We’ve recently come across a concept that has inherent appeal – the ‘Spiral of Silence’. Developed by Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, founder and director of the Allensbach Institute (Germany’s version of the Gallop pole) the argument is that public opinion is a tangible force that controls people’s decisions.
Imagine you and some other people are sitting around a dinner table talking. The conversation turns to the subject of a recent movie that most of you have seen.
You don’t know these people all that well, so you decide to listen to the conversation. You loved the movie, but discussion centres-in on how all the others hated it. You refrain from sharing your views about the movie.
Later you start a one-on-one conversation with the person sitting opposite you, and to your surprise, you learn that they too liked the movie. This failure of the minority to express their views is what the theory ‘Spiral of Silence’, by Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, is all about.
According to Noelle-Neumann, you and your friend refrained from expressing your views because of fear of isolation and even ridicule by the other members of the group. This is a situation in which all of us have been on may occasions!
Noelle-Neumann contends that people remain silent when their views are in the minority. It is contended that:
- People have a ‘sixth-sense’ which allows them to know the prevailing public opinion, even without access to polls
- People have a fear of isolation and know what behaviours will increase their likelihood of being socially isolated
- People are reticent to express their minority views, primarily out of fear of being isolated
We think this happens in work settings! In how many meetings have people remained silent because of the ‘Spiral of Silence’? How prominent is this in your team/company?