Finding Commonalities and Solutions With Decision-Makers
Keeping the Door Open
Aim to Invite Further Conversation
Conversations and relationships can build over time, bringing you closer to mutual respect and understanding. Know it is not the end, but the beginning of the real conversation. If you hear no, it’s an invitation to stay curious and go deeper, asking questions such as:
“What is it that stops you from saying ‘yes’?”
“What would you need to hear in order to feel good about saying ‘yes’?”
“What am I not understanding about your needs here?
Remember: An opponent today may be an ally tomorrow. Almost every elected official we spoke with said that disagreeing on one policy doesn’t mean disagreeing on all policies. They believe it is possible to find common ground and want you to continue reaching out.
Practice these types of sincere attempts — from conversation starters, through issue and policy conversations, through open invitation for more connection — to learn more about what a policy maker requires for trust, understanding and collaboration.
Know When to Leave a Conversation or Tag in Someone Else
You’ve identified your personal feelings, needs and values. You’ve created parameters around what you need to maintain an open-minded conversation. You practice and role-play. Despite best efforts, there are times when the conversation just gets stuck and no longer feels productive or safe for you. Before ending, consider the following:
What to do if you begin to feel defensive:
Pause. There is power in pausing. Give yourself a moment to redirect.
Reframe the source of frustration — the difficulty isn’t with the person you’re talking with — it’s with their chosen strategy.
Remember that what you are feeling at this moment is in fact critical information for you to work with. Check in with yourself.
Don’t take it personally. Even though you may feel strongly about the issue in question, practice letting charged or polarizing language flow by you. Focus on points where you can make progress. Distracting or upsetting themes are unproductive and not worth commenting on. If you must reply to something you disagree with, a simple “I understand your concern,” to acknowledge their point of view, is enough.
Put aside the issue at hand if they refuse to support it. Recognize that this conversation may not be the one that advances your policy, but it can still advance your future work together. Reroute by discussing adjacent, shared concerns based on aligned values.
Stick with values. Needs and values provide a bridge to span strategy differences and find common ground. Remember that aligning on a shared value doesn’t mean you’re agreeing with behaviors or strategies the other person is using. But it’s a re-entry point back to constructive engagement.
“What I’m hearing is that your constituents’ safety is a top priority for you. I also care about prioritizing people’s safety. What are some areas where safety is currently a concern for you?”
When to Walk Away and Leave the Door Cracked
There may be a point in some interactions where maintaining a conversation and working to find mutuality is no longer a healthy option. Prioritize self-care and honor what you’re feeling. It may make sense to find another avenue for action or another advocate to take this portion of the work on.
Here are some examples of how to remove yourself (safely) from that engagement, while keeping the door open for another time — either for yourself or a colleague.
“Let’s pause the conversation and talk again soon because I can see that both of us care deeply about this subject and I think we could build something important together.”
“You know what? This policy is important for so many people — I want to make sure to share everything that’s built into it, and I think my colleague would be a good person to talk through those details with you. Can we schedule a follow-up meeting with them?”
“I would like to be able to talk more about our shared concerns, but this isn’t feeling like a constructive use of our time together. Where do you see us working together on these issues?”
“I’m not comfortable with how this conversation is going, and I think the best thing for today is to stop where we’re at now — I appreciate your time and will follow up via email.”