How to Deal With The Unhappy Vocal Minority


The vocal minority is the bane of every dynamic leader’s existence. While 98 percent of your organization might be content, it’s usually the discontent 2 percent who make a lot of noise. You cannot lead any type of business, church, or group without having push-back from a few people, sometimes even a single unhappy person. While every case is different, I have learned a few lessons with dealing with the unhappy vocal minority.


Don’t underestimate the power of emotions. Anger, frustrations, outrage, and shame are powerful motivators. People who are emotionally charged lose perspective. What was once an annoyance suddenly becomes a cause worthy of their personal crusade. I have seen otherwise reasonable people hurl vicious personal attacks, most of them untrue, when they become emotionally charged by an issue.

Don’t overestimate your ability to appease them. Conciliatory leaders tend to want to spend time with their detractors and reason them back into a resolution. In my experience, that seldom works. Often the emotionally charged are also unreasonable and will continue to sabotage the process.

Don’t let them grow. Much like a cancer that spreads to nearby cells, unhappy people attract more unhappy people and will recruit those whom they can influence. Once you realize that the emotionally-charged situation is not going to be resolved by reasoning and dialogue, cut your losses help them find the exit door. If the vocal minority has more staying power than you do, send out your résumé and pack your bags. Your days are numbered.

Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Know your audience and prepare accordingly. There’s nothing more damaging for a leader than to to walk in a leadership ambush. Understanding the dynamics of the issues and the players involved in a potentially emotionally charged meeting will help you navigate a tough crowd.

If you don’t effectively deal with the vocal minority, you will eventually lose your supporters who will slowly back away from your leadership. This becomes a leadership death spiral where the longer you cater to the detractors, the more you ignore those who need you the most.

Have you ever dealt with a vocal minority? What happened?

  • Steven Shantz

    Maurilio.  This is an excellent post.  It sounds like you are definitely talking from experience.  I’ve dealt with the vocal minority on many occasions.  It’s draining.  I’ve tried to forge ahead and accomplish my goals, but it takes a lot out of you and a lot of fun out of a project.  It’s even more difficult when a project involves other departments and the vocal minority are not your direct reports.  

  • Lori Swarner

    I’ve been on both the winning and losing side of dealing with the vocal minority. In one case, leadership was able to successfully cut out the cancer. It was a painful process but the organization was restored to health and flourishes to this day. In the other, the vocal minority got “what they wished for” and the ministry has been in decline since that time.

    •  It’s sad when you see the angry few take over and take the organization down with them. I’ve been there as well.

  • Spot on, Maurilio.  This is something that all leaders need to be reminded of about every 3 months!

    • Pastors seem to need that every Monday morning. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  • Great post, and a true reminder of how to push past those voices.

  • I was in a lay leadership position in a former church and had a fellow church member who was involved in several of the projects under my responsibility. He is an engineer, like I am, and always had a different way of doing things. He really enjoyed pontificating at length about his ideas, which almost always were worth considering. I frequently took his suggestions and we crafted better solutions because of them.

    However, one project was different. Due to church growth and the legal climate, I led another team to put together a new child / parent verification system for the nursery. We attended legal seminars, researched what other churches were doing, performed trade studies and cost trades on different systems, and finally came up with a system that would work for our church (due to cost, personnel abilities, church culture, etc.) When we presented the system to the church as the new system, of course he had to critique it in public. While he brought up many of the issues that we had already addressed, I could tell that he was not going to be happy unless some of his changes were incorporated. I then pulled him aside in private and let him know that it was not open to discussion and he needed to accept it.

    While I did not say everything the way I should have, he saw my point. We both apologized, stayed friends, and worked together on many other projects.

    •  Great outcome, Robert. If you had not confronted that early on, that situation would most likely have repeated itself over and over.

      •  Especially since he has a lot of children and he was a major “customer” of the process.

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