Responding to Opposition

One of the key challenges in any campaign is staying on message in the face of opposition. No matter how fantastic your campaign message is, there are going to be community members who will disagree.

This post was written by EveryLibrary Board Members Peter Bromberg and PC Sweeney.

One of the key challenges in any campaign is staying on message in the face of opposition. No matter how fantastic your campaign message is, there are going to be community members who will disagree.

No matter how much your library is loved, there will likely be individuals and groups (perhaps very vocal groups) that have an anti-tax bias -- just plain and simple don’t want to pay more taxes for anything, period. There are likely to be people or groups in your community that openly question whether the library is needed. There are people who will ask why the library can’t be run volunteers and/or are surprised to find that it isn’t.

Common Sources of Opposition

It is helpful to know who your opposition is and why they don’t support the library. Here are some of the opposition messages that we have heard most:

  • The library tax will be yet another tax that (homeowners/small business owners/residents) can’t afford to pay.
  • The internet has everything that I could find at the library
  • I don’t want to pay more taxes
  • We don’t need a new library
  • The library can be run by volunteers
  • Libraries are irrelevant because I never use them

Remember that most people will not change their view or opinion no matter what you say or do. Attempting to convince opponents otherwise can be a waste of limited campaign time and resources. It is far more important to go out and engage the people who are already on your side and activate them as voters so they show up to the polls. You can be much more effective spending your time talking to people who are on the fence rather than those who have already made up their mind. However, we don’t recommend ignoring the opposition.

You don’t need to change their mind... you just need them to stay quiet

While there is likely to be some type of opposition to your ballot, this doesn’t mean that you have a fight on your hands. There are proven strategies and methods that you can employ to help neutralize the opposition enough that they don’t pose a significant risk to your campaign. Remember, you don’t need them to be completely quiet and you don’t need them to love the library. You don’t even need them to vote for the library. You just need them to choose not to invest their time and energy in organizing a vote against the library, or otherwise sabotaging the campaign. Your goal is to turn them from an active opposition to a passive opposition.

Three Key Strategies: Transparency, Discretion, Listen

1. Transparency, repeat transparency

Your first strategy is to be fully transparent. Share your budget, your annual report, and your strategic plan. Explain exactly how you have carefully spent tax money in the past to benefit the community, and how you plan to spend new money to support the goals and health of the community. Talk about the library as a platform for people to lift themselves up; as a supporter of small businesses and job seekers; as facilitators of early literacy and lifelong learning.

2. Meet them discreetly

Secondly, invite community members and groups who oppose the ballot to discreetly meet with you. If you know, or suspect, in advance who in your community might be inclined to raise objections, nip any organized opposition in the bud. When you invite the opposition to sit down with you and express their concerns – and offer them full transparency – you gain their respect (if not their support) and decrease the likelihood that they will mount a public attack.

3. Listen, acknowledge, respond

Finally, when you engage with community groups and members who oppose you, listen. Think about times when you’ve been upset due to a bad customer service experience. What happens when you’re upset the person in front of you doesn’t listen to you, or argues, or interrupts? What happens is, we get increasingly angry, and increasingly likely to want to invest our energy in a fight. But what happens when the person in front of us truly acknowledges our concerns and our reasons for being upset? The more we feel “heard” the more our negative emotional energy diminishes, and the less likely we are to invest energy in fighting. Notice, I did not say, “the more we feel agreed with.” You don’t need to agree with the content of our opposition’s argument. You DO NEED to let them know that you hear them and understand their concerns.

Active Listening: Repeating and Paraphrasing

If you listen to your opponents, you can quickly become aware of what their specific objection is. Once you hear their objection the first thing you should do is repeat it back to them. It is not helpful to directly counter their objection or argument with an opposing viewpoint since this can be perceived as combative and draw them into a fight. By repeating their concerns or fears you demonstrate that you understand them and that you respect their ideals -- and the repetition will be immediately calming.

Here are some examples:

Statement: “The library tax will be yet another tax that small business owners can’t afford to pay.”

Response: I understand the great burden placed on small business owners….

 

Statement: “The internet has everything that I could find at the library.”

Response: The internet is a great source of information…

 

Statement: “I don’t want to pay more taxes”

Response: I understand that taxes are high…

 

Statement: “We don’t need a new library.”

Response: We know that people love the old library and everything that it provided to the community…

 

Statement: “The library can be run by volunteers”

Response: Our volunteers are very valuable…

Yes, and: Building off their opposition and getting back to your message

Once you have repeated and paraphrased the opponent’s objection, you can use the improv principle of “Yes, and” to develop “and” statements to pivot back to your core message. The paraphrase is the “Yes”, and serves the purpose of acknowledging and honoring your opponent’s message. The “and” statement is what you use after repeating their concern. This statement should show how the library is addressing the same issue that they are concerned about. Using the “yes, and” model of listening can be an effective way of showing that you are actually on their side and that you both have similar concerns. It is very important that you use an “and” statement and not a “but” or a “yes but” statement. You should never use a “no” statement because you are not disagreeing with them. You are trying to show that you agree with some element of their concern and thus, you are on the same side.

Here are some examples:

Statement: “The library tax will be yet another tax that small business owners can’t afford to pay.”

Response: I understand the great burden placed on small business owners AND that’s why we provide so many resources that make being a small business owner easier.

 

Statement: “The internet has everything that I could find at the library.”

Response: The internet is a great source of information AND that’s why we want to increase the community’s access to it and add value to what you get from it.

 

Statement:   “I don’t want to pay more taxes”

Response: I understand that taxes are high AND that is why it’s so important to me to provide services to the community that help bring the cost of living down and the value of the community up.

 

Statement:   “We don’t need a new library.”

Response: We know that people love the old library and everything that it provides to the community AND that’s why it’s so important to us that we continue to provide the services of the old library and the kinds of services that you deserve in a modern age.

 

Statement:   “The library can be run by volunteers”

Response: That’s an excellent suggestion and we love our volunteers AND that’s why the library uses as many volunteers as we can to streamline our processes and free up our paid staff to provide the best services we possibly can.

Remember, there will always be some form of opposition to your campaign. While it’s difficult to change people’s minds it’s also not necessary. By using the proven methods and techniques outlined above, you might not be able to change minds or hearts, but you can effectively neutralize the opposition and mitigate the damage they could do if you otherwise fail to engage with them in a respectful way.

This week’s Lib Elections News

The Northvale Public Library (NJ) opened its doors on June 2. Last year EveryLibrary supported and endorsed their Vote YES committee in a campaign for a tax levy to fund a new library after a ballot box defeat and closure in 2011. We are proud that Northvale Public Library is once again open to serve its residents.

Josephine Community Libraries is currently using an LSTA grant for an initiative called Expanding Opportunities. They developed this 21st Century Library video to showcase the state supported online databases. It’s an awesome example of library advocacy.

Carthage Public Library could receive an undetermined amount of the proposed city's parks and stormwater sales tax increase on the August ballot. The increase to a half cent could generate over $1 millioon dollars annually. The library has not yet asked for an increase on their current levy because of the cost of the election.

There will be a tax levy on the November ballot for the Cedar Rapids Public Library (IA). The 27 cents per $1,000 property tax is expected to raise $1.6 million per year and will fund both the downtown library and Ladd Library branch. The previous levy expired in June 2014 and a replacement levy was delayed for a Roads levy which passed. Last Thursday the city’s library board of trustees voted unanimously to place the measure on the ballot.

Other Happenings

As you are putting together your schedules for the ALA Annual Conference in SF please add these benefits to your calendar (and they will be great parties too). The first is the ALA Think Tank Pre Party and Fundraiser on Thursday, June 25 at 8pm at the Center for Sex and Culture. All proceeds will go toward supporting this rare archive and social education center. RSVP on Facebook and buy a ticket now. Then on Sunday, June 28 at 8pm we will be partying and fundraising with Queery at the Make Out Room. All proceeds from this event will go toward the GLBT Historical society. Tickets are $10 at the door. You can also make a donation or purchase a sponsored ticket. Sponsored tickets will be given away on a first come/first serve basis. Sign up for a sponsored ticket. Hope to see you there.

That is all for this week. Join us next week for another round up. Happy trails!


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  • Patrick Sweeney
    published this page in News and Updates 2021-01-28 17:05:53 -0800