradox" in action right now - the Lt. Col. flight surgeon who is refusing to go to "Abilene" (Afghanistan) because he doesn't believe his leader has shown himself to be qualified to be his leader - and he is being tried by the military for his refusal to go. The armed forces are full of smaller, but still important examples of the paradox, and there are many men and women who have died because of it. It has given rise to the question, "Do you know who is the most dangerous person in the army?" The answer is, "A second lieutenant with a compass."

Gus :-)))

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Hello, VioletSun, welcome! Delighted that you enjoyed reading this hub. And I commend you for your strength in saying no. You do not appear to need any assistance in exhibiting assertive (not aggressive) behavior.

That reminds me - perhaps I'll do a hub on various strategies for saying no ... and surviving.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Alexandra, m'luv, always a pleasure to hear from you. And you are on the mark when you refer to the teen (and pre-teen) years as an example.

Another significant reason to teach our children how to refuse to "board the bus."

Thanks for your visit and insightful comments.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Hi, timorous. Good point re collective thinking. When the "Abilene bus" isn't filled with team members refusing to speak up in order not to make waves, it is jammed with youngsters wanting to be accepted.

Thanks for the visit and "excellent hub," one of my favorites.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Hi, psychicdog, you're my kind of canine. Thanks for the "insightful" adjective. The term, Abilene Paradox, however, belongs to Dr. Harvey. But the explanation is mine.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Yes, Lynda, you are spot on. If we relinquish our true feelings and forego being honest, we are already on the bus.

Delighted you found this read "thought-provoking" - one of my favorite things to do. Thanks for your comments which are always appreciated.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Thanks for the Yorkshire saying, amillar. That's probably how the Quaker saying originated: "Everyone in the world is mad, except thee and me. And sometimes I'm not too sure about thee."

And because men and women are social animals, yes, the herding instinct may be a part of our inheritance.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Hi, Gus. I so appreciate your stopping by because I look forward to your comments which always add something new to think about to my hubs.

I agree - the case of the flight surgeon is a prime example of refusing to succumb to the Paradox. Blind obedience is what drives the military. He doesn't have a chance.

Beware 2nd looies with a compass? I'll have to remember that one!

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States

drbj, This is a really interesting, well-written hub and I think it happens everywhere, whether in business, homes, churches, etc. I think many are just people pleasers and don't want to make any waves. It would be a better world if people would be considerate, polite and just tell the truth about how they feel. Communication works much better that way.

ladyjane1 profile image

ladyjane1 6 years ago from Texas

This is an interesting concept I understand it but never heard it called the Abilene Paradox before. Its funny I used to live in Abilene for 15 years as my ex was stationed at the Air Force Base there and never heard of it but I know that it is extremely hot there lol. Interesting hub. Cheers.

tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa

Very useful information about the Abilene Paradox and group-think. Dangerous things in any organisation.

Love and peace


epigramman profile image

epigramman 6 years ago

..definitely food for thought - you feed my brain and inspire me to write what I write and the way I write ......and I am very much inspired by you - in the way YOU write and what YOU write!

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Pamela - You are obviously wise beyond your years. Yes, the Paradox occurs everywhere in all types of situations and with all types of people.

I'm all for considerate and polite but the whole truth and nothing but the truth? I don't know if we are all ready for that. In business, I often use the "considered" truth; saying what I feel after I consider beforehand what ramifications it might produce.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

ladyjane - never heard of the Abilene Paradox while you lived in Abilene? That's probably because they guy who thought of it was from Albuquerque. (Joke!)

Delighted you found it interesting though.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Hi, tony. Is that mac in your avatar with you? Hi, mac. You are so right: group think is an obstacle in any organization and with any team. Someone very intelligent once said, "If we are all thinking alike, then no one is really thinking." True, no?

Thanks for visiting.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Ah, epi - when I read your most gracious comments I am reminded that we both seem to be members of a very exclusive Mutual Admiration Society.

You just keep writing your epic inspiring poetry and I'll do my best to provide the desperation ... I mean, inspiration! :)

ladyjane1 profile image

ladyjane1 6 years ago from Texas

touche drbj touche! lol Cheers

msorensson profile image

msorensson 6 years ago

I love the points that you outlined. Perhaps the most powerful reason is the fourth one. Fear of separation. Thank you for the hub, drbj.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Melinda - you are right on the money. Ostracism and exclusion are very powerful forces and the fear of separation often causes folks to do almost anything not to "rock the boat."

You are welcome and thanks for your insightful comments.

akirchner profile image

akirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon

I have learned over the years to try and go with that gut feeling you have about something because it is so easy to get sucked into something just because we can't say no. What is it about our society that makes us this wishy washy?

I never can understand that and it does bring to mind many things my crazy grandmother was famous for saying....'So if everyone went to the top of the building and jumped off would you think this was a good idea?' That kinda sounded really stupid because I bet if they jumped first, I'd see that they splattered and maybe, just maybe I wouldn't jump...then again, knowing me, I probably would because I wouldn't want to lose face...literally I would though!

Very interesting though about what we do to 'keep the peace' at all costs. I think I'm gonna go do something totally off the wall and see if I can get someone else to do it - just as a test. Sure...see ya back in about a week!

katiem2 profile image

katiem2 6 years ago from I'm outta here

Amen, Amen, you know if people follow peace, if you don't have peace about saying YES, just say NO! No needs no explanation, a simple single NO! Love Love LOVE this hub Why do we say yes when we mean no! Other peoples opinions of me are none of my business so to say NO is something I value as much as my freedom. Great hub!

equealla profile image

equealla 6 years ago from Pretoria, South Africa

Good arguments. I was just thinking, perhaps we had more people guilty of the Abilene Paradox syndrome during apartheid in SA, than them being guilty of being just plain horrible people. I am so glad those days are in the past! We all have breathing space now.

It is just a pity that this paradox situation is replaced by "jumping the gravy train syndrome" by some of the new leaders. Guess that will sort itself out in due time as well.

I'll keep my eye fixed on your wall for the promised article on how to say no. Most woman, have a servitude attitude, because we must be carers and nuturers of the family structure. This can become an abused position. Your help will be appreciated.

(akirchner- please just don't jump from that roof- we love you too much!)lol

Thanx for the link to " Dealing with difficult people" on top. I have a situation at present, and I need that desperately in my life a.s.a.p., so I'm off to read it now.....

PaulaK profile image

PaulaK 6 years ago from Austin. Texas

I think many people make decisions out of their heads when their insides may be screaming a different answer. Listening on the inside to our yes and no and not overriding it is very important. I believe that we are a lot happier living from the inside out.

VioletSun profile image

VioletSun 6 years ago from Oregon/ Name: Marie

You wrote "That reminds me - perhaps I'll do a hub on various strategies for saying no ... and surviving"

I would love to read this! It IS uncomfortable saying "no," and sometimes I hesitate because it involves bringing up the defenses of the individual (s). Thank goodness, it happenes rarely.

I agree, there is a distinction between assertiveness and aggresiveness. This is a topic I have been trying to impress on a loved one, and friends.

lorlie6 profile image

lorlie6 6 years ago from Bishop, Ca

I have been on that danged bus to Abilene far too many times, drbj! Be they family matters or business, the trips are deadly and dreadful. It's a pity that the paradox will probably be the victor in most cases, however this hub is brilliant in it's clarity-unless you happened to 'agree' to write this per your computer's wishes-assumed, of course...:)

Wonderful read!

epigramman profile image

epigramman 6 years ago

...man oh man - if I had as many followers (loyal) as you I would be the Pope!!!!

Tatjana-Mihaela profile image

Tatjana-Mihaela 6 years ago from Zadar, CROATIA

Trully excellent Hub. People so often travel to "Abilene". At the end, trip is always too stressful for everybody involved and real goal is not achieved.

I would also consider the 5th reason for traveling to Abilene - lack of imagination from group members. Instead of using their own imagination, life-experience and logic, members of the team often prefer to obey the leader who just cannot know everything.

Great article, thank you very much for writing it.

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks

DrBJ, excellent! This explains so much about human behavior, and why almost everyone seems to be embroiled in situations they despise, and yet they believe that it can't be helped.

What do you think about letting off steam, otherwise known as venting. I think that's when people complain about the trip to Abilene, but when you call them on it, they say: "No, I really liked the trip. I understand why we had to go. I was just venting."

Green Lotus profile image

Green Lotus 6 years ago from Atlanta, GA

I always ADORE your hubs on human behavior, doc. This is so interesting and makes so much sense! It's also reassuring to know it's OK to disagree with those in authority and to always speak your mind whatever you perceive as be a negative consequence. The truth us usually the right answer after all :)

FuzzyCookie profile image

FuzzyCookie 6 years ago

lovely hub!!!

thougtforce profile image

thougtforce 6 years ago from Sweden

Very interesting hub. Fear of separation is very strong for all of us. To belong and be like other humans is what we are told from birth, and to interact well with others is important everywhere. It takes strength to disagree!

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Audrea, your grandma and my grandma went to the same school. That was one of my gramma's favorite sayings when I wanted to do something unconventional - only she used the example of "a cliff" instead of "a building." (Kudos for the 'lose face" metaphor).

Being wishy-washy or passive is prevalent today and I think I know the reason. If you don't assert yourself and say what you really mean, then you don't take any risks. The only risk is the guilt you will feel thinking about it as you lie in bed that night.

At one point in my life I taught a series of 8-week classes in Assertive Behavior at a local university and since I may have "struck a nerve" with this subject, I will collect my voluminous notes and write several hubs on the subject. Promise.

BTW, did you notice my admirable restraint in not alluding to the fish-killer epithet . . . until now?

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Thank you, katie. You are absolutely right on the mark. If you want to say no, then say No. Simple, right?

Yet it is not that easy for many people. We don't want to antagonize others ... we don't want to make waves ... all the excuses we tell ourselves.

Yet saying No is often the best way to respond to unreasonable requests. We just have to know HOW to say it. I will write more about that in subsequent hubs. Thanks for visiting.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

equealla - your comparison of the Abilene Paradox to SA apartheid is spot on. I would make the same comparison to the Nazi atrocities during World War II. Don't speak up and you won't take a risk.

And don't get me started on the similarity to our feckless, reckless Washington (?) leaders ... that would take up too much space.

By all means, read my 4 hubs on Dealing with Difficult People for realistic suggestions and language to use with those difficult types.

Thanks for your visit and comments ... I'll be BACK!

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Paula - what an interesting way you stated the answer. Often, our gut response, our "insides," have much better answers for us that our so-called rational minds.

I like the way you stated it: "living from the inside out." Thanks.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Yes, VioletSun - I will write further hubs on the entire topic of Assertive Behavior including a survey one can take, and all the other strategies to utilize to avoid being passive or aggressive, and saying yes when we mean no. Really appreciate your interest.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Thank you, lorlie. No, my computer did not direct me to write this hub . . . YET!

I think most of us have taken this "danged" (good choice) bus to Abilene more times than we wish to recount. The trick is recognizing that fact and becoming assertive in order to state what we really mean.

Your gracious comment is appreciated.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Colin, m'dear - you have many loyal followers for your epic poems and you have inspired a great number of them, I have noticed, besides myself, to unearth the poet within them as well. Not an easy trick.

Just keep hubbing, poet-man.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Nice to meet you, Tatjiana or is it Tatiana. Beautiful name.

You are right on the mark - there are many reasons why people board the bus to Abilene and lack of imagination as well as the avoidance of risk are just two of them. Stay tuned and I will write more hubs on this subject.

Thank you for your comments and the "thank you." The pleasure is mine.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Hiya, Aya. Delighted to see you here. Thank you for your kind comments.

To answer your question, sometimes what we call venting is nothing more than an attempt to rationalize the guilt we may feel for not being assertive (and truthful) enough to say yes, or no, or what we really want to say, in the first place.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Thank you, Hillary, your adoration is most welcome - even solicited. Not just because you are so beautiful and such a talented writer, but because you always have such gracious and incisive comments to make.

Yes, as you say, the truth will often set us free. The caveat here is make sure the truth you tell your boss won't set you free . . . from your job!

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Nice to meet you, FuzzyCookie. Curious - have you always been fuzzy or were you clean-shaven when younger?

Never mind. You are most welcome here. Thanks for the "lovely hub" comment.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Ah, thoughtforce. You are also insightful. Man (and woman) is a social animal and being separated and/or ostracized is a particularly powerful punishment. It is far, far easier to agree and go along to get along, than to take a risk and disagree.

bayareagreatthing profile image

bayareagreatthing 6 years ago from Bay Area California

Excellent hub! My first thought as I read it is how many times my teacher husband has shared that no one wants such and such programs in school-- yet they just keep getting funded. It is for the very reasons stated here. Everyone knows that the ideas come from someone much higher up and everyone wants to keep their job, sooooo...no one tells the powers that be, this program really sucks and we need to come up with a different plan. Go figure. They all go to Abilene in a broken down car :)

izettl profile image

izettl 6 years ago from The Great Northwest

In college I majored in Psychology and business, but I never heard of this paradox so it was extremely interesting to learn about it. It reminds me of "group think" a similar phenomena in which people make stuppid decisions based on whatever other people are doing or saying- it spreads like a disease basically. My former position in the field of business, this happened all the time. I'd rather be a risk taker and leader for sure. Great hub!!

kingkhan78 profile image

kingkhan78 6 years ago

Great Article about Abilene Paradox thanks for sharing hub page community

stoneyy 6 years ago from USA Pacific Northwest

Very interesting article and I've seen the results many times. There have been times when I've been on that same bus.

Concerning that idiot Lt. Col., who's being court-maritaled. Yes, his career is toast as it should be.

Moron 'birther.' Obama was born in Hawaii so he does qualify to be President in spite of all the lies by myriad Xians in spite of their 'Commandment' against bearing false witness.

The military is a different 'breed of cat.' A lot of freedoms are restricted when you enlist whether as officer or enlisted. The man flat violated his military oath as well as violated 'good order and discipline.'

I'm sure he raised objections which were addressed with the fact of the matter. That he didn't accept the facts is his personal problem and wasn't a problem until he flat refused direct orders.

That said, there are avenues one can take to try to stay off the bus-in other situations.

If there is interest I can write something up on it. There would be background information as well as what I suspect a large difference is. Personality, also comes into play. Can there be direct consequences, if you do it right? Sure, but they'll be along the lines you've set and is what you wanted in the first place.

I'm a newbie here and am getting familiar which how this vast site operates. Kick an email my way whether such is of interest, or not.

I probably can come up with some other non-standard items, too which may be of some use.

Kind Regards

wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors

I remember reading about this in high school...It was particularly interesting to me because I was living in Abilene, Texas at the time. After living in Arizona, I think the story doesn't give Abilene a fair shake. It is a nice place to visit.

Anyhoo, turning off our brains and leaving the decision-making to others is indeed a dangerous practice that often leads to unintended consequences. How many times do we find ourselves on the bus to Abilene because we were too busy or lazy to give an issue our full attention, or because we just didn't want to take responsibility for getting off the bus and exerting an opinion? That is all too common especially in the workplace where people don't want to jeapordize their own employment positions. Great ideas and I'm looking forward to reading more in your series!

mysterylady 89 profile image

mysterylady 89 6 years ago from Florida

For quite some time I have been reading your insightful comments and finally decided to give one of your hubs a try. I do like the way you write and plan to start following you.

While I tend to be a rebel, I certainly have seen the Jump-on-the-bandwagon effect. You do a great job analyzing the reasons.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Yes, BAG, the Abilene paradox is prevalent in school systems as in any other organization with a hierarchy: for profit, not-for-profit, charitable and the military.

Maybe that car will really break down one day before it gets to Abilene. Tell your smart hubby to keep standing up for what he believes in . . . CAREFULLY!

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Nice to meet you, izettl. Thank you for your visit and comments.

You are absolutely correct - whether it is labeled Abilene Paradox, group think, or "climbing on the bandwagon," all those labels refer to taking the easy route, going along with the crowd, and not taking a risk by stating what you really believe.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Thank you, KingKhan, the sharing with the Hubpages community is my pleasure.

Curious - do you by any chance have any notable relatives I might know like Genghis, Kublai or Ali?

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Hello, stoneyy. I think almost every one of us has boarded the bus to Abilene at some time whether in our social or business interactions.

The trick, and it's not really a trick, more like a series of strategies, is to be able to say what we mean, especially No, without taking too great a risk. I will be writing more hubs on that subject.

By all means, write a hub or hubs on the subject and share your views and experience.

Thanks for the visit and your insightful comments.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Please, Wannabwestern, do not take the Abilene Paradox as any sort of negativity toward the lovely city of Abilene which IS a nice place to visit, or the great state of Texas. (I added "great state of Texas" to augment my liability protection).

It could just as well be labeled "Chicago Chicanery" (the city of my birth), or "Florida Flagrancy" (the state in which I live).

Thank you for your perspicacious comments and your visit and giving me the opportunity to use one of my favorite words.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Welcome, mysterylady, how nice to meet you. I appreciate your visit and look forward to seeing more of you.

"Insightful comments" and "great job analyzing?" You are more than welcome ... any time.

soumyasrajan 6 years ago from Mumbai India and often in USA

Hi! drbj

Very interesting article drbj. Abeline paradox is interesting.

It is good to know such concepts in hard core words. It helps one to decide things at right time. I remember in my university days I learnt about Peter's principle ("every person rises to his level of incapacity" is roughly what it says). It helped a lot to be careful about it.

But it is important to learn not to get carried away also. For example I was wondering about this case of Army officer being discussed in comments. I was wondering what is right? After all army takes people expecting them to keep ready and follow orders at the time of emergency - use all their training and all the drive to remain in discipline even if it involves risk with one's life. It pays them for this and almost doing nothing for years.

When the actual time comes obviously a person will not feel like taking such a risk and at that time all such principles, paradoxes one will remember to avoid what one is expected to do.

On the other hand it is true that some thing is missing in top decision making in USA (or is it result of some thing like corruption which should not have been there but is there ?) otherwise why will it fight a war in af-pak sector on both sides and finance and arm the very people, who are involved in or supporting groups, who are killing its own soldiers. One should surely expect a soldier will have in mind, why should I get into such a mud being created.

Either way if a decision in excitement a person takes, he will make mistakes and he may not get what he thinks will come for being bold.

So opposite paradox might be equally true. The things which one may feel most exciting may be quite boring and may bring turmoil or inefficiency.

One has to balance out both and then see the light and act on it. A discussion with a person who is bold enough to tell you opposite side of what you feel always helps.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Hi, soumy (hope you don't mind the nickname - keeps me from misspelling your name.)

Interesting comments you made about the army colonel; the bottom line is unlike the Abilene Paradox where we don't say what we mean, he did state his beliefs. But unfortunately, when you are in the military direct orders are a mandate and not an option for a soldier to decide.

Your last line sums up what assertive behavior is all about. You have the right to state your own beliefs as long as you do not "put down" the other person. Will write more about that soon.

Thanks for taking the time to visit and comment.

stoneyy 6 years ago from USA Pacific Northwest

I wrote and published a hub. I suppose there's no problem with presenting the link?


Hope it is of some use to folks. Best thing I can do is present what happened. I figure folks can pull what they need from it.

Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

Wow, you certainly impressed your followers and me. I used to be like not saying no but now after a great shock wave, I just stand by myself. Thank you for a very interesting and thought provoking hub.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

stoneyy - I've included your link which describes some of your experience in the military at length. It confirms what I have always believed: treat others with courtesy and respect - it will pay off every time.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Hi, hello. Thank you for visiting and delighted you enjoyed my "thought-provoking" hub.

One of the most satisfying feelings in life is the ability to stand up for yourself (saying No when you must) as long as you don't humiliate someone else by your actions.

Go get 'em, tiger!

stoneyy 6 years ago from USA Pacific Northwest

That it does pay off. One guy that worked for me indicated he wanted to become an officer. He worked his butt off and maxed out annual performance reports-and I could back up the ratings.

As an aside, years later he did become an officer. He remembered where I transferred to and later, in a military school, he ran into an officer from my base. Finding out I was still at the base he asked word be passed to me that he did make officer. I'm glad he made it.

What else I didn't indicate, as it had no bearing on things, was being in the wrong place at wrong time almost killed me.

Afterwards, the folks who worked for me, were helping me rebuild my electronics knowledge. Such wasn't in their job description. Said incident ended up getting me medically retired about seven years later, but it was seven years longer I got 'paid to play.'

The people who work for you will make you look bad, or good.

In my instance, my vocation/talent turned from a positive to a negative based on the retirement.

Of course, there's much I'm leaving out as it is immaterial here. It would fit with 'Ripley's' and Stephen King would have a field day with my medical records. No, I'm still a laid back person with a very odd-ball sense of humour. Everything is 'grist for the humour mill,' and that includes my limitations.

In the meantime, I 'keep on truck'n.' :)

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Thanks, stoneyy, for emphasizing one of the messages in this hub with your personal experience. I have generally found that respect and interest in others pays handsome dividends. So, by all means, keep on truckin'.


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas

I learned of the "Abilene Paradox" many years ago. One would think that, in the corporate environment, that awareness would kill the concept but no it very much alive and well today. The paradox will always be protected by the concept of "self-survival" whichs implies that I had rather survive than to do the right thing and resist. Of course, in the corporate world as in the public world, we have labels we assign people who resist these days. We say they are "not a team player", they "have no vision", they "have a negative attitude", and they "are not willing to change". These cards get played quickly just like the race card or the political correctness card does in public situations. Too often corporate leaders are willing to trade the "proper image" for the "right thing" and that sets the tone for the employee who is left to go along or get along. Thanks for a good write and a good review! WB

habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia

As I've aged, I've learned to say "no." enjoyed the read!

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Thank you, Wayne, for an excellent addendum to this hub written from insight and experience - a powerful combination. Your comments are most appreciated.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Holle - I agree, many of us learn to resist more easily the more experience (and years) we have under our belt. Thanks as always for stopping by.

Rebecca E. profile image

Rebecca E. 6 years ago from Canada

love this, I should really say "no this isn't great..." just to not abe a part of teh crowd, but I can't because this is really great!

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Thank you, becca, your comments especially are most welcome and gratifying, particularly the "really great."

And you, my dear, I suspect will NEVER be just "part of the crowd."

prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 6 years ago from US

Fear of separation and fear of not being the same and one in the group and to hurt others feelings as well. Drbj, you made me think again, I am brainless today hehe, Good job as always, Maita

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Maita - you could never be "brainless," not with your ability to create beautiful and informative hubs.

Being part of the group is especially important to us as we grow up since it often sets the stage for our future accomplishments. I will be writing more hubs soon on the best strategies to become more assertive, yet not hurt others.

Darlene Sabella profile image

Darlene Sabella 6 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

Excellent hub my dear dear friend, I think we have all fallen into this trap, I do like to please and I say yes more then I should. I really do mean no...this is a great hub, and a unique subject matter that fits us all. rate up love and hugs, darski

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Darski, dear, how very nice to see you here. Thank you for your most gracious comments. Yes, we DO all fall into the trap of saying Yes when we really mean No more often than we wish. Thank you also for the up rating. I will let you know when I add more hubs on this subject. Hugs backatcha.

Sweetsusieg profile image

Sweetsusieg 6 years ago from Michigan

Does this too fall under the category of peer pressure? Only in the adult world? Or something like it?

I really like your Hubs, they make you think!!

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

To answer your questions, susie, yes, the inability to say No can be a result of peer pressure in the adult world as well as the world of teens and children. And that pressure is most effective when people have not learned to assert themselves but simply take the easy way out by saying Yes.

Thank you for that very meaningful comment. Making folks think is one of my favorite things to do.

Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States

drjb - you've given me a lot to think about. A very interesting concept. Such thinking creates an environment in which nothing constructive ever really gets done, and creative solutions do not come about. It also makes me think of the 'good Germans' in the 1930's, they just went along because cooperation was so highly prized.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

So happy I gave you a lot to think about - that's one of my favorite things to do. You are so right when you compare this type of thinking and behavior to the actions or should I say, inactions, of the "good" Germans in the Hitler era.

Your visit and your comments are much appreciated.

billyaustindillon profile image

billyaustindillon 6 years ago

Great hub on the Abilene paradox - humans really like sheep and so easily led I have written a few different hubs on this and this fits perfectly in with the reactance one - I will link to it also the conspiracy of conspiracy theories. Awesome rate UP!

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Thank you, billy, for your awesome comment and UP rating. I will check out your reactance hub and link to it as well.

The Abilene Paradox and other similar paradigms form the basis of why humans often act more like animals (as you point out, sheep) than intelligent human beings.

epigramman profile image

epigramman 6 years ago

..I must come back to this particular hub and say there is no paradox here with your grand writing style - you have plenty of panache and wit and style. I am always learning something new from you as you make me think openly and clearly - and when you can make the epigramman think then are you definitely hitting the mark big time!!!! lol lol

p.s. - that is quite a cult I have in my comment section with all that poetry flowing back and forward - lol lol

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Hi, Colin. Couldn't stay away, eh? Good, because I'm delighted by your return. "Panache, wit, style" - you are welcome to return again and again.

Since we are Hubbuddies, will share with you my favorite definition of paradox. Ready? It's two physicians. You can see that I'm always willing to take advantage of an opportunity to commit a pun.

Here's to your comment cult - long may it rave!

PaperNotes profile image

PaperNotes 6 years ago

Because we want to please other people, sometimes we get swayed and do what we really don't want to do. This happens to me a lot, sometimes I just feel irritated that I have to endure something for other people's enjoyment!whew, that's life I guess.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Hi, PaperNotes, delighted to have you visit and share your comments. Yes, it happens often that we say yes and do something we don't really want to do in order to please others. Then we want to kick ourselves for not being more assertive. I will be writing more on this subject. Stay tuned. And thanks for stopping by.

Petra Vlah profile image

Petra Vlah 6 years ago from Los Angeles

Your definition of Albilene Paradox “take action in contradiction to the data they have” sounds like US Congress to me. They may have studied that at the Fokk University and so they are now Fokk-ing the rest of us with unmatched expertise.

The great explanation you gave this phenomenon (which I have never heard about) is more than obvious on Hub Pages comments. The general mentality is to get on the same boat with the majority since the popular wisdom is “they can’t be all wrong”. I have seen it more than once and we will see it again; most people are just “devoted followers” and will never dream to go against the current. Being devoted to banality and common platitudes may be in line with the Albilene Paradox, but will never make anyone a great indipendent thinker or a person I would follow to the end of the world

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

What an astute observation, Petra. And unfortunately, you are right on the money. Or to be more accurate, the lack of it. I have just learned that the esteemed members of our federal government are currently spending $3 for every $2 collected in revenue. As you suspected, they were former Fokk U Finance majors - who failed every class they took.

It seems that the Abilene Paradox is alive and well and flourishing in Washington and we are well on our way to the deficit crisis to end all crises.

I have not seen much of the Paradox in comments on my hubs but I have seen references by those who frequent the forums. Those who are forum followers appear to fall into two categories: positive people who may have something to say but do not "make waves." And negative people who see the forums as a platform to denigrate others.

My personal preference is to comment on the hubs of others' and respond to comments on mine. Forums are not my cup of tea.

MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 6 years ago from South Africa

I am delighted to hear that this typical human behavior has a name. The Abilene Paradox – it fell perfectly on my tongue. I can very much relate to this issue. Fortunately I am always the devil’s advocate and never willing to go with the stream created by those cowards who are not real leaders, but gutless parasites who like living in the shades of the real leaders. If I sound a bit aggressive, forgive me, for this superb hub of yours refreshed some of my bad memories. It is quite unbearable to watch some members of important committees paralyzed with the Abilene Paradox. Oh, I love this new word in my vocabulary. Thanks! This was truly a great read. Bookmarked, shared and voted UP and UP.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Dear Martie - Thank you for the delicious comments. I knew somehow this information would strike a note of understanding with you.

From what you have written in your various hubs and comments, I would never make the mistake of assuming you were anything but a person who stands for what she believes in and is not afraid to tell the world. Brava!

I'm delighted you have a new catch phrase to describe that admirable quality.

Internetwriter62 profile image

Internetwriter62 6 years ago from Marco Island, Florida

Thank you for a truly insightful article. It is true that many decisions are made as a result of fear rather than integrity and honesty. I admit to falling for this trap myself. If only people had the will to act according to their beliefs.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Thank you for visiting, internet writer, it's my pleasure to see you here. And thank you for finding this article insightful.

Most of us fall into this trap - saying yes when we mean no - at some time in our lives but with assertive training and practice we find the strategies and will to say what we mean. I still plan to follow up with more assertive behavior tips - soon.

wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors

I came back to read this a second time! Another thought: the fear of job loss is strong with people boarding the bus to Abilene. I am thinking of someone who has a family to support...does this make middle-aged workers with families less viable employees, because they have more to lose and less to gain by striking out against the crowd? What are your thoughts?

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Thanks for returning, wannabe, it's a pleasure for me to respond. Of course, you are right with your assumption. If someone (like the middle-aged worker in your scenario) speaks his or her mind, the result may be some sort of punishment.

But that is the whole point of assertive behavior - not to put down or revile the other person with your assertive statements. For example, you would not say, "You are all wrong. I believe ..." Instead, you would use a phrase something like: "That's an interesting statement. Have you ever considered ...?" Get my drift?

I will be writing more on assertive behavior soon beginning with an "Assertive Test."

always exploring profile image

always exploring 6 years ago from Southern Illinois

I only came here to read this hub because you said i must before i could continue reading your hub today.I must say,"This is a tricky way to plug a hub", but again,i must say that i learned some interesting facts.I'm not going to confess which type i am, but i tend to say what i think. lol


christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 6 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

The fear of disapproval, is often one of the most serious of handicaps for someone who needs to make decisions.

It was said of Nicholas II of Russia that his opinions on any matter always coincided with those of the last person he spoke to about it.

That kind of indecision cost him his empire. We should always be our own person.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Hmmmmm, Ruby. I think, based on your profile and your delightful poetry and prose, you are "assertive." Correct? I believe you do say what you think. Of course, aggressive people do that all the time. But I also think you are polite and considerate and do not put other people down - that would be assertive.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

You are spot on, Christopher. The fear of disapproval keeps a great number of people from achieving success or self-actualization.

Decision makers especially need to say what they think and not what they think other people want them to say. We have too many czars like Nicholas II in positions of leadership today methinks.

sueroy333 profile image

sueroy333 6 years ago from Indiana

Wow. I have never heard of this, but I certainly have experienced it. I grew up in a very cultish church. There were rules and regulations that hurt so many people. One day the leader of the church died. The new leader said the first leader had been wrong. All of the sudden people felt that it was OK to disagree, and we found out that the majority of people had just "gone along" with what they were told (at times even to the point that their loved ones died from lack of medical care) simply because they were afraid they might anger the ministry (and therefore God) by dissenting.

The change in people once we were told the ministry was not infallible was amazing. It was as if people had woken from a spell.

I know this is an extreme example, but it was what I thought about as I read your informative hub. To my, this explains why so many of us were afraid to stand up and say something. Amazing.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Thank you, sueroy, for sharing that fascinating story. What a difficult way to learn such an important lesson. You also helped to emphasize how dangerous it can be not to speak up and say what is on your mind.

If you do not humiliate others when you respond but simply state what you want and or believe, then you are being assertive and standing up for the rights you are entitled to. Thanks again.

CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 6 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

Interesting information on the Abilene paradox - just look at how many people stay in relationships because they don't really know how to talk about how they really feel. I know a couple of people who went to end a relationship and ended up married!

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Wow, that's an extreme example, CM, but stranger things have happened. Too often, for those who are not assertive, a 'yes' is simply the easy way to avoid conflict. But look at what problems it can cause later on!

Thanks for stopping by.

michael ely profile image

michael ely 6 years ago from Scotland

Hi drbj, A great Hub pointing out a lot of things that seem to happen in situations everyday.

Cheers. Michael.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida Author

Thank you, Michael, for the visit and the Cheers. Yes, you are absolutely right. Situations like those I pointed out do happen constantly.

Take a look at my two hubs on Assertiveness if you can:

"Assertive Training Course," and "Assertive Behavior - How to Say No."

toknowinfo profile image

toknowinfo 5 years ago

Why do we say yes when we mean no, is a fascinating topic. I find myself doing it at times too. But when I say 'yes' this is a great hub, I mean YES! Rated up and awesome.

drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida Author

Thank you, tki, for your big, fat YES! You are so right. The temptation to say yes when we mean no happens to us on a regular basis. But once we learn that we can say no, we no longer feel guilty and it becomes easier the more we use it. And thanks also for the up and awesome.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

It is easy to relate to this. Wish I had read it 40 years ago. However, much seems to apply even in running a household. sharing.

Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 4 years ago from Texas

My company trained me on this one early on...I wonder what they were trying to say, Doc? I grew up on what I call the "Wayne Paradox" where my friends would say, "We won't go unless you go!" "But I don't want to go!" "But we want to go but not unless you go!" WB

drbj profile image

drbj 4 years ago from south Florida Author

Happy you found this easy to relate to, Don. Sorry you didn't find it 40 years ago, but better late than never. Yes, these principles apply to running a household as well as running or working in a business. Thanks for the visit and the sharing.

drbj profile image

drbj 4 years ago from south Florida Author

Your company, Wayne, might have been trying to say: "Go along to get along." Organizations often do. Regarding the Wayne Paradox, it appears that you might have been the dominant member of your group. Or else the only one who owned a car.

carolina muscle profile image

carolina muscle 4 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

It certainly is interesting.. clear and frank communications between people in a group is amazingly rare, and this kinda stuff happens all the time ... what a fantastic hub this is, drbj!

PS... saw your interview.. you're a celebrity now!

drbj profile image

drbj 4 years ago from south Florida Author

Hi, Chris, you are so right. It is rare and sometimes impossible to find people in a group or organization that communicate exactly what they think rather than what is politically expedient.

Thanks for finding this and the 'fantastic.' So I'm a celebrity now? That and $1.50 will get me a ride on the bus. (Not the one to Abilene though.)

pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 3 years ago from sunny Florida

Confession: I have been guilty of this at least once...okay, maybe more than once. I can tell you that in the workplace I was less likely to say yes when I meant no if I felt going along with whatever would not be in the best interest of all concerned. It sometimes made me seem like the squeaky wheel but often times others would speak up after I did.

Now in my private life I am more likely to go along with others even if I don't want to because I think it makes them happy

We are pecuilar folks we humans, arent' we?

Angels are on the way ps

drbj profile image

drbj 3 years ago from south Florida Author

You are so right, Patricia, with your remark that we 'humans are peculiar folks' at times. We may be inconsistent about asserting our thoughts and desires when younger, but many folks seem to 'mellow' as they age. Or perhaps it is our experience that guides us. It is said that good judgment comes from experience. And experience comes from bad judgment.

Thanks for finding this hub, m'dear. You and your angels are always welcome!

nathalia27 profile image

nathalia27 2 years ago

This is happening to most cases. However, it can be avoided through being transparent and open minded to others opinion.

drbj profile image

drbj 2 years ago from south Florida Author

I enthusiastically agree, nathalia, with your comment about being open minded to the opinions of others. As to being transparent - not so much. It depends on your role and the situation. What may be expedient may not always be PC (politically correct).

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