It’s painful to see a facilitator go with the vocal minority.  But, it happens so often there ought to be a law against it.

Imagine this – there is a room of 16 people sitting at tables in a U-shape. The facilitator is in the front leading the session.  The discussion has been going for some time on the best approach for solving a very sticky issue. However, over the past 10 minutes, there seems to be a general consensus building.  The facilitator checks in.

  • Facilitator:  It sounds like we may have landed on a solution.  Are people okay with this solution?
  • Joe:  It’s a great compromise.  Let’s do it.
  • Sylvia:   I agree.  It looks good.
  • Facilitator:  Okay, then, let’s move.

I cringe.  Joe and Sylvia said yes.  No one else spoke.  I guess that meant the answer was yes.

And, then, later in the day…

  • Facilitator:  Perhaps we should take a break here?
  • Debbie:  Yes, please.
  • Facilitator:  Okay, break it is.  See you in 10 minutes.

Wow. Debbie probably had no idea she had so much power!

How often have you seen this happen?  I call it “going with the vocal minority.”  In the case of the break, it could have been that only Debbie wanted to break.  However, because the facilitator went with the first voice that was heard, the group was completely disempowered.  Debbie – a vocal minority – made the decision for the entire group.

In the first example, at least the facilitator waited to hear from two people before concluding that the decision was made.  But, suppose nine or 10 of the other 14 were not in favor?  We will never know because the facilitator went with a vocal minority.

Keep in mind that the vocal minority might actually be the will of the group.  But, if less than half the people in the group voice their opinion, you have only heard from the vocal minority and you are letting them make the decision for the group.

A Different Approach

What should happen instead?  I prefer the informed majority approach – something like this:

  • Facilitator:  It sounds like we have a landed on a solution.  Are people okay with this?
  • Joe:  It’s a great compromise.  Let’s do it.
  • Sylvia:  I agree.  It looks good.
  • Facilitator:  Okay, we have had two people speak for it.  Would someone like to speak against it.  If not, the decision is made by acclimation.
  • Tom:  I basically like what we have outlined.  But, I would like to suggest we modify the last part by…
  • Facilitator:  Okay, we have two options on the table.  The original, which I will call option 1, and then option 2, which modifies the last part by… Are there other comments for either option, or is there a third option someone feels strong support for? (Pause) Okay, with these two options, we have heard people speak for them, let’s call the question.  Those in favor of…  ?

If it is an important decision, instead of the informed majority approach that uses a majority vote, you might instead use the 5-finger consensus approach for building buy-in.  The point here is to avoid going with the vocal minority but, instead, to give everyone a voice in the decision.

With the break scenario, you might use a simple consensus check to avoid going with the vocal minority.

  • Facilitator: Perhaps we should take a break here?
  • Debbie: Yes, please.
  • Facilitator: Let me check in with the group.  Those in favor of taking a break here? That’s over half the group.  See you in 10 minutes.

Discover and practice more facilitation techniques like this to build consensus and manage group dynamics better in your meetings. Level up your skills in our leading facilitation courses – The Effective Facilitator or Facilitating Masterful Meetings.