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Handling Challenging Questions About The Energy Innovation Act

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The more progress we make in Congress, the more likely it is that we will face questions and critiques about the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act and about Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Providing volunteers with the skills and resources to respond to questions gracefully is key to empowering all of us to be successful advocates. To help, here is some general guidance on how to best engage with others who have questions and critiques regarding CCL’s approach and preferred policy solution. 
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Start with the main messages

When describing how the bill works, start by keeping your communications simple and high level.  For helpful resources, check out the Communicating About the Energy Innovation Act training page or CCL’s 1-page Fact Sheet.

Do you need to respond?

This should always be your first question. There are some cases where your best option is not to respond. For instance, engaging with strong climate deniers is rarely productive, especially in a public setting. It can be best to ignore, or deflect, or quickly pivot back to your key message.

Also, there are national organizations that are firmly opposed to our type of climate solutions on both the right and the left. CCL’s national staff is working with many of these organizations and the relationships are probably as good as they can be -- sometimes with an agreement to disagree. If you have questions about a particular organization, please contact Taylor Krause (taylor@citizensclimate.org) in the D.C. office. 

That said, it can be OK to engage with people who have been influenced by an organization but are not central to it. If someone says something like, “I heard organization X says…”, feel free to engage on the topic, always being respectful of other organizations.

Online forums and email threads can be some of the worst places for dialogue. Don’t give in to the temptation to correct every person who has said something wrong on the Internet. Often it’s best just to let it go and focus on spreading your positive message.

Listen, Listen, Listen

People are much more likely to be open to what you have to say once they feel they have been listened to. You can help them feel heard by asking questions to make sure you understand their concerns properly. You can restate their question or comment so that you, and they, are sure you understand it. You can articulate places of agreement with their values and concerns when possible and use those to reframe the conversation (e.g., “It sounds to me like you want an effective solution.”). When possible, try to resonate or agree with their values (e.g., “I agree. Effectiveness is very important to me as well.”) You might continue with something like, “This may not satisfy you, but what I like about the bill is….”

There is much more ability to do this one-on-one or in a small group than during a large public talk, but in either case you can try to convey an honest curiosity and openness to what they are saying. (See note below on why you do not want to “reflect” when talking with the media.)

Context matters

How you engage is different during a one on one conversation, during a presentation, with the media, during a meeting with community leaders, or during a meeting with a Congressional office. 

A one-on-one conversation allows for much deeper engagement, more of a chance to ask questions, and provide longer answers. With an audience of one you have the freedom to tailor your answers.

During a presentation or other public arena, you often have a diverse audience with different knowledge and beliefs. You want to be respectful and respond to people’s questions and concerns, but you don’t want to get off topic or into a back and forth argument. As described above, try to reframe the conversation around values and find places of agreement. To keep things on track, you might end a response with, “I’d be happy to talk more about this with you later.” 

With the media, you have to be especially careful. They can lift any quote or soundbite so it’s really important to stay on message with what you want them to quote. Avoid repeating questions back - you don’t want their words in your mouth (Note: that this is opposite of what you might do individually or in a small group where reflection can help with connection).

With a community leader or Congressional office, you want to do your best to understand concerns and respond when you can, but it can often be most valuable to seek areas of agreement and shared values rather than focus on disagreement about details.

Know Your Audience

It’s important to meet people where they are and connect as much as possible. Ideally, you are a trusted messenger with your audience and share values, culture and identity. If you aren’t the ideal messenger, be mindful of your language to connect with your audience’s values and viewpoint.

For example, when speaking with a more conservative audience, consider framing your talk with values that many conservatives share: authority, loyalty, freedom and independence. When speaking with a left-leaning audience, consider frames based on justice, fairness, equality or forward progress. 

But what do I do when someone asks...

Visit the Energy Innovation Act: Handling Challenging Questions Resource for a list of common and tricky topics that may come up in your work. Each topic suggests possible underlying values, provides background, and offers possible responses. This list is not exhaustive. If there is something missing, you can search CCL Community and ask your question on the Forums. Additional frequently asked questions may be added below in the future.

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Intro & Agenda
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Importance of Listening
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Instructor(s)
  • Adeline DeYoung
  • Tony Sirna
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Audio Outline
To skip ahead to a specific section go to the time indicated in parenthesis.

Intro & Agenda
(from beginning)

Importance of Listening
(4:48)

How To Find & Use This CCL Resource
(8:03 )

Role-Play Scenarios
(15:14)
Instructor(s)
  • Adeline DeYoung
  • Tony Sirna
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Climate Policy, Communicating with Others
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