The failure of the pollsters in accurately predicting the results is a feature of both the US Election and the Brexit Referendum. What people say or don’t say to those who ask can distort survey findings. Who people listen to, engage with, and where, can distort their sight of the wider picture. As the world becomes more fragmented into tribes, the Internet and social media are creating echo chambers – where we exist in a bubble of similar opinions and beliefs to our own. The consequences can be greater group think and dogmatism, less listening and understanding of other perspectives.

“We live in a moment where people do not know how to hear or understand one another. And our obsession with quantitative data means that we think we understand when we hear numbers in polls, which we use to judge people whose views are different than our own. This is not productive.” Danah Boyd

However, echo chambers have opportunities as well as pitfalls. This post looks at how to maximise them for your career and how to overcome the downsides.

Seizing opportunities in Echo Chambers

Do you recognise the echo chambers you inhabit online and offline? You create your own echo chambers consciously or unconsciously every time you Follow someone on Twitter or Instagram, Like or accept a Friend on Facebook, accept or seek Connections and contribute to online groups on LinkedIn, and sign-up to blogs and newsletters. Today’s increasingly sophisticated algorithms automatically push your preferences and related ones into your timelines. Inevitably, you start to become like the five people you spend the most time with. It’s hard to escape.

Unsurprisingly, people tend not to want a daily stream of posts popping up that will rile them. Consequently, they gravitate to like-minded people, preferences, tastes, and views. Yet, that can be helpful from a career perspective in three main ways:

  • Researching potential employers, their culture, and values for job and career fit.
  • Increasing your visibility and influencing through networking, contributing your views and thought leadership in common areas of interest.
  • Building your professional image, reputation, and identity within a chosen area.

Overcoming the pitfalls

Here are some downsides of limiting yourself in echo chambers and how to overcome them.

  • Lack of diversity. Broaden your network to include people in different roles, fields, sectors, and cultures because studies say being in an open network instead of a closed one is the best predictor of career success.

(Being) in a closed network, the more you repeatedly hear the same ideas, which reaffirm what you already believe… in an open network, the more you’re exposed to new ideas. (The latter) are significantly more successful in their careers. Michael Simmons

  • You narrow your range of job and career options if you always swim in the same pool. Test your transferrable skills, consider combining disciplines and explore outside of your usual boundaries.
  • Narrow-minded because of confirmation bias and lack of rigour to verify what is true. You may not be aware of what you pay attention to, more accepting of false information within your echo chamber, and default to refuting what lies outside. If you want to be on firmer ground and develop healthy scepticism, do your research and ask the difficult questions.
  • Your ability to change through learning and unlearning will diminish. We have to get along with people at work who can be very different from us. To build and maintain those relationships, show curiosity, listen to understand their position, empathise with their circumstances, and engage in genuine dialogue. That means sharing, testing out and maybe challenging each other’s assumptions in skilful and emotionally intelligent ways.

As the elections show, you can’t bring your healthy critical thinking into play without first understanding the what and why of someone else’s view, especially if it’s the polar opposite of your own.

What will you do inside and outside your current echo chambers to get good vibrations for your job and career?