Here are the sure-fire ways to be a mediocre and ineffective advocate.
These are the truths that, if ignored, will take us from the on-ramp directly to the road to perdition as we try to communicate with legislators.
1. Reliance on technology as communications panacea. The craze over the latest Internet techniques to communicate with legislators was legitimate in the early 90s. Savvy advocates know the tools are not the answer, but rather the strategy and message behind them.
2. Transfer of knowledge mistaken for motivation. This axiom is particularly salient when we try to convince our insurance industry colleagues, employees, friends and even family members to contact legislators about critical issues. It is why the ubiquitous legislative update provided by a lobbyist is mistaken for “motivating” association members. Let’s face it, if knowledge was all we needed, no one would smoke or drink excessively. A truly motivated grassroots network of insurance peers comes from our ability to find people who are motivated to advocate, who enjoy selling (because that is what advocacy is) and who have the flexibility to communicate when necessary.
To get out of the “transfer of knowledge to motivate” rut, find intrinsically motivated colleagues to help your cause.
3. Education mistaken for persuasion. Before I came to the promised land of grassroots and PAC development, I was a lobbyist. A lousy one, at that, because I constantly lamented that legislators just ignored our solid research, statistics, etc. when we asked for their vote. I was a victim of the “If I educate them they will be converted” philosophy. Similar to number two above, educating someone about your issue is not the same as persuading him to support it. Persuasion entails many factors, not least among them attention to the context of your situation and being sure to contrast your desired outcome with the desired outcomes of other competing groups.
4. Ignorance of context. To elaborate on number three, context is the environment and situation that a legislator may find herself in during your persuasion attempt. In the life of a legislator, context means the following. Is it an election year? Is he running for higher office? Was she elected by a close margin in the last election? Do they have some type of personal or political scandal with which they are grappling? Are they receiving unfavorable media attention for a legislative initiative? Is he fighting for a leadership position within his caucus? Is she bidding to be the next chairperson of a high-profile committee?
All of these factors are variables that impact decision making. I believe the most prominent of them are the election year variable and desire to run for higher office. Your persuasion attempt has to take the context into consideration and demonstrate that agreeing with your position can help further their goals.
5. Neglecting to demonstrate contrast. There is a psychological principle in our hardwiring that governs how we perceive concepts, items, people, etc., based on the order in which they are presented. If you want to spend no more than $450,000 on a new home, the $500,000 model your realtor showed to you seems inexpensive compared to the $800,000 model you just viewed 15 minutes earlier. However, if you viewed the $500,000 house independent of the higher priced model, it may not seem such a bargain. One of my influence mentors told me that “there are no orphans in decision making.” However, many of us leave legislators with an “all or nothing” decision when we present our side.