In the weeks leading up to the election, there was a lot of talk on my social media feeds about how posting your political views doesn’t change minds, but only serves to either piss off or alienate your friends.
Clearly, this is true.
Trying to change my mind about an issue only makes me think you’re a narcissist. And super annoys me. And maybe makes me want to defriend you.
My bread is buttered from successful environmental communications.
And what is that but trying to change people’s minds on important issues?
Most of the time I owned up to my own hypocrisy and scrolled quickly past yet another dramatic political plea from a friend.
But in the end, perhaps I would have learned more from this political season if I had read those pleas.
I’m not alone in making this connection to environmental issues.
On October 14th, I got an email from Stand (formerly ForestEthics) that said:
We love social media. But as great as it is, it poses one big challenge: Connecting with people who don’t already agree with us. That’s because social media acts like a real social circle, so that when people share our posts, they’re sharing with people who are already more likely to agree with us.
They rest of their email went on to ask you to donate to their organization, so they could afford to buy advertising space in an effort to reach people who don’t already agree with them.
Besides asking for yet more donations, are there other ways to reach new people?
Choosing between the lesser of two evils
If you’re involved in environmental communications, I’m betting you’ve had these thoughts at one time or another as well.
In my view you have two choices that encompass two of the types of people who aren’t in your inner circle already.
- Ignore the people who are ignoring you. After all, it’s likely that the people who do hear your message are the most likely to take action anyway.
- Try and wiggle into the hearts of the people who are opposed to you. After all, being opposed and being ignored are two separate things. And the people who are in opposition to you are likely to do your organization and your message more harm.
The problem is, the people in category 2 don’t just get their hackles up or roll their eyes at you.
They don’t believe you.
They believe you’re exaggerating facts, or rearranging statistics to simply make a point. And then they bad mouth you to everyone who might listen.
You have a big hurdle to get over if you want to win over these people.
Share a fact, dismiss a fact
Going back to this election season…
Think about it.
Quoting statistics, showing shocking photographs, or appealing to their rational nature…doesn’t that just alienate your opposition if they are the type who don’t believe you anyway?
So, then, how do we get through to them?
Recently, I was doing research for a client that I found fascinating, so I shared some of the more shocking statistics with a friend who happened to be sitting at the same table.
In my happy researching bubble, I assumed everyone would want to know the affordable price for biodegradable trash bags or how much a family of four can save by using rechargeable batteries. Wouldn’t you want to know that stuff?
After only a few of these examples, there was a sudden, angry outburst from my friend followed by a complete dismissal of “those people.”
She’s a very intelligent and caring person, so I wondered… Did she not believe these statistics, or is she annoyed that there is another thing we must care and take action about?
Listen, I get it.
There are many really good causes to get behind. And we’re busy. Life is overwhelming. We can’t possibly care about everything.
And if I thought that was simply it, I would stop here and label her as someone who simply has other issues on her mind.
But I believe humans have the incredible capacity to care about many issues at the same time. So I believe those who place environmentally minded people in the category of “those people” (aka: total nut jobs) must have a deeper objection.
You are what you believe
Case in point, our two presidential candidates could spout completely opposite statistics about the same issue, and their supporters believe them.
This leads me to think it’s a matter of credibility.
Personally, I feel like the environmental movement has never been more credible.
Our 24-hour news cycle and ability to connect with people and events around the world have shown me that the environmental issues we care about are impacting the world and the living things in it.
But the other side of the coin is disbelief.
After all, for many people in first-world countries, life goes on.
We can keep our ACs at arctic levels without any negative consequences and throw our diet soda cans straight in the trash.
But the environmental movement has been strong for decades.
That’s a lot of years for the other side to build up not just disbelief, but proof that the world is, in fact, not ending.
Like with the election, you as an environmental organization have two main choices.
You can choose to speak directly to the people most likely to hear you. These people are highly likely to take action, to voice your cause for you, to change their own ways.
This means you are, by default, choosing not to try and connect with the other side of the aisle. You’re choosing not to try and change any new minds.
Or, you can try and reach them.
How do you reach someone who ignores you or belittles you?
Stick around. We’ll talk about next week.