How to Influence Decisions When You Are in the Minority

In the previous article we talked about how our stereotypes affect the way we deal with minorities. Now we will discuss how to overcome the natural disadvantage of being a minority to influence important decisions. One of the most established experts on that subject is William Crano. He developed seven rules for minority groups to follow when they have the goal to influence the majority.

We all know it – in organizations, power is unequally divided between departments. Leaders perceive departments with the most direct link to the bottom line as the most important and grant them the biggest share of resources. Whenever an important decision has to be made, the heads of those departments are the ones influence the decision the most.

Imagine there are plans for a restructuring in your company. The only sure thing is that the restructuring will have an impact for your team. You are the head of the PR department, but so far you couldn’t convince the CEO of your importance for the business. How do you influence the decision-making process?

Make sure you are accepted as part of the in-group

If you fail this first step, you can forget right from the start to have an influence in the decision. PR practitioners often make unpopular suggestions within an organization because they want to act in the best interests of their companies’ stakeholders. Here lies the danger: if the CEO and the board of directors see you someone representing only the stakeholder’s interest, they might perceive you as an outside threat.

You have to make sure that they also realize what you can do for the development of the overall business and the bottom line.  In other words: they have to see you as part of the team, not some outsider acting in his own interests. Succeed with that and you are what Crano calls an “in-group minority” as opposed to an “out-group minority”. An out-group minority threatens the existence of the company; an in-group minority doesn’t. This gives you the chance to express unpopular opinions or ideas without facing serious consequences.


Be persistent, consistent but flexible

When you communicate with your colleagues do not – under no circumstances – retreat or compromise. No matter with what arguments they come up, do not offer them concessions. If you were part of the majority, you could use standard negotiations techniques. You could offer them less extreme solutions to the problem based on the development of the negotiation. Not so when you are a minority. Minority influence only works when you stay persistent and consistent.

Unfortunately, there is a very thin line between being consistent and inflexible. Of course if the circumstances change – you also have to adapt your message in a way. The point here is to set goals. It is not so important how you reach these goals, as long as you arrive. You can change your message, as long as it still allows you to get what you want.

Your whole team must agree

The weakness of a majority is that in most cases, not all its members have the same opinion about everything. Minorities need to take advantage of that weakness and make sure that every member of the team agrees. Think about it: if you would see a group of people who all have exactly the same opinion about an issue, would you not think that there idea must make sense, at least from their perspective? The effect is like that of an army moving towards you so determined that not even a single soldier flinches. Imagine them moving forward step by step, chanting their war songs. How would you react? Would you not have doubts?

So make sure that your whole team agrees with what you propose!

Turn subjective opinions into objective facts

Deal with facts. Nobody can refuse objective facts. If you allow your bosses to see the issue from a subjective angle, you already lost. They have their opinion and you won’t change it by offering an unpopular solution.

I will not discuss the last rule today, because it is too complicated too explain and the article is already long. Instead, I will explain it in a separate article and publish it some other day this week. If you can’t wait to know the last rule, or if the subject really interests you, you can also read William Crano’s book “The Rules of Influence

Last but not least I encourage you to participate in the discussion in the comment section. Did you ever try to influence a decision when you where clearly in the minority? Did it work? What did you do right or wrong? Share your experiences with us!


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