Part 3: Are You Political, or Positional?
Taking a giant step back, removing the emotion and the filters, and forming a logical position in government advocacy is like a magic bullet in a battlefield of projectiles being imprecisely fired in all directions. Here is why:
First, it challenges you as an advocate to rebuild your case from the ground up. This exercise usually reveals assumptions you held that had weak support and thus were being exploited by those opposed to your position. Either you replace these assumptions with more defensible and verifiable information, or it forces you to change your position. Danger: Don’t give in now to political thinking that threatens to hold you back by refusing to move on your issue. Modifying your position can be a positive thing because it makes your cause more winnable (less assailable).
Second, it allows you to more clearly understand the POV of others who have taken different positions from yours. The opportunity here is that while you may not agree that much with someone of another POV, you may find areas of common interest or agreement that allow you to seek alliances. Alliances do not require being in complete agreement — if they did then the Allies could not have won WWII. The U.S., Britain, the USSR and China were far from being in agreement on many things, but they agreed that there was a greater injustice in Nazi Germany that needed to be dealt with first. Alliances in advocacy help your target legislator because the more people you can get behind something that everyone can agree on, the more that legislator wants to support it because keeping their job is all about consensus in the majority.
Now comes the real opportunity. With clearer vision on the issue, a more defensible position, and more allies, don’t backslide now by getting back on a freight train that runs over everyone who stands in your path. Rather, do the research up-front to consider the position of the next elected representative that you intend to appeal to and find common ground. When you enter into the meeting, you can establish what everyone already agrees with, and build a relationship of mutual respect and even trust. Before long, you can ask for just one step in the direction of your position and show how it may align with goals shared by everyone.
Freight train political advocacy simply doesn’t work. It’s amazing (and legislative staffers often tell me) how many meetings they participate in with intransigent people, sold out to an extreme POV for their cause, who simply won’t listen, soften on any single point, or negotiate. These advocates are so right that they won’t accept anything less than total victory and the complete surrender of all other positions.
Legislators and their staffs find anyone who can be thoughtful, reasonable, and really listen to objections while responding to them skillfully to be a breath of fresh air. In today’s political climate, they find it so refreshing in fact that they will respond more quickly to future meeting requests, give effective advocates more of their time, and become more contemplative about the information that these advocates give them. Sometimes, these advocates actually start to receive the occasional reach out from the legislator asking them for an opinion. Could you become one of these rare few?
How would you to have a relationship where an elected office calls you to get your opinion when a piece of legislation is being crafted or coming near to a vote??