Tending the Minority Voice

If we have the assumption that no one person has all the wisdom that we need, for this organization – in this time and in this place – this means that we are listening to one another and inviting and encouraging conversation towards the kinds of issues and challenges that are part of what it means to be this institution.   Whether on a board or a committee, or a working group – a pastoral staff or senior leadership team – we are in conversation, looking for wisdom. 

And this means that along the way there will, for certain, be minority voices.    And what we need to consider is this:  part of leading an organization and moderating a conversation – in a meeting or within the organization as a whole – is that we tend to and even protect the ‘voice’ of the minority.

Sometimes, of course, we are the minority voice.  We see things differently; we have convictions that are not those held by the majority; perhaps with the leadership of the organization we know that we are not seeing eye to eye – in sync – with the institutional priorities and direction.   But here I am speaking more to when we are in a position of leadership and need to respond to and “manage” or, better, tend the minority voice.   

First, we can only tend that voice if there is an understanding that the minority voice will not rule or govern the organization.   When a minority on a faculty or within a church or within a deliberative assembly manage to have a defacto veto or because of stridency consistently get their way, the institution is not healthy.   Good moderation of a conversation or an organization tends the minority voice but does not give it undue power or influence.

Second, “tending” means that the minority voice is heard – empathetically and, where and as appropriate – incorporated in some way into the decision that has been made:   we acknowledge and appreciate the concern that has been voiced and where we are able and where it makes sense, we incorporate that perspective into the final decision.   This does not mean that we compromise such that we have not established a good policy or agreed to an appropriate outcome.   It does not mean that if the majority wanted to build a six story building and the minority wanted a two story building, we go with four stories.   If six stories is the right way to go, then we go with six.  But the point is that we consider what it was that motivated those who were arguing for only two.   And while it will not always be the case, when we do this consistently and well, we will find that along the way we do make better decisions and the minority voice helps us to see alternative perspectives and sometimes that minority voice will actually change minds and become a majority perspective.

Third, we actually thank those who have spoken from minority position.   We thank them for speaking up and expressing their concern and we affirm that we need diversity of perspective if we are going to make good decisions.   In the Canadian Parliament, the loyal opposition is not the enemy; they are an integral part of the parliamentary process. In the US congress, those on the other side of the aisle are, again, not the enemy:  they are colleagues, even if they are the minority.

It all likely comes down to this:   when you are in a position of leadership or power or in the majority, treat those in the minority like you would want to be treated if – actually it is not “if” it is only a matter of “when” – you are in the minority position.

Institutional Intelligence is the capacity to work effectively within organizations.