Dr. Roosevelt Thomas Jr, a Harvard Ph.D. in organisational behavior reshaped corporate America’s attitude about workplace diversity. One of Roosevelt’s crucial insights was the unappreciated influence of referent groups in everyday life.
A referent group can be anything like a specific religion or a political party or a small band. Roosevelt Thomas’s point was that if you know a person’s referent group – to whom or what they feel deeply connected, whom they want to impress, whose respect they crave – you can understand why they talk and think and behave the way they do.
The corollary here is that most of us have a counter-referent group. We base our allegiances and choices on what we oppose rather than what we support. What we abhor shapes us almost as much as what we love.
In the early 1970s, the referent group was the breakthrough concept. It was used to explain the social upheaval and differences among the people.
Thus, Roosevelt Thomas contented that each of us feels emotionally and intellectually connected to a specific cohort of the population. We think of this concept as tribalism today.
To conclude, many times, it is very hard to identify a person’s referent group. You have to probe hard to figure it out.