Flickr Creative Commons photo by Michael Swan.
Why can’t they get it?
That’s a question so many of us ask about people who have a different view than our own. And it’s getting asked even more today as we collectively face a terrifying pandemic that has put our health and our livelihoods at risk.
Some of us can’t understand why others are sticking to their guns and wanting to keep our society in lockdown as our nation teeters on an economic depression.
Others can’t understand why some of their neighbors are so brazen. Why are they gathering in packed bars and beaches over Memorial Day weekend or protesting at state capitals without wearing masks?
I’m going to focus on the latter group, since nonprofit communicators are more likely fall into the camp not understanding their mindset.
If you are reading this, you likely have a college degree. You likely have a job that allows you to work from home. And, because you are a professional communicator, you likely have a platform of some kind to broadly share you (or your employer’s) positions.
In other words, you have some form of social influence. And because of your perspective, you’re more likely to trust and follow the advice of others like you.
Now, let’s assume for a moment you’re living under different circumstances. You don’t have a college education. You’ve lost your job.
And you’re being told – by people with college degrees and jobs who live in a world much different than your own – that you have to keep staying home.
You’re healthy. Your neighbors are healthy. Your family is healthy. You may even be able to count the reported cases of Covid-19 in your county on one hand.
Nothing you’re experiencing tells you that you’re in danger. The only people who are telling you that you’re in danger are those who live someplace else, have a different life experience, and are not feeling the same pain that you are.
Would you fully trust what they’re saying? Or would you instead believe someone who you think is speaking from a perspective that mirrors your own experience and with your best interests in mind (whether or not they actually do)?
Understand the Perspective of Others
It’s very easy these days to view those who don’t agree with you as being wrong and dangerous. We see it every day in our news, on our social media feeds, and likely within our own families.
But if you’re a communicator or thought leader who is trying to convince others who have different experiences and opinions that you’re worth trusting, it’s important to remember that while we all want many of the same things, the way we talk about those things – and even who is doing the talking – matters.
This is true whether we’re talking about Covid-19, climate change, equity, hunger, or one of the myriad other issues that might be central to your work.
It’s easy to adopt a tone in which we preach to the choir and rally those who already agree with us. It’s easy to chastise those who disagree as being wrong or having the wrong motivations.
It’s much harder to bring those who might not agree with you on the journey.
It means communicating with empathy – not just with those who agree with us.
It means listening to the concerns of those who have different experiences and views.
It might even mean finding ways to get other voices to carry our messages.
To some, Dr. Anthony Fauci isn’t as credible of a voice about this pandemic as a person in their town or social feed who is facing the same risks and challenges.
I know his credentials and trust his expertise. But not everyone trusts the “experts.” In fact, they have the opposite reaction to expert advice.
It’s Time to Lead the Way
It’s hard to trust someone who is telling you that they know best – especially if they are different than you in some way and they have a form of power and influence that is out of your reach.
That doesn’t mean you’re wrong.
But if you’re not breaking through, it might be time to think differently about how you’re delivering that message.
As nonprofit communicators, it’s time to lead the way — with empathy and listening.
And it might even be time to think about who we enlist to help us deliver the important truths that are central to our work.