News Flash! Polarization and Lack of Compromise Bug People

Lately I’ve been asking my audiences “what concerns you most about the American political scene?”  Not surprisingly almost everyone comes back with an often colorful comment about “party politics.”  Turns out, polarization and lack of compromise bugs people (shocking, I know).  The responses tend to range from “how can I depoliticize an already non-partisanship issue,” to “why do they argue all the time,” to “what the heck (language moderated by the guru) is wrong with these people?”Not being a mental health professional, I can’t tell you what the (heck) is wrong with these people.  I can, however, give you a few ideas on what to do about it – and here they are:

Use Your Real Power to Your Advantage

Too may people think that in order to succeed, they simply need to demonstrate that policy idea (B) solves pressing problem (A).  Unfortunately, logic does not work in legislative environments or even business environment. Instead, decision-makers want to know whether problem (A) relates to the people they represent and, if so, why solution (B) works for them. In most scenarios, how an issue impacts constituents matters far more than issue expertise.They need the issue to be relevant.To use the real power of relevancy to your advantage stop focusing exclusively on the validity of your position and insted build your strategy around finding the right people to deliver the message (the “influencers”). In any venue (politics, business or personal), you must make sure that the right people are saying the right things to the right audience at the right time.  Finding that nexus between all those factors (see fancy graph to the right) will lead you down the path to victory.

Use Current Events to Your Advantage
No matter how right you are, it’s impossible to force politicians to talk or even think about your issue if it’s not already at the top of the political or social agenda.  So how do you drive your concerns to the forefront?  The answer is to connect them with the most pressing concerns of the day. How does your issue promote job growth or economic development? Or, in these days of unrest in the Middle East, reduce religious intolerance (on both sides of the issue)? Or [fill-in-the-blank] for your area of the world?

You can also use your knowledge of your audience to increase their interest.  If you know the decision maker is most interested in small business issues, capture their attention by starting with that topic and connecting back to your issue.  Sure, you have the right to talk about anything you want – and you might be heard. But the likelihood that you’ll be agreed with will increase dramatically if know what gets your audience up in the morning and keeps them up at night. Some people call this allowing others to set the agenda.  I call it common sense if you want to be influential.

Use Civility to Your Advantage
If you want others to rise above the partisan rhetoric, you must do so yourself.  Yes, I know “they started it.”  But we need some grown-ups here and it looks like those grown-ups will have to be us.  Partisan statements from citizens, and particularly voters, fuel polarization. So,here are some ideas for avoiding contributions to the problem:

  • Follow your politicians on social media and comment positively when they do something you like.  It’s called “positive reinforcement” and believe me, decision makers will notice because no one ever says anything nice.
  • If you’re going to engage in policy discussions, do so with civility.  I’m appalled at the comments people make on social media, in newspapers, on news shows and in-person.  Comments like “all politicans are manipulative, lying crooks” (an actual quote from a Facebook message I received) really don’t help the tone of political discourse. Nor do they improve the quality of your argument.
  • A corollary – remember that other people have different views.  Those who disagree with you believe strongly in what they’re saying as well.  They come at life from a different perspective. That doesn’t make them unenlightened idiots: it just makes them horribly misguided. OK, OK — a few are unenlightened idiots. But telling them that really isn’t going to do you any good. Frankly, if they’re that unenlightened you can make your point without even pointing out their lack of knowledge.
  • Cut people some slack and stop assuming malice aforethought when they unintentionally say stupid things. Sometimes verbal missteps reflect a significant policy or world-view difference (Missouri Senate-Candidate Todd Akin’s comments come to mind).  Sometimes we just accidentally put some words together wrong (I do this all the time). Before you get all outraged about something, make sure it’s really something to be outraged about.  And sure, it’s completely fine not to vote someone you don’t want representing your city, state or country because they can’t talk extemporaneously. But jumping all over them because of a gaff looks petty.
Use Leadership Skills to Your Advantage
I know many people want to see our nation’s leaders, well, lead.  They want to see legislators rise above the partisan fray and find solutions that benefit everyone, not just their consituents. But isn’t it possible that the people we elect are a reflection of ourselves?  Admit it. Most of the time you probably think someone else’s representative should compromise, not yours.  That’s not the meaning of compromise.  Clearly elected officials aren’t getting that.  Let’s show them the way.

The Physics of Influence

The Rover has Landed! The Rover has Landed!
The landing of the Mars Rover has captured my attention, even more so than the Olympics. I find it interesting in part because Mars looks a little bit like Northern California, as evidenced by the picture here. I snapped this (do we still “snap” things?) while on Highway 41 in the Central Valley. Then I saw the photos of Mars. Both are pretty cool.
Naturally, though, the whole space travel thing has got me thinking about the physics of influence (what, that wasn’t your immediate thought?).  That’s because so much of what we do in Washington D.C. corresponds to Albert Einstein’s first law of motion, which states:
An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.
This is called “inertia” and I’m pretty sure it means that objects will just keep on doing what they’re doing until something else speeds them up or slows them down (or bumps them to change their direction). Like the physical world, inertia generally rules in the political process — except for the run-up to the August recess.
You may have noticed that as members of Congress headed home last week, there was no repetition of the broo-ha-ha from 2011 about the debt ceiling, the budget and things like flourescent lightbulbs (yes, there really was a lengthy debate about that). All of a sudden, legislators were able to get to an agreement and get out of town.
How did we break through the inertia? And what can we learn about all this from your own influence situation? Here are some ideas:
  • Find the “must-do” decision: Inertia happens in the political process because it’s nearly impossible for members of Congress to agree upon a direction.  They are more likely to do so in “must-do” situations, where something terrible will happen if a decision is not made or something wonderful will happen if it is.  No one wants to go home to their districts and explain why the government has defaulted on its debts or federal services are closed down. For your own situation, ask yourself “how can I convince my audience that the benefits of making a decision outweigh the negatives?”
  • Understand who the audience responds to: Legislators respond to the interests of their constituents, especially in an election year. If you don’t believe that, just look at how quickly Congress came to agreements on issues they argued over for months and months last year. Ask yourself “who is my audience most likely to respond to?” Sometimes it’s not you.
  • Pick your time to shine: Believe me, members of Congress are acutely aware that there’s an election in three months. Issues that have languished for months are suddenly getting a great deal of attention. Take a look at both your calendar and the calendar of your audience and ask yourself “when is the best time to push for this decision?” Is it the start or end of a fiscal year? In the midst of an immediate and pressing problem?

Finally, the physics of influence teach us not to believe everything you hear or read – even if it’s on Star Trek, CNN (or even the Daily Show): If ONE MORE media personality states that members of Congress have “left for their August vacation,” I swear I’m going to throw someting at the TV. The August before an election for members of Congress is nothing like a vacation. On the positive side, it does represent a terrific opportunity to use these principles to not only be heard, but to hear yes

June 18, 2012 Know Your “Influencees”

The Influence Game in POLITICO!
The Influence Game in FAST COMPANY!
(You know it’s important because there are exclamation points and capital letters!)

Successful lobbyists knows how to pre-qualify a decision maker. They never start a conversation with “what does the Congressman (or woman) care about?”  They already know the answer to that question and many more. “Knowing the influencee” is essential to effective persuasion. Here are four questions you should be able to answer about your audience before you walk in the actual or proverbial door.

What gets the decision maker up in the morning: Everybody has something that gets them up in the morning. For me, it’s usually my dog (see gratuitous cute dog photo).  He lies on his bed and sighs heavily until I make a movement.  Then he’ll come over and stare at me unblinkingly until I surrender.  He’s very influential.  But besides those things that physically get them up in the morning, it’s good to know what the decision maker is emotionally or mentally connected to as well. In D.C. that’s often some sort of policy issue, but it could be their family, a hobby, their overall mission in life, making money, a charity they love or glamour and power (if it’s that last one there are frankly better things they could be doing).  For legislators, the best way to figure this out is to go to to see what bills they’ve introduced. For real people (and legislators as well), read their bios, check who they’re connected to on social media sites like Facebook or LinkedIn or simply ask around.
What keeps them up at night: Most people also have things that keep them up at night (in my case, once again, the dog). But for normal people it might be personal money concerns, the economy overall, their health, repairs that need to be made on the house, what the heck their kids are up to or, well, the list goes on and on. The answer to this question can be harder to figure out. One way to do it is to simply put yourself in their shoes. If you were living their life, what would you be worried about?
What they need from you: It’s tempting to give decision makers all the materials you think they might need to say “yes” to your proposal. But what you want to give them isn’t always what they need. For example, on Capitol Hill, special interests tend to err toward providing way too much information, whereas members of Congress and their staff simply need to know the information exists – and where they can get their hands on it when needed.  Likewise in the business, fundraising or even “getting your kids to clean up their room” worlds, people rarely say enough about benefits to the audience they’re trying to reach.The most effective way to figure out what the “influencees” need is to ask.  Alternatively, you can check out what others in a similar situation (like your competitors) are providing.  For the policy world, that means going to the websites of other successful special interests and taking a look at their advocacy or policy pages. In business, that might mean reviewing the “about us” section of another company’s site and/or taking a look at how they present their services.

Who do you know who knows them?  Personal connections are some of the most important things to know about your audience.  Imagine the power of reaching a decision maker through someone they already know and trust. In general, in using this technique you can cut your relationship-building time in half.  There are at least two ways to figure this out – first, ask your existing network: you may be surprised at what you find. Second, use social media tools to find connections through your online network.  At LinkedIn, for example, you can search on the decision maker and find 2ndand 3rddegree connections who may help you reach your goal.

Finally, all this information won’t do you any good if you don’t keep track of it.  Good news!  You can use my Legislator Intel Worksheet for legislative audiences and my Audience Intel Worksheet for the world at large.  Just CLICK HERE

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