I’ve been asked frequently of late how industry can make the most of the Texas weather and power meltdown.
First, we need to understand what the disaster meant — not just to the people of Texas, but to everyone else watching.
It meant the importance of always on energy, the need for redundant energy sources, and a slowly unfolding map of the complexity of the energy system — all at once, like seldom before.
Now: What does that mean for us? Once again: Stop trying to win arguments. Start winning hearts instead. Given the disruptions underway, our stakeholders are watching our every move, trying to decide: Are these guys the fuels of the past or the leaders of the future?
Both of these things are true:
- The world requires oil and gas to create safe, always available, always on, always affordable energy systems.
- Convincing the world of this is going to require a new tack.
My newsclip email, LinkedIn, and Twitter feeds are full of well-meaning oil and gas enthusiasts making evidence-based arguments for this or that. They are further supplemented by cheeky oil and gas proponents pointing out hypocrisy in clever and well-meaning ways. I’m not providing you examples, because (1) I know I don’t have to, and (2) I don’t want to embarrass our well-meaning advocates.
Here’s the thing: You can seek out likes, shares, and retweets among the already converted.
Or you undertake the slower, harder, more future-oriented work of echoing shared aspirations and winning the hearts and minds of the unconverted.
You cannot do both. Why not?
Because the audiences are different, and the approaches are wildly different.
Look at two stakeholder groups: federal policymakers and investors. Assume that 50% of them are skeptical or hostile to the traditional oil and gas industry. When they scroll through LinkedIn looking for analyses of and solutions for energy vulnerabilities to weather, to whom will they turn? Their trusted sources of course, and perhaps some impartial analysts. How will they judge anything they see from the industry? With skepticism. If it’s preachy or snarky, it will reinforce that skepticism.
Game-changing leaders will instead focus all their communications on converting the hearts and minds of these skeptics — not pushing them away with triumphal told-you-so’s in the wake of an energy tragedy that cries out for leadership.
Seize the day:
Part of leading into the future is inspiring the public to follow. Communicating effectively beyond likes and retweets requires embracing game-changing strategies.
- Decide on your audience. Before you write, decide who your intended audience is and whether they are already with you or they prejudge you.
- Then think again. It’s relatively straightforward to preach to the oil and gas enthusiast about the realities of energy and the complexity of the energy system. It’s a bit more challenging to be cheeky in novel and clever ways that garner attention. Yet where is that getting us? We feel good. Our supporters feel good. But have we won anyone over? Consider a different audience — like your kid’s environmental studies professor.
- Put yourself in their shoes. To communicate effectively when embarking on the “engage the other” journey, you have to think about what the topic you want to address looks like from their perspective. What are they worried about? What do they care about?
- Consider your best-case scenario. If your post won someone over to your point of view, how did you do that? It wouldn’t be that you won the argument. It would be that you captured their imagination in a new way while demonstrating your shared goals for the energy future.
- Start with small steps. Here are some baby steps you can take in your writing to embark upon the winning of hearts and minds:
- Create an appealing subject line or title for your target audience that welcomes them in. Most of us are skimming through emails and posts and rarely choosing something to read. An invitation to connect engages them immediately.
- Open with shared experience or shared objectives. People avoid the discomfort of cognitive dissonance by sticking mostly to reading information with which they already agree. Start here.
- Step out of your politics. As you set up your key point, carefully craft a neutral space, free of political identity triggers. Make your case focused on shared interests and outcomes.
- Invite the next conversation within your post. No one changes their mind in one sitting, so conscientiously seed the next conversation.
- Have patience. This is the work of a career, not a tweet.
The Texas disaster was an education-rich opportunity. When the next one arises, lead into it; focus on winning hearts and minds. If you would like to talk about your leadership’s long game to win allies as we lead into the energy future, let’s set up a strategy session.