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The power of influence - If the odds are 1:11, what do you think your decision would be? Would y...

Sep 20, 2011 3:28:27 PM - www.ft.lk

If the odds are 1:11, what do you think your decision would be? Would you be going along with the majority’s decision? Or take the risk, be a minority and influence the rest?

LAST week I attended a four-day Leadership Programme jointly carried out by INSEAD-ICASL. INSEAD, a distinguished business school with a tag line of ‘Business School for the World,’ having its origins in France, has branched out with campuses in Singapore and Abu Dhabi.

ICASL needs no introduction as the premier national accounting body in Sri Lanka.It was a gathering of a small group of 36 participants from the Sri Lankan private sector at Waters Edge – an idyllic location to take a break from the stresses of office, with the scenic backdrop.
Prof. Thomas Mannarelli was the Programme Director who guided us in this four-day session, which was very interesting and facilitated out-of-the-box thinking. Most of the exercises were practical, day-to-day office problems and how would you tackle these issues. There wasn’t a single boring moment, with bundling of learning and fun with group assignments, working on simulation problems, etc. I thought of penning this article to share some learnings.
During the session, a 90 minute movie was shown to us starring Henry Fonda – ‘12 Angry Men’ (an Oscar nominated movie produced in 1957). The film was nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Writing of Adapted Screenplay. It lost to the movie ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ in all three categories. The story line runs thus:
A first degree murder trial in New York, based on charges of a premeditated murder of stabbing and killing his father by an18-year-old Hispanic. The judge advises the jury which comprises of 12 men from diverse backgrounds that a unanimous decision needs to be made. If the jury decides unanimously that the boy is guilty then he would be sent into death sentence.
However, if there is a reasonable doubt, the jury would need to come up with the “not guilty” decision and the boy would be left free. Thus, an important life and death decision is at stake to be made on a hot humid day. The 12 men are hovelled into a tiny room, locked inside to come up with a decision. It starts with an open and shut case of murder. At the preliminary vote, 11 jurors voted guilty, except for juror #8, a charismatic tall gentleman (Henry Fonda).
The Jury consists of 12 men from different backgrounds
1. The foreman, who acts as the facilitator for the group in arranging the ballot. An assistant high school football coach.
2. A meek bank clerk, who has a childish voice, easily dominated by others. However becomes courageous as the deliberations goes on.
3. A businessman and distraught father whose son has left him, stubborn with a temper.
4. A rational stockbroker, unflappable, self-assured and analytical.
5. A man from a slum.
6. A house painter, tough but principled and respectful.
7. A salesman, sports fan, superficial and indifferent to the deliberations.
8. An architect, the first to say “not guilty”.
9. A wise and observant elderly man.
10. A garage owner; pushy and loudmouthed.
11. A European immigrant watchmaker.
12. An indecisive advertising executive.
The most important evidence was the Swiss knife, the weapon which was believed to be used by the boy to murder his father. At the court proceedings, it was revealed that the Swiss knife used was unique.
How did juror #8 defend this incriminating evidence? He had gone into the neighbourhood where the murder took place and gone into shops that sell Swiss knives and found a similar Swiss knife. One of the highlighting moments in the movie is where the jury decides to have a look at the weapon and juror#8 reveals his find of an alternate similar knife. Thus, he created a doubt in the minds of the other jurors that there is a “possibility” of another person who had a similar knife stabbing the person. The remaining evidence was also analysed factually, where the jurors looked into the evidence of the two-eye witnesses One was from an old woman who saw the blurry image of the boy stabbing the father from across the building and another from an old man who lived below the apartment heard that the boy screaming to his father saying “I’ll kill you” – a second after which he heard a sound of a man falling down on the floor.
The frustrating arguments from all jurors, giving their different backgrounds and personalities, synchronised how practical this was not only for a murder trial, but also when we are dealing with divergent people in organisations.
During the analysis of the arguments from the jury, it revealed that the old woman has marks in her nose, thus it lead to the conclusion that her eyesight is weak and particularly during the night with a train passing by, how accurate her testimony that it was the boy who killed his father? The old man’s evidence that he heard a thud on the floor just a second after the boy’s screams was also broken as how an old man could hear it so accurately within a mere second.
In the boy’s defence, he said that during the time of the killing he was at a movie, but he has forgotten the names of the stars who appeared in the movie. Most of the jurors thought that the boy was lying, but couldn’t it be a possibility that under a lot of emotional stress you may have forgotten the movie? At the end, the entire jury gave a unanimous verdict of “not guilty”. How did the dissenting juror convince the rest of the 11 men?

  • Was it through trying to bulldoze the rest of the jury by power tactics? No.
  • Thorough preparation; going to the neighbourhood and finding a similar Swiss knife.
  • Buying more time from the jury to think through the decision.
  • Rational, factual breakdown of evidence.
  • Trying to influence the jurors who were hesitant of their decision first, rather than going against the resistors.
  • Gaining momentum, whilst gaining supporters, and letting the supporters also come out and justify the decision. Letting all have their moments of glory.
  • At the end, it was 11:1, where there was only one resistor, who crumbled due to the pressure of the majority.

Can’t we mimic the same situation in our business deliberations? Or should we bow down to peer pressure and be bullied? Or perhaps we may be wrong in our decision making. Juror #8 didn’t say he was right; he only said “possibly the boy may be not guilty”. We would need to be open and transparent in our meetings, be it business or family. Try to watch this movie to see the power of influence of people and study their body language/backgrounds when negotiating. I take this opportunity to thank the ICASL Business School for collaborating with INSEAD and letting us share a glimpse of how to be leaders in our organisations .
Hopefully some of the readers would watch this movie, which could be viewed on-line.
Enjoy! I sure did.
(The writer is a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants and of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Sri Lanka (FCA). She holds an MBA from the University of Colombo, winning three gold medals during her course. She also possesses a first class honours degree in biological science from the University of Colombo. Manohari is employed at Hayleys PLC as manager for strategic business development. She was adjudged as the CIMA young star silver medal winner at the maiden CIMA Janashakthi pinnacle awards programme, held in 2004.)

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