You Don’t Always Have to Win Outright: Just Keep the Other Side at Home

I’m often asked “how do I convince an opponent to agree with me?” The short answer is that you can’t – or, rather, it happens so rarely that it’s probably not worth the effort to try. To be clear,  I’m not saying you shouldn’t deliver your message to those who disagree.  In fact, trying to get opponents to respond to your arguments and defend their position can be a good use of time.

That said, it’s not likely that the outcome of such efforts will be a wholesale “seeing of the light” on the part of your adversaries.  Perhaps the best you can hope for is for them to be silent. In the political world, this can translate in to one of two things – either a quiet vote against your position without any fire or brimstone or an active “behind-the-scenes” effort to persuade leadership that forcing a vote against your issue would be a bad idea.  While the latter is obviously preferable, either way you’ve marginalized the competition.

To make the “keeping the other side quiet” tactic even more powerful, effective special interests work at the same time to turn out their base.  You can see this approach in the election day antics known as “Get Out The Vote,” or “GOTV.”  Outreach strategies include sign waving near polling places, hosting tables at public gathering places like grocery stores, television and radio ads and, unfortunately, robo-calls.  The main message in all these cases? “go out and vote.” And, of course, that message is directed toward those audiences most likely to vote the organizer’s way.

So how do you apply these tactics in the real world? Think about your answers to two key questions:

  • First, who in the decision-making process opposes you? This concept moves beyond knowing just your competition and toward a better understanding of those informing and making decisions. For example, if you’re trying to sell a service and one of the purchasing managers doesn’t like your approach, that’s the person you want to try to “keep quiet.”
  • Second, who in the decision-making process support you? Find your base as early as possible and then energize them. Help them understand that they are key to a good decision that will benefit their organization.  Everyone likes to be a hero. Show your supporters how you can help them achieve that goal.

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