July 26, 2016

Shonagh MacRae

4 Steps to Reclaiming the Narrative

In our last Leadership ThoughtExchange, we asked education leaders about the key challenges they face in passing ballot initiatives. The theme of Negative media narrative received 166 stars from 39 leaders. The top thought in this theme, starred by 16 leaders, elaborates on this frequently recurring concern:

The negative attitude promoted by popular media and policy makers. For the past several years it has been politically advantageous to speak in a negative way about public education. This demonization of the industry makes it hard to get quick support for new projects.

With such a pervasive and ingrained narrative, how can public perception be changed? The inspiration for this week’s post comes from  Deborah Connors’ interview with Dr. Michael West, Europe’s leading expert on healthcare leadership. Deb Connors is a pioneer in organizational health and workplace culture, and the focus of her interview centered on creating positivity and resilience in teams and organizations.

What stood out for me was the final section on minority influence theory.  Specifically how one person can begin to shift the culture of an organization without support from the top.

According to this theory, there are four steps that people can take to change or shift the majority opinion – and they are applicable to any small group trying to exert influence.


1) Form a small group

A person alone will quickly tire for lack of emotional support. It is just too stressful and draining to be the lone voice. However, once you have a coalition, there is not only strength in numbers, but also an added level of resilience that comes from being part of a group.


2) Agree on your message

According to minority influence theory, once you have a small group, you need to get to a place of agreement. Strength comes from being a united front with a single message.


3) Make it as clear as possible

The next step is to make the message as clear as possible. While nuance is important in your thinking, it isn’t necessary or desirable in your public facing message. Strip your idea down to its core and then refine it for emotional impact and resonance.


4) Repeat, repeat, and repeat

The final step is repetition over time. Researchers of minority influence theory have found that many members of the majority only have weak support for the dominant perspective – and often only because it is held by a large group of people. If your small group can keep on message over the long haul, members of the majority group will eventually take notice and jump on board. It is an investment in time and effort, but pays dividends in garnering support.

Many groups have used this theory to strong effect. Consider the Tea Party movement and its role in shifting the positions of the Republican Party. Whether you agree with their politics or not, they have a strong and consistent message of small government and low taxation as well as a name steeped in symbolism and passion. They have demonstrated that clarity and emotional impact coupled with consistency over time is a potent combination for social change.

Have you tried minority influence techniques in the past? What have you been able to accomplish?

Shonagh MacRae
Shonagh is our Director of Discover and describes herself as continually curious about people. This curiosity led her to a Master’s in Organizational Psychology where she learned a whole lot about how humans interact in groups and how to support them. Shonagh has also spent a lot of time in her community supporting at-risk populations. This work further honed her ability to connect with a broad range of personalities. When she’s not working with ThoughtExchange, Shonagh is most often found out in the garden with her hands in the soil.

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