The Rules of Influence: Winning When You're in the Minority, by Crano
- ISBN: 9780312552299 | 0312552297
- Cover: Hardcover
- Copyright: 3/27/2012
Dr. William D. Crano is a professor of psychology at Claremont Graduate University, an American Psychological Association and Association for Psychological Science fellow, and a former NATO senior scientist. He is married with three children and lives in California.
Advance Praise for The Rules of Influence
“Look out, Goliath—David has a training manual! In this smart and engaging book, Crano uses cutting-edge scientific research to show us how the few can influence the many, and how the weak can beat the strong. One of the best books on social psychology ever written.”
---Daniel Gilbert, New York Times bestselling author of Stumbling on Happiness
“Machiavelli had it easy — all he had to do was advise one Prince on how to gain power and how to keep it. William Crano has chosen the opposite, and more difficult task: to advise citizens in a democracy on how to be heard, and listened to, by the powers that be. Based on deep layers of research, yet written with verve, this thoughtful book is an essential manual for informed social action.”
---Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, bestselling author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience and Good Business
“The Rules of Influence by Crano is the seminal work defining specifically how those in the minority must proceed if they are to influence others and cause change. Groundbreaking. Fascinating. Brilliant.”
---Kevin Hogan, Psy.D., author of The Science of Influence
Who and What Is a Minority?
Everything great and intelligent resides in the minority.
Although race and ethnicity often spring to mind when the wordminorityis used, these features are, for our purposes, not particularly important determinants of minority status. Minority groups come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, and while it is true that minorities sometimes are identified by obvious physical features like skin color, sex, height, or weight, even definitions based on physical features can shift according to circumstance. Princeton University was established in 1746, and for more than 200 years, Old Nassau admitted only males as full-time students. In 1961, Sabra Meservey was accepted into the Oriental Studies graduate program.3 She was the first and only woman officially enrolled in the school at the time, and to her credit gained a master’s degree two years later. Then, as now, women outnumbered men in the state and the country. Women were the numeric majority, but Sabra Meservey, a woman, was decidedly in the minority at Princeton University. Place and circumstance matter.
Along with demographics, majority or minority status also can be based on beliefs or behaviors. Suppose you are a member of the Republican National Committee. At a meeting of the state chairpersons, you realize that the vast majority of the committee’s membership is male. If you are a male, you are by simple arithmetic in the group’s demographic majority; if female, you are in the minority. These demographic differences might not affect your work on the committee or the reception you receive from your fellow delegates, but suppose that while talking with them, you mention that you heartily agreed with President Obama’s decision to bail out the auto companies. This position is unquestionably contrary to the committee’s and the party’s stated position, and no matter your demographic features, you have just jumped squarely into the minority.4 Your deviation from the company line has placed you there, irrespective of your sex, age, race, religion, height, weight, or accent. Even if all these other features conform perfectly to the picture of the average Republican National Committee state chairperson, you still are in the minority. Opinions matter, and most of the time, they matter more than demographics when determining your status in the groups in which you find yourself.
This example points to at least two different types of minorities, demographic minorities and opinion minorities. Demographic minorities consist of individuals with physical features that differ from those of the majorities of their membership groups. Opinion minorities, on the other hand, hold positions at odds with the majority’s. Because we are concerned primarily with influence, opinion minorities will command most of our attention, but the rules of influence operate irrespective of the type of minority—remember, in our work,minorityis shorthand for groups or individuals with limited (or no) power to force acceptance of their positions. At the individual level, we are concerned with your capacity to influence others when they, not you, hold the upper hand, and research on minority influence provides the basis for this understanding. I believe it is critical to understand how minority groups exercise influence to understand how we can influence others when we do not have the power to force compliance.
Number and Power and the Definition of Legitimacy
To understand minority influence, it is important to understand what is meant by minority. In social research, minorities usually are defined in terms of number or power, neither of which, individually, captures the full meaning of the word. In combination, however, they paint a useful picture.
In experimental laboratory research,numberis the most common feature used to define minority or majority group status. The group with the most members is the majority and groups with fewer members are minorities. This research typically creates or assembles real or virtual groups of strangers who hold (or are said to hold) perceptions or opinions that are divergent from those of the majority, to which you belong. Research subjects may be told that 82 percent of their group holds a particular attitude, which is consistent with theirs. The subjects themselves are in the majority in this situation. Or, they might learn that only 18 percent of their fellow research participants hold a position consistent with theirs. In this case, the subjects are in the minority. The research is concerned with people’s reactions to this type of information. In some cases, the disagreement between majority and minority does not involve attitudes or opinions, but rather a simple perception—for example, you might be asked to judge the color of a large circle that is projected onto a movie screen or large flat-screen monitor. You and most of your group report seeing the circle as blue, but a small subset of the group might insist that the circle is green. How you come to grips with their disagreement on a fundamental perception, how the opposing groups interact with each other, and the conditions that lead to the minority’s success or failure in influencing the majority are the kinds of questions asked in research of this type.5
Number is used frequently in laboratory research because it is a convenient and efficient way of creating majority and minority groups, but it is only one, and probably not the most important indicator of majority or minority status. Another factor, power, often overwhelms number in determining minority status. Among other features, power has the unique capacity to define virtue or propriety, which in turn affects persuasion.
Power (or Status)
Before the end of apartheid in South Africa, whites ran the show. The black population was probably ten times that of the white population, but was considered the minority despite its overwhelming numbers. White rulers had the power to enforce their will and applied it ruthlessly. For many years, the white power structure wielded sufficient force to maintain its dominance. Number did not define majority status—power did. When the civilized world ultimately responded to the injustice of the system of apartheid through boycotts and ostracism of all things South African, the balance of power shifted. The force the white rulers of the country wielded could not be supported, and the practice of apartheid disintegrated.
Power is a key factor in defining group status. As shown in this example, power and number are not synonymous. The majority is the group with the muscle, even if it lacks numbers. A group may be accorded majority status because it controls resources—power—even if it is numerically inferior.
Writings by and about Jack Welch, the former and wildly successful CEO of General Electric, provide many interesting and instructive examples of the creative use of power, and power’s capacity to define majority and minority status. Welch was one of the most dynamic company CEOs in the history of American business. He was involved in the smallest details of his company. He seemed to know everything and everyone who worked at GE, no small feat for the boss of one of the largest and most powerful engines of the U.S. economy.
Welch often consulted with his division managers and their staffs on the many issues with which a company of GE’s size had to contend. Sometimes in these meetings, the obvious solution to problems would emerge organically over the course of the discussion. Jack Welch was an intuitive leader with an uncanny ability to work through problems, and to bring his employees with him, so that the proper plan of action evolved progressively over the course of their interactions. When it did not, he would lay out the conflicting alternatives about the decisions that could be made. Although there might be twenty people in the room, and nineteen of them felt that GE should move in one direction, the remaining voice often prevailed—if it was Welch’s.viii In this circumstance, as in many others we will consider, number did not rule, power did. Even when outnumbered, the person in charge is the majority. Number does not matter when it is confronted by superior force.
Power’s Capacity to Define Morality (or Propriety)
Obviously, the more powerful group can compel others to do its bidding, but there’s more to it than that. Beyond the obvious, power often defines what is good and what is not; it sets the guidelines of proper behavior. Those in power have the capacity to define the rules of goodness or propriety or morality—to decide or definevalues,good and evil. The powerful define what is right or wrong, proper or improper, and the majority almost always reserves the positive adjectives for itself. Who do you think is responsible for the quip, “To the victors belong the spoils”? Certainly not the losing team. It is extremely unusual, for example, for leaders of a victorious army to be prosecuted for war crimes, even if their armies committed atrocities as a matter of course. Conversely, leaders of losing armies are almost always defined as depraved criminals who violated the norms of good conduct, which of course are defined by the winners (who by virtue of power can define morality any way they want).
The Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, which we considered in the introduction, offer a good example of the majority’s hold over the definition of morality. The trial of Saddam Hussein in 2005 and his subsequent execution a year later provides another illustrative example of the capacity of the group in power to define right and wrong. Almost nobody who objected to Hussein’s trial argued that he was a nice guy who did not deserve his fate. However, lots of people argued that the tribunal was a sham, a show trial staged to lend legitimacy to his execution. The winners defined the law, good and evil, after the fact, just as the winners did at Nuremberg. The group in power decided that Hussein’s response to a failed assassination attempt in 1982 constituted crimes against humanity. The charges seem reasonable. He literally wiped out every male, young or old, in Dujail, the town in which the attempt on his life occurred. Such actions provide legitimate grounds for prosecution, and many wondered why charges were not brought until more than twenty years had passed. The answer is that Hussein held power during the intervening years, and power defines legitimacy. Almost as soon as the “Coalition of the Willing” invaded Iraq, Hussein lost his place at the head of Iraq’s power majority. His definitions of right and wrong no longer held, and he lost his life as a consequence. It’s dangerous to play with fire—or power.
Number, Power, and Morality: Do Other Features Matter?
Although the distinctions we’ve considered so far—number, power, and power’s capacity to define virtue or morality—have been used in theories designed to distinguish majorities from minorities, they might not be distinctions that people actually use when thinking about these kinds of groups. How can we tell? We asked them.
My colleagues and I conducted a study to determine the characteristics people actually considered when they thought about minorities and majorities.ix To do this, we assembled a large number of young adults (average age, twenty-six years) and asked them to describe majority and minority groups through a structured process, by filling in the blanks in a number of incomplete sentences. The sentences each read as follow:
A minority is _______ because _______, which is a positive/negative thing.
You might want to try this yourself. We repeated the same sentence stem nine times so you can run through it more than once if you like.
Respondents were to fill in the blanks, completing as many of the sentences as they could. On average, the subjects completed five sentences. Then, they were given ten more identical sentences, but this time the wordmajoritywas substituted forminority. You might like to give this variation a try as well.
A majority is _______ because _______, which is a positive/negative thing.
To keep things even, half the subjects got the majority questions first, while the others started with the minority sentences.
The instructions to the participants were minimal: They were to fill in the first blank on each stem, “A minority (or majority) is _______” with a word or phrase that characterized such groups.
The second part of the sentence, “because _______” was there to help us understand the characterization by providing a context for the answer. This was especially useful when the description was ambiguous.
In the third part of the sentence, subjects circledpositiveornegative,which indicated the favorability of the descriptors they had written in the second blank.
To give you an example, here is how an actual subject completed the first sentence stem:
A minority isan exploited groupbecausethey are singled out for unequal treatment,which is anegativething.
On the next stem (remember, subjects were given ten stems of each sentence type to complete), he wrote,
A minority isusually misunderstoodbecausepeople don’t know the discrimination they have to deal with,which is anegativething.
The content of participants’ responses was analyzed to detect the major themes that emerged in their sentence completions. The results of the analysis expanded the general three-part framework (number, power, and morality) somewhat, but were not inconsistent with it. Participants’ descriptions revealed that when left to their own devices, their conceptions of majority and minority groups were somewhat more complicated than we originally thought. The most frequent and most salient descriptions used reflected power or status, and number (no surprise here). However, distinctiveness (similarity and difference between the strong and the weak) also entered in, as did personal or demographic features (ethnicity, education, sexual orientation, age, and so on), as expected. An interesting distinction related to power also emerged. It had to do with whether the group was a target of other people’s actions or the initiator of actions. Majorities initiate action; minorities are on the receiving end. Obviously, power has much to do with the group’s or individual’s capacity to initiate, but what of the other features that emerged in the study? You will find that they, too, are connected to the features raised earlier. Distinctiveness connects with number. If a group is distinctive, its members stand out because they’re rare. If they weren’t, they would not be distinctive. Rare implies lack of number, but there’s more to it. We also learned that some of our (majority group) subjects identified these “rare” groups, minorities, as different or strange or even dangerous. Dangerous groups need to be identified or distinguishable. Our subjects’ responses suggested that minorities needed to be made distinctive so that their actions could be monitored.
The historical record is frighteningly consistent with this unexpected (at least, to us) response. When the Nazis forced Jewish people to wear the yellow Star of David on their clothing, they did so to make them readily identifiable (and so, more easily monitored and controlled). Jews could be watched more closely if it was clear who they were. The Nazis created a kind of demographic feature to facilitate their conscious and intended anti-Semitic discrimination. But the Nazis also implemented the Jewish badge to emphasize to its wearers and to all other German citizens the Jews’ estrangement from the larger society. The Nazis believed it was in their best interests to demonstrate to everyone that the Jews were distinct from the larger majority, to facilitate casting them as illegitimate and not a part of theVolk,the German people. The badge served multiple purposes. It was meant to emphasize the Jews’ separateness and outsider status to all who saw it, and the hopelessness of rising up against the state’s might. With the Jewish badge law, the Nazis attempted to make the Jews distinctive, identifiable, outcast, and hopeless.
Capacity to Initiate Action
Distinguishing groups based on their capacity to initiate action was consistent with our earlier consideration of power. Many of our respondents saw the majority as the group that did things to others, and the minority as the group that had things done to it. For example, one respondent completed the minority item as follows:
A minority isweakbecausethey don’t have the power to defend themselves,which is anegativething.
A majorityis able to do great thingsbecauseit has the resources to get things done,which is apositivething.
These categorizations indicate our respondents’ recognition of the power difference between the majority and minority groups, a differentiation we’ve seen in our consideration of the Nuremberg and Saddam Hussein trials. When they were in the driver’s seat, the Nazis and members of Saddam’s Ba’ath Party did as they pleased, to almost anyone they could get their hands on. When they lost power and themselves became minorities, neither had the capacity to stop the new majorities from returning the favor.
The misuse of power to define right and wrong is not confined to those we hate. When the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was discovered, a great hue and cry was raised throughout the civilized world, even in the United States, whose soldiers had done the dirty work. Some of those involved were sentenced to the brig. Can you name a single high-ranking officer who served prison time as a result of his or her actions in that prison? If you cannot, you are correct, because none did. Their status as members of the power majority insulated them from the consequences that could have been meted out.x
Now let’s consider the last part of the subjects’ task. You will recall that respondents evaluated the favorability of the descriptors they used in describing the majority’s or minority’s actions. So, for example, one respondent wrote:
A majority ispowerfulbecausethey have the law on their side,which is apositivething.
The results of the analysis of favorability surprised us. Across all respondents, the sentences involving the majority were rated significantly more favorably than those involving the minority. This result held even for those who themselves were members of demographic minority groups. The subjects seemed to value the descriptions and products of the majority more than those of the minority. This result may point to the power of the majority to define what’s good and bad, and also, perhaps, to people’s desire to be on the right side of the equation. Even within minority groups, members vie to be in the clique that holds the power, and this preference was clearly reflected in our research participants’ evaluations of the majority and minority group characterizations they themselves had made.
Our analysis of our subjects’ answers corresponds nicely with research on the ways the mass media describe minorities and majorities. In a recent study, we analyzed the headlines that appeared in the five major newspapers in California from 2000 to 2003. These were large newspapers, which together accounted for more than 40 percent of the newspaper circulation in the state. We were interested in all headlines that used the wordsminorityormajorityin some form or another. Over the three years that we studied, these words appeared in 1,464 headlines.Minorityappeared in significantly more headlines, but the real point of the study was to see how the newspapers characterized these two groups, and the context in which these references were used. We found that political and international issues were discussed most frequently in stories involving the majority (“Women make up the majority of workers in the factories of Shenzhen”), and social and economic issues were the most frequent focus of minority-headlined stories. Majority headlines often included the identity of the majority—“the House Majority Leader, Nancy Pelosi”—but minorities were typically described with broad, imprecise descriptions and references to ethnicity (“the Asian minority”). Finally, stories with majority headlines were longer than those involved with minority issues, suggesting perhaps that issues involving the majority’s concerns deserved greater elaboration and analysis.xi
These findings reinforce what we already know, that no matter how we define the minority, the majority runs the show. Typically, the majority is defined in terms of number, power, the capacity to define morals—what’s good and what isn’t—and the ability to make things happen. The minority is found in the mirror image of these same features.
Putting all this together, we can define thetypicalminority group as a collective of people who are less numerous, less powerful, and who hold beliefs that those in power consider incorrect, subversive, dangerous, or in some way contrary to everyone’s (that is, everyone who matters) best interests. A group can be in the minority even if doesn’t satisfy all these criteria. Shiites in Saddam’s Iraq were three times more numerous than the ruling Sunnis, but they lacked power, and so they were the minority group relative to the considerably less numerous Sunnis. Given their capacity to define morality or propriety, the Sunnis branded Shiite behaviors and beliefs as quaint, improper, or demonic, depending on the orthodoxy and needs of the perceiver, because they were contrary to standards defined by the majority as proper, appropriate, or godly. Minority status often carries with it the taint of foolishness, illegitimacy, or as we saw in our headline study, as lacking value, and this observation holds whether the minority is a Shiite in prewar Iraq, a Jehovah’s Witness in Vatican City, or a Cleveland Indians fan almost anywhere.
Is there any hope for those stuck in the minority meat grinder? Can they possibly influence the powerful and suspicious majority? There is no question that they can, and understanding how to do it is crucial, because everyone at one time or another finds themselves in the minority. To stand a chance, we need to understand some fundamentals about the nature and function of the groups that claim our allegiance. And we also need to learn about the groups we hate, fear, or ignore, because they, too, help us define who we are.
Give It to Me Straight, Doc
The likelihood that the minority can resist the power of the majority, make, and win its claim is not great. Without understanding the new rules of influence, the odds are practically nonexistent. The group in control is inherently conservative, in the sense that it is intent on maintaining the power structure as it is, on maintaining the status quo, which helps its members maintain their privileged position. Outsiders, on the other hand, are inherently progressive, pushing for changes in the rules and regulations that govern and constrict their freedoms and opportunities. The minority pushes for change to increase both its power and its numbers.
Behind in numbers, outgunned, and without the moral authority to define values, it’s a wonder minorities ever win. How the minority can influence the majority, credibly and effectively, has everything to do with the way in which it presents itself, and how this self-presentation affects the larger group’s views of the outsiders. The next chapter examines the subtle and not-so-subtle ways we define ourselves through our group memberships and how our groups define us, sometimes even when we fight hard to avoid the classification. We will see that our identities can be influenced profoundly by the ways others see us, even if we, ourselves, reject their views. These identities, in turn, spell the difference between acceptance and rejection by the group in power, and acceptance has everything to do with our persuasive successes.
Copyright © 2012 by William D. Crano