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Finding Commonalities and Solutions With Decision-Makers

In Conversation

Above all, this is a guide to productive conversation, not merely a message guide. Conversation — including listening and seeking to find shared values — is essential in creating connections across lived experiences and perspectives. Your instinct may be to say “I know we disagree, but…” and then launch into your case for policy change. But decision-makers suggest you look first for opportunities to collaborate rather than starting with why you disagree. These conversations aren’t always easy; please refer to preparing for conversation for tips on ensuring that both parties’ needs, feelings, and values are honored.

Start With Connection and Listening

Begin with a connection, curiosity and an open ear; listen and note any shared values.

With limited time to meet — and knowing that many other issues and advocates are competing for “most urgent” status — you may be tempted to launch right into your agenda, statistics and what you need. Take a moment to become curious about what shared needs and values you might discover in the course of the interaction — prime yourself to listen for them. Curiosity and an open ear may help you succeed in the long run.

Across archetypes, legislators indicated that they would be more likely to engage after they’ve decided that you are someone who will listen as much as talk and that you are not there to lecture or scold. A friendly approach is preferred over a heated academic debate that can make them feel backed into a corner — raising defenses and inadvertently hardening their opposition.

“Active listening is key. Being brief is important. Two or three major points. It’s exhausting. You are bombarded from the first minute you get out of the car. So, it’s much more interesting to have a two-way conversation like we are doing now than listening to someone talk at you for 10 minutes.” — State representative, male, 48, urban/suburban, Church and Country

“Those first few opening sentences should be warm and welcoming and educational versus the sky is falling and you are to blame and you are choosing not to do anything about it. Collaborative, informative and civil.” — State representative, male, 50, urban/suburban, Legacy Republican

You might try conversation-starting questions such as:

  • Thank you very much for your leadership and service as a decision-maker. We appreciate the sacrifices you and your family are making to make a positive difference for others.

  • What brought you here? How did you decide on public service?

  • What are you feeling most optimistic about in our community right now? What’s keeping you up at night?

  • I see from your (website, latest statement, recent speech, etc.) that you’re focusing on (insert issue). Will you tell me more about that?

  • I appreciate the action you’ve taken on (insert issue or policy). Will you share with me how you arrived at that decision?

  • I asked to meet with you because I feel confident there are things that we can work on together that align with your values and priorities. May I share an idea I’ve been thinking about with you?

    • From your perspective as a (parent, grandparent, community member, etc.), what do babies and toddlers in our community need most? 

    • I’m here today to talk about with you what it takes for every parent or caregiver to have access to what they need to raise healthy, happy babies and toddlers. What do you need me to understand about your perspective when I talk to you about policies that support parents and babies for the prenatal phase through age 3?

    • Something that brings me into this work is the fact that babies' brains develop fastest from before birth to age 3. Young children are like sponges. Their early experiences shape their ability to learn, their behavior and health for a lifetime. What would you say should be the key priorities here so babies have good early experiences?

    • We also know that a healthy baby starts with a healthy pregnancy. Do new parents in your district have all the information and support they need?

    • What does a mom need during pregnancy and in the first year or two of her baby’s life to get them both off to a good start? What happens when a mom or family doesn’t have those things?

    • What is the community or society’s interest in seeing that babies and toddlers get off to a good start — even if the parents don’t have everything they need to make that happen?

    • Are there specific things you could see yourself supporting in this area?

    • I’m hoping to share with you today some ideas we’re working on to improve health and wellbeing in our area. But first I’d like to hear about any ideas you may have on the subject.

    • From your perspective as a member of your own neighborhood and community, what do you see as being the most beneficial aspects to local level decision-making?

    • When do you think decisions are best made by local officials? Are there times when decisions should not be made by local officials? How do you decide?

    • I’m here to talk together about how we uplift health and wellbeing at the local level. What do you see as priority topics for our local communities? 

    • What are the challenges your constituents in local areas are facing, despite their hard work, and how can we help support them?

    • Keeping decisions close to the people they affect can be good. That said, what is your overarching concern about leaving (insert policy) in the hands of local decision-makers?

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