MONDAY 5 DEC 2016 10:40 AM


The concept of the silent majority has been wreaking havoc on political predictions in 2016, and it has the power to disrupt internal communications strategies as well. Suzanne Peck explains why communicators should engage with the silent majority – as well as the vocal few

Failing to appreciate, or at least underestimating, the prevailing view among the majority of your audience can be world-changing. Just look at the Brexit referendum and the American election.

Repeating the mistake as an internal communicator might not have the same geopolitical impact, But it could come back to bite you when you need it most. None of us can afford to ignore the ‘silent majority.’

Who is this silent majority? How do we know what they’re thinking if they’re silent? The media says it’s the people who just get on with their lives, who are quiet, and not natural activists. One ‘silent majority’ interviewee in the US said, “We expect a dollar work for a dollar pay. We don’t want anything free, but we don’t want stuff taken away from us either. And that’s happening to us out here in the cheap seats.”

The power of the silent majority isn’t new, of course. Although Trump brought the idea to the forefront during his election campaign, it was also a concept used by Richard Nixon, notably in a November 1969 speech defending the Vietnam War.
“And so tonight – to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans,” he said, “I ask for your support.” He was appealing directly to those Americans who did not join the large demonstrations against the war, who did not, “Turn on, tune in and drop out,” of the counterculture, as Timothy Leary put it, and to the middle Americans who simply weren’t taking part in the debate. Nixon, along with many others, saw this group as being overshadowed in the media by the more vocal minority.

“The silent majority is always going to be a state of mind,” said Nixon. “It’s a feeling. It’s a feeling of dispossession. And that feeling of dispossession can come about most dramatically in times when things seem to be changing, when all that’s solid melts into air.” More than 40 years later, that feeling of dispossession took control as Americans who felt overlooked by the establishment and left behind by the so-called ‘coastal elite’ made their voices heard. And when Britain’s people rebelled despite economic and business bodies, foreign leaders, and a clutch of assorted celebrities telling them otherwise.

I believe both cases represent a disconnect between the people who govern the nations and the governed. Those in power were powerless to stop a newfound sense of populist empowerment, and the silent majority had their say.

As internal communicators, it’s our role to connect everyone within our organisations. Filtering what we listen to, who we listen to, and when we listen to them is increasingly difficult, in today’s multi-media, multichannel, ‘always on’ environment. But not doing so, overlooking the silent majority, has only one outcome: if we fail to prepare, we must prepare to fail.

As communicators, we should have our spidey-senses on standby and, while hearing what the shouters are saying, treat what they say with caution and don’t assume that they represent the majority. We must also seek out those who are quieter, proactively asking for their views, making them advocates and ensuring that they have a voice. These are people who often have the best solutions, after all, and offer sound advice.

Those who are quick to speak often get the most attention, and their words sometimes fall short when it comes to offering any real value to the conversation.
I’m not saying we should ignore the loudest people – their views are valid – but weeding out the value in what they say is useful.

Suzanne Peck is president of the IoIC