Get Ahead of Negatives to Make Positive Change

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We often talk about the importance of focusing content on the “What’s in it for me?” That conversation is usually a positive one -- intended to show the end user the benefits of the product and how it can solve a problem. But in some cases -- especially when it’s about potentially contentious change -- it’s important (to paraphrase the old song) to not only accentuate the positives but also do your best to eliminate the negatives.

We tend not to talk politics too often on this blog, but we do spend a lot of time -- both as individuals and as a corporation -- working behind the scenes to effect positive change in our communities. And whether the conversation is about technology, accessibility, politics, or other socio-economic issues, there are always multiple sides to the story.

Ignoring opposition doesn’t get things done. Listening, educating, and compromising to find a solution that benefits as many people as possible, whilst mitigating (or quelling) concerns is the way to move forward. And, sometimes, that means addressing things we’d rather not address head on.

There’s a development we’re in the preliminary stages of working with -- and while, to us, the benefits are apparent, I also appreciate that there are going to be concerns amongst some people. So, as important as the value proposition may be, so too is the need to get ahead of the counter messaging and have answers for those concerns.

Too often the answers are a version of one of the following three:

“That’s not an issue to us.”

“Trust us. It will work out.”

And the granddaddy of all dismissiveness….

“Why are you afraid of change?”

People aren’t afraid of change. They’re vexed by the absence of information. And what fills that vacuum? Doubt, mistrust, and resistance. You’ve lost them almost from the get-go -- and that’s some awful public relations and marketing.

The answers don’t even have to be elegant or resolve the issue. Simply saying, “This idea has benefits for the broader community, but you’re right -- it may not suit your needs” is a perfectly acceptable answer. From a marketing perspective, not every product is going to appeal to every person. Some people you won’t be able to convert, no matter how compelling the selling proposition may be -- if you don’t align with the person’s needs or solve their problem, they’ll find  another item that does.

That’s OK.

But you want to ensure that you have the largest possible population receptive to your messaging and, hopefully, able to be convinced to take positive action.

How do you do that?

Know your audiences

Don't just rely upon your internal group, but get to know your target demographics. Understand their needs -- all of them, not just the ones that align with you. This can be done through surveying, monitoring online conversations (especially the ones you’re not a part of), or good ol’ fashion talking.

Understand their resistance

What is preventing them from believing their message. It’s too easy to fall back on personas and stereotypes and make assumptions, but what’s really the resistance? Often just a little time to go beyond the superficial can provide in-depth awareness of what’s really at the heart of the issue. (We’ve only been talking about this for five years or so…)

Play Devil’s Advocate

Bring up the counterpoints, discuss the resistance, and press your team to come up with answers to those questions. If there are none readily apparent, develop them. Obviously, we don’t want to go overboard -- and there are always going to be those edge cases that don’t apply. But if there are significant pockets of resistance to your message, find out what they are and do your best to answer them. As we’ve said before, if you can solve their concern, your most harsh critics can become your most loyal supporters.

Subjective arguments rarely win the day. No one wants to be told what they “should” do -- and generally they form fairly negative opinions about the presumptiveness of the person or group defining the “should.” But an objective look at the benefits and an acknowledgement and honest attempt to resolve any deficiencies is a way to build consensus and support.

In the end, the “What’s in it for me?” is still the most powerful motivator -- but it’s important to understand that answering that question doesn’t just mean focusing on the positives. Success comes from anticipating the negatives and providing honest resolutions to quell those resistances.

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