This week I’m a little late, and frankly a little longer than usual. I hope you’ll read the whole thing. Thank you in advance. 

I’ve written before about heat and light. That it often takes both pressure and diplomacy to move people and change minds. But what I didn’t say then, and is the focus today, is that heat alone rarely works. 

What do I mean by heat? I mean angry protests, name-calling, and angry exasperated mobs. They are cathartic, especially when a battle has been lost. But rarely alone, do they change things. Because to change things – laws, policies, programs, you almost always need all sides or some people from all sides to get on board. And that rarely happens by yelling at anyone. 

It happens when no matter where we sit, we can find enough curiosity and empathy to see the world from their shoes. Yes, even if they are fill-in-the-blankists. Not to agree but to comprehend. Persuasion only happens from where the other person is. From taking them step by step to your side of the street. It requires the unsexy and slow process of showing the other person what’s in it for them. 

So when does the angry mob help? It helps the person at the negotiating table. They get to say, “you can deal with me or you can deal with that.”

Three tips for successfully persuading people to see it your way. 

Tip 1. See it through their lens no matter how skewed. What scares them about your position and how can you alleviate the fear? What do they care about and how does your position help?

Tip 2. Meet them on their turf. Even if it feels awkward and may be dangerous.

Tip 3. Be persistent. You are going to move forward with them, or without them but you’d prefer they join you or at least get out of your way. How else can you help them? How can you keep the conversation going?

I know what I’m saying is really difficult. But it does work. Here’s an example. When I started working on creating affordable housing opportunities for those with mental health and substance disorders, some people thought it was great but neighborhoods were usually not so pleased. In one case, a city council member said that we needed to stop, that people would rather live next to toxic waste. Nasty but not wrong.

Then there were the nasty personal attacks and letters. The threats to us and our potential residents. 

But to create this housing, we needed the buy-in of the local planning department, city council and so forth so just ignoring the nasty was not an option.

It meant we had to listen to the neighbors’ fears. We need to go to their meetings and invite them to ours (in that order). We needed to show them the data that there would be no impact on property values. We needed to share the treatment model and remind them that there were already people in the neighborhood with challenges who were living without support and supervision. We needed to involve them in the project, creating a project advisory group of residents and neighbors. 

It took a lot of time and we didn’t get every property we tried to purchase, but we now own $15 million in residential real estate that provides housing for about 115 people who would not be housed in our community. Now neighbors watch out for our residents and speak out on their behalf. It took time, exposure and few if any adverse issues to build the relationships and change minds but it did happen. 

What works for you?

Julie

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