Handling Difficult Lobbying Scenarios

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Learn how to overcome objections and handle difficult situations with a proven process that keeps your meetings and conversations on topic and leads to more effective and meaningful relationships.
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Handling Difficult Lobbying Scenarios is part of the Working with Congress series.
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Having better conversations

Curveballs and objections can not only stress us out but also potentially derail conversations. Equipping yourself with the skills to overcome these situations will lead to more informed discussions about the benefits of our policy and empower legislators and others to become partners in passing the climate solutions we need.

Process for overcoming objections

The important thing to take away from this exercise isn’t the content, but the process. When first presented with an objection or concern, our natural inclination is to come back with a fact or to tell someone why they’re wrong. However, research shows us a better way to engage is to first connect on shared values. In most cases, doing so will prepare someone to accept what you have to say.

Process:

  1. Assume positive intent. More often than not, a person’s objections are genuine. It’s more likely that we are biased to blame someone as wrong, disingenuous or even less intelligent, for having a belief that is contrary to our own. To counteract this blame bias, practice assuming positive intent. Doing so can not only change the context of the relationship, but also create the conditions within which we can develop a productive relationship with our members of Congress and staff.
  2. Ask questions. In order to determine what’s the underlying value behind a statement, we ask questions to draw out more information. Once the member of Congress has finished sharing their thoughts they’re going to be much more willing to listen to what you have to say.
  3. Find common ground. Establish common ground by sharing their concern and connecting yourself to that value.
  4. Ask for permission to proceed. When someone gives you permission to proceed they are ready to hear what you have to say.

Does this always work? Of course not. Do your best and don't lose your mind when it doesn’t.

Remember this phrase: “tell me more.” It’s an important tool.

Let’s put this into practice with some “Bad”, “Good” and “Better” response to some common objections so you'll have an idea of what you might say and do when you run into these situations.

Overcoming the China and India objection

A common misperception is that it doesn’t matter what the U.S. does on climate because China and India aren’t making any changes.

  • Bad Response
    • Staffer: “It doesn’t matter what we’re doing in the U.S. because China and India are burning so much coal.”
    • Bad Response: “Yea, well a lot of Republicans fail to acknowledge what the facts about what China is doing.”

    Basically, we’ve just told the staffer that they’re wrong.

  • Good Response
    • Staffer: “It doesn’t matter what we’re doing in the U.S. because China and India are burning so much coal.”
    • Good Response: “China and India are important. The good thing about our policy proposal is that no matter what they do or don’t do we’ll have more jobs, increase our competitiveness and the air and water in our district will be cleaner.”

    Better, eh? Sounds like a laser talk.

  • Better Response
    • Staffer: “It doesn’t matter what we’re doing in the U.S. because China and India are burning so much coal.”
    • Better Response: “That’s a valid concern, Mary. Would you tell me more about why that matters to you?”
    • Staffer: “Sure. We see it this way: If the U.S. is the only country eliminating coal jobs and coal as a source of energy, then China and India are freeriding at our expense. And, we can’t stop global warming by ourselves.”
    • Better Response: “So what I’m hearing you say is that if there was a way to bring China and India along, then that it would be much easier for this office to support climate action. Is that a fair assessment?”
    • Staffer: “Yes, but there are a lot of other issues we would have to overcome as well.”
    • Better Response: “I can appreciate that, Mary. Getting back to the China and India concern, I had that same concern and then I heard about how Reagan used a “border adjustment” to bring other countries along when combating the hole in the ozone layer. Would you like to hear more about what Reagan did to eliminate free riders?""
Debriefing the China and India responses
  • Notice the “bad” response didn’t assume the staffer’s positive intent
  • Notice the “better” response started with acknowledgement of the staffer’s statement and was followed by a question.
  • The “bad” and the “good” response told the staffer what we wanted them to hear. It’s only after we asked clarifying questions and listened were we able to respond to the value underlying the staffers concern: free riding.
  • If in doubt on any issue, “tell me more” can be relied on to continue to find that underlying issue or value.
  • Also, notice how with the “better” response you pivot back to your purpose and asked for permission to proceed.
Overcoming the “T” word objection

A common misperception is that pricing carbon automatically means raising taxes, which are bad.

  • Bad Response
    • Staffer: “What you're talking about Mary is really just a tax.”
    • Bad Response: “It's a fee, not a tax if all the money goes back to households.”

    Again, what we’ve done here is tell the person they’re wrong

  • Good Response
    • Staffer: “What you're talking about Mary is really just a tax.”
    • Good Response: “Former secretary of State Schultz says that if the net proceeds are returned to households, then it's a fee, not a tax. He said taxes pay for the government and that this fee is not doing that. Not only did Mr. Schultz serve 4 administrations, he was also the chairman of the economics department at the University of Chicago.”

    With this response we haven’t told them they’re wrong, but we simply offered another point of view.

  • Better Response
    • Staffer: “What you're talking about Mary is really just a tax.”
    • Better Response: “I’ve had that same concern, Congressman. I’m a fiscal conservative myself. Would you like me to tell you what I’ve learned?”
    • Staffer: “Sure.”
    • Better Response: “Have I ever told you that George Shultz is on our Advisory Board? He is President Reagan’s former Secretary of State and Secretary of Treasury."
    • Staffer: “I think I knew that.”
    • Better Response: “Secretary Shultz tells us that if we offset the fee revenue, minus any administrative costs, with corresponding rebates to households, then we are not “technically” raising revenue to fund government programs. What’s your take on that?”
    • Staffer: “Sounds like semantics to me, but there’s a lot of semantics in governing.”
    • Better Response: “I agree. You know there are some other economists, like Romney’s former economic adviser Greg Mankiw, who says that if we are not putting the costs of reducing emissions onto the balance sheets of the energy producers, then we are socializing the producer’s cost while allowing them to privatize the profits. That’s what our fee is designed to do, put the costs in the right place. What do you think about that?”
Debriefing the “T” word responses
  • Notice the “better” response started with an acknowledgement sharing of the staffer’s concern. “I’ve had that same concern Congressman. I’m a fiscal conservative myself. Would you like for me to tell you what I’ve learned?”
  • So our responses to the staffer’s comment: “What you're talking about is really just a tax”, have gone from:
    • “It's a fee, not a tax if all the money goes back to households.” What we’ve done here is started a battle over semantics.
    • To this: let me teel you what Sec. of State George Shultz says. Again, both the“bad” and “good” responses are us “telling,” we’re not really listening.
    • To us connecting on values and ask for permission to proceed.
  • We should recognize and appreciate that revenue coming into the government is a tricky issue, especially for Republicans. When they are ready to hear what you have to say, it would be good to cite from trusted messengers that will feel validating with voices like Sec. Shultz, Mankiw, and others from their camp. So what you’ve done is move the conversation from something that scares them “tax” to a positive message something that resonates with them.
Overcoming the “It will never be revenue-neutral” objection

There is a perception that there’s no such thing as revenue-neutral legislation. Don’t take the bait and go down that rabbit hole.

  • Bad Response
    • Member of Congress: “We won’t vote for this because we don’t believe it could ever be truly revenue-neutral after it gets through Congress.”
    • Bad Response: “OK, so what you're telling me is that we can't trust you with money?”
  • Good Response
    • Member of Congress: “We won’t vote for this because we don’t believe it could ever be truly revenue-neutral after it gets through Congress.”
    • Good Response:“Yeah, we hear this concern sometimes. I like what they did in British Columbia. What they did in British Columbia was that if all the money does not go back, the finance minister loses part of her salary. Also, I like what Bob Inglis said about this: If we let this fear prevent us from passing legislation, then we have given up on this experiment we call “democracy,” and we might as well invite the king back.”
  • Better Response
    • Member of Congress: “We won’t vote for this because we don’t believe it could ever be truly revenue-neutral after it gets through Congress.”
    • Better Response: “Yeah, we hear this concern from some offices. Can you tell me a little more about that?”
    • Member of Congress: “Well I’m sure the Democrats will want some money for extending Social Security and the Republicans will want to pay down the debt. So what we will end up with is revenue from higher energy prices paying for other things.”
    • Better Response: “So it sounds like transparency and accountability is important to you. Is that a fair assessment?”
    • Member of Congress: “Absolutely. I see way too much waste and fraud.”
    • Better Response: “That’s a big concern for us as well. There are some examples of how something similar has worked in other places around the world; would you like to hear more about that?”
Debriefing the “it will never be revenue neutral” responses
  • I hope you’re noticing a trend. The “better” response start with an acknowledgement and follow with a question, which leads us to discovering the MOC’s underlying issue or value: transparency.
  • Our responses to the MOC’s comment, “We won’t vote for this because we don’t believe it could ever be truly revenue-neutral after it gets through the Congress,” have gone from:
    • Bad. “OK, so what you're telling me is that we can't trust you with money?”
    • Good. We like what they did in BC and what Bob Inglis said.
    • Better. Asking questions and listening for values to find common ground. That’s when we discovered the MOC’s real concern was transparency.
Overcoming Climate Skepticism or Denial

There’s a huge misperception that when lobbying we face climate denial in congressional offices all the time. Nothing could be further from the truth.

However, we understand that the potential for dealing with a denier in Congress creates a lot of anxiety for us. So let's demonstrate a “Bad” and “Better” way to manage this situation, while keeping in mind this is an extremely rare situation in Congress.

  • Bad Response
    • Staffer: “You know, Mary, the satellite data shows the planet hasn't warmed in 15 years, so why should we do anything about this?”
    • Bad Response: “97% of peer reviewed science papers say that it is warming, so you're ignoring the consensus of science.”

    We’ve taken the bait, jumped into an argument and told them they’re wrong.

  • Better Response
    • Staffer: “You know, Mary, the satellite data shows the planet hasn't warmed in 15 years, so why should we do anything about this?”
    • Better Response: “I sure understand the science can be confusing. We’ve got satellite measurements, surface measurements, ocean measurements, and more. It took me awhile to understand the science. If you'd like, we can set up a separate time to discuss the science of climate change. We can even try to get a climate scientist from a local university to be there.

      However, we're here today to discuss a policy that will grow the economy, create jobs, save lives and significantly reduce emissions, and that is something that I care deeply about. So even if we are not on the same page with the science right now, I think the policy's other virtues – job creation and saving lives -- warrant your consideration. Would you like to hear about the policy?"
Debriefing the climate skeptic responses
  • Again, note that the better response started by acknowledging vs telling and was helpful vs confrontational. It leaves the door wider for breakthroughs than just saying “No, you're wrong.”
  • Short-term rhetorical victories may feel good, but they’re more likely to harden beliefs than to change them.
  • Help skeptics and deniers find a way forward on their own terms, not forcing our terms on them. If they ended up supporting our policy based solely on the economic benefits, would you care?
Common temptations to avoid when overcoming objections
  • Overpromising. Avoid promising what you can’t deliver. An example of this is promising Congress will modify legislation to protect a specific constituency.
  • Overstating our case. An example of this is promising with 100% certainty that the majority of a member of Congress’ constituents will come out ahead. Or that our legislation is the silver bullet when we know that it’s an important step, but one that it exists in an ecosystem of ideas.
  • Getting off track. Look for breaks in the conversation to pivot back to the purpose of the meeting.
  • Don’t show up to explain or argue the science. Keep the focus of the conversation on the relationship and learning about their priorities, concerns and values.
Handling Difficult Situations

Infrequently, you may be faced with a difficult meeting situation that’s more about personality than substance. Here are some tips for handling these difficult situations. Practice them!

Angry citizen lobbyist

  • Angry lobbyist: “It’s you guys in Texas with your oil companies who are stalling and making this worse.”
  • Handle this by saying: “Obviously, we're very passionate people. And we're working very hard to try to get something done in time. You were just saying that [and let the staffer continue with their point].”

Someone says something that’s incorrect or needs clarification

  • Incorrect statement: “Oh yeah, well, with a border adjustment, we’ll let the World Trade Organization (WTO) handle that.”
  • Handle it by saying: “I’d like to build on that statement just a bit to say that the WTO has worked with governments around the world to develop rules for trade. Our legislation wouldn’t require any new rules, as the WTO and participating countries have already agreed how to handle the type of border adjustments that this legislation would produce.”

This is a difficult skill to learn as you don’t want to seem like you’re correcting the first person. Instead, handle this situation by giving more detail and “building” off of the first person’s statement.

Angry staffer or member of Congress

  • Bad: Getting angry back or getting defensive.
  • Handle it by: Acknowledging their concern, repeat back to them what they're saying so they know they're being heard. Use active listening skills and let them know that we are not there to put them into a no-win situation. And highlight that our goal is focusing on whatever they think is best to make it easier for them to support our bill.

Going off topic

We've all come across great talkers in our lives. A good way to handle that situation is:>

  • Wait until there’s a breaking point, acknowledge their position and pivot back to why we are there.
  • Where and when might is be best to simply interrupt? Use your experience. You don't want to cut someone off in mid-sentence, but take your opportunities where you can get them.

Pushback from like-minded folks

In your advocacy you’ll meet people who agree with you and understand that we need to act, but they may favor another policy or have reservations with our legislation. Or you might encounter offices that feel really frustrated and focus on President Trump or Administrator Pruitt’s rollback of hard fought for environmental protections.

How should we handle this situation?

  • Show appreciation for their important work on this issue.
  • Acknowledge we share a common goal and acknowledge the worthiness of their plan or ideas.
  • It's far too easy to get upset with people on our side who don't agree on our exact approach; the slight differences should never let us forget we're on the same side.
  • Refrain from negativity; don’t bash their plan or their idea. They are proud of them!
  • Tell them that we appreciate their idea and their work to address this important issue. We just think for us, to get done what we're trying to get done, we need to keep all of our focus on one thing.
Length
Press play to start the video (43m 17s)
https://vimeo.com/album/5373913
Video Outline
To skip ahead to a specific section go to the time indicated in parenthesis.

Intro and Agenda
(From beginning)

What About China and India?
(4:38)

I can't support a tax
(8:40)

Dealing with Revenue-Neutrality
(12:10)

Dealing with Climate Skepticism
(15:33)

Common Temptations
(21:06)

Handling Difficult Situations
(23:09)

What About Fracking or Nuclear?
(26:05)

Concerns About A Lack of Support Or Greenwashing
(30:34)

Importance of Bipartisanship
(34:24)

Takeaways
(40:34)

Instructor(s)

Iona Lutey, Nor’easters Regional Coordinator

Don Addu, Southeast Regional Director

Downloads

Download PowerPoint or Google Slides presentation.

Download the video.
Audio length
Press play to start the audio (43m 17s)
Audio embed code
Audio Outline
To skip ahead to a specific section go to the time indicated in parenthesis.

Intro and Agenda
(From beginning)

What About China and India?
(4:38)

I can't support a tax
(8:40)

Dealing with Revenue-Neutrality
(12:10)

Dealing with Climate Skepticism
(15:33)

Common Temptations
(21:06)

Handling Difficult Situations
(23:09)

What About Fracking or Nuclear?
(26:05)

Concerns About A Lack of Support Or Greenwashing
(30:34)

Importance of Bipartisanship
(34:24)

Takeaways
(40:34)

Instructor(s)

Iona Lutey, Nor’easters Regional Coordinator

Don Addu, Southeast Regional Director

Downloads
Go Deeper

The Effective Communication Action Team provides a system for learning and practicing these skills, and a forum for sharing how you are using them in your lobby meetings, outreach, recruitment, and all your CCL work.

Additionally, you can explore and learn the techniques of motivational interviewing.

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