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The Dangerous Consequences of Ignoring the Vocal Minority and the Silent Majority

You may have had to take a moment to let this sentence sink in. In our opinion, this applies to both societal and organizational issues and is therefore very topical.

When change occurs, there are almost always vocal minorities who express their concerns about the intended or taken route. Their voices echo extra loudly because there is a silent majority that does not openly express themselves about the change.

Regardless of whether this vocal minority is "right," ignoring or worse, silencing this group, carries a huge risk of erosion. Consider the following example.

Suppose an organization makes a strategic shift under the pressure of external developments. Often, this change of course is devised and decided upon by a small group of leaders. Under external pressure, this group quickly strives for internal consensus. These leaders then take the organization along in the decision.

In communication, they know that "resistance" can arise. There is somewhere an awareness that support is important, but there is no real room for a different route. Of course, they cannot say this out loud, so they proceed, without really discussing it, to a communication strategy that excludes any form of variety.

This sounds something like "it is very important that we make this turn, if we do not do this then WE (read you) have a very big problem, but above all let your supervisor know what your concerns are."

This silences the vocal minority that is sensitive to the risks that others do not see because they have a unique perspective. Speaking out against this strategic direction is immediately very unlikely. But because it has been "said that you have to speak up," the responsibility suddenly lies with this group instead of with the leaders.

This eliminates the weak signals that are so important in change. The change will be implemented, but the real risks often come to light much too late, sometimes in retrospect in research reports.

What can you do about this? In short:

  • Organize diversity of thinking

  • Ensure social safety

  • Invest in moral leadership

These are three strategic themes for change-oriented EX-professionals. Their task will become increasingly important in society in the coming years, as I fear that we will only realize this in retrospect...


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